British riders set to defend title at Rolex event

45 horses set to competein 'equine triathalon'

jpatton1@herald-leader.comApril 28, 2011 

Like any stalwart Brit, William Fox-Pitt may be longing to be in England for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday.

Instead, Fox-Pitt is warming up his horse, Neuf des Coeurs, in Lexington to defend his Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event title.

Fox-Pitt will be facing stiff competition from Mark Todd of New Zealand, who on Monday won the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in England. Todd won his fourth Badminton trophy at 55, making him the oldest rider ever to take the title.

Todd officially retired from eventing in 2000 but, after eight years training racehorses in New Zealand, he returned to competition at the 2008 Olympics.

"I retired because I ran out of motivation. But once I had been back home for a while I started missing the sport," Todd has said publicly.

Eventing, which is sometimes called the equine triathlon, combines the disciplines of dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping to showcase the best all-around horse athletes. Forty-five horses are set to compete when Rolex Kentucky dressage begins Thursday morning.

Tuesday, as riders prepared for the first horse inspection, known as the trot-up, tornado warnings forced competitors to take shelter at the Alltech Indoor Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. They waited out the worst of the bad weather before beginning the vet check in lingering rain.

Fox-Pitt will lead a strong British group back to the Horse Park, where last fall they won the team gold medal in eventing and Fox-Pitt won the individual silver medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

This year's contingent also includes Oliver Townend, who last year attempted to take eventing's Grand Slam, a $350,000 prize for winning in succession the annual four-star events at Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky.

But Townend's ride on Ashdale Cruise Master came to an abrupt end on the cross-country course, with a fall that cracked his collarbone, sternum and ribs. Riding ODT Sonas Rovatio this year, Townend is expected to make an all-out effort to make the 2012 Olympic team.

With the London Olympics on the horizon next summer, the British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans are using the Rolex Kentucky as a proving ground.

The Canadians, coached by U.S. Equestrian Federation president David O'Connor, won a team silver medal at the World Equestrian Games, giving them new prominence on the world stage. Now O'Connor is the leading contender to take over as coach for the U.S. team after 2012.

The Americans, including Games riders Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton, Karen O'Connor and Buck Davidson Jr., are hoping for a better showing at this year's Rolex Kentucky after failing to medal at the Games.

To build on the success of the Games, which drew thousands of foreign visitors as well as locals who had never been to the Horse Park, Equestrian Events Inc., which puts on the Rolex Kentucky, added two days of reining competition and tailgating to the cross-country course.

For the first time, NBC-TV will have an hour of live coverage of the show-jumping finals beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, including ticket prices, go to www.rk3de.org.

Reach Janet Patton at (859) 231-3264 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3264.

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