Riding like the wind that whipped around them, Britain's William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain held on to their lead Sunday to win the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
For Fox-Pitt, one of the leading event riders in the world, this was his first win at Rolex Kentucky in six tries; he finished sixth last year and fourth in 2002.
"Thank goodness I finally managed to win it," he said.
He was hailed with a standing ovation from the crowd of 16,499; blushing fans from the University of Kentucky eventing and dressage team waited after the trophies and media's questions to congratulate the tall, aristocratic Englishman.
Fox-Pitt, who downplayed his chances earlier in the week, said he was "very impressed and surprised" with the performance of his 10-year-old bay gelding, nicknamed "Ol," in his first four-star, Olympic-level competition.
"I didn't expect it. I wasn't just being modest," Fox-Pitt said. "You don't dare hope that it might just happen. I came here hoping for a top 10 placing. You suddenly find yourself up there and completely lose touch with reality. I just wanted a clear round, and I felt pretty sick."
Fox-Pitt seized the top spot Friday and would not be shaken off. He won with a low score of 42.8 points, his score after the dressage. After Saturday's cross-country, Fox-Pitt and the top four riders came into Sunday's stadium jumping finals tightly grouped.
First came Phillip Dutton, riding Woodburn, a last-minute entry for Dutton, who had planned to ship Woodburn to Great Britain for the upcoming Badminton event but couldn't because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Dutton and Woodburn put the pressure on with a clear jumping round, but they were still more than four points from the lead, so they'd need a few lucky breaks.
Becky Holder, riding Courageous Comet, downed a rail at the third jump, dropping them a spot in the standings. In the past, the pair struggled with show jumping, but Holder said they pulled it all together Sunday.
As she left the arena, Holder high-fived the next rider, Kim Severson.
Severson, already a three-time winner of the Rolex Kentucky four-star, rode into the ring in second place, with storm clouds gathering. The skies held off, but the rails came raining down. Severson's horse, Tipperary Liadhnan, ran smack into the fourth jump. Then they knocked down the last four fences.
Severson fell from second place to 24th.
So Fox-Pitt entered the ring with a rail "in hand," meaning he could make one mistake and still win.
He didn't need it. Cool Mountain jumped perfectly, never bumping a rail or shying at a wind-blown tent.
"My chap tries his heart out," Fox-Pitt said.
For Dutton, who won Rolex Kentucky in 2008, this was his sixth time to finish in second place.
"I'm pleased I made the decision to come here," said Dutton, who had to petition last week to get the extra fourth entry. "He is a phenomenal horse. Hopefully he'll have his day."
With a nod to fallen comrades, Dutton said: "Sometimes you're very very grateful to be second."
British rider Oliver Townend, who scrambled to get to Lexington along with Fox-Pitt after a cloud of volcanic ash disrupted European air travel, saw his Rolex Kentucky hopes dashed Saturday.
Townend, who was taken to University of Kentucky Hospital after a fall on the cross-country course, was released with a cracked collarbone, sternum and ribs and withdrew from the event Sunday.
"I feel a bit bashed and bruised, but my spirits are good," Townend said in a statement Sunday. "I will fly home tonight and hopefully get a good rest on the plane. At least the trip home should be easier than the journey here."
Fox-Pitt said he and the others had expected Townend to be the one drinking the champagne. If he'd won, Townend would have been toasting a $350,000 Grand Slam victory, having won Badminton and Burghley last year.
Now, it will be Fox-Pitt chasing the Grand Slam prize, which has been accomplished only once.
"For things to have gone so wrong and (for Townend and Ashdale Cruise Master to) have that horrible fall just shows what it's all about," Fox-Pitt said. "I could never have imagined that."
Full Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event results are available at www.rk3de.org.