William Jung of Germany rode a perfect round over a challenging cross-country course Saturday to increase his commanding lead at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games eventing competition at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Going near the end of the day, Jung and his horse held on while other early leaders after the dressage competition slipped in the standings. Nine points ahead of his nearest competitor now, Jung could knock down two fences in Sunday's stadium jumping phase and still win.
Saturday evening he was planning to have a drink to celebrate the moment, then get to bed early. His horse, Sam, is a confident show-jumper, he said, but the large crowds take some getting used to.
"He will have to pay attention to me and not to the atmosphere," he said.
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Just behind Jung now is William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, followed by American Becky Holder, who is competing as an individual.
In team competition, the British, American and Canadian riders are tightly bunched, with 8.1 points separating first from third. Early leader Germany dropped four places when a rider fell near the end of his cross-country run.
"The pressure is going to be on even more now," said Britain's Fox-Pitt. "To be going into show jumping with such a little space between us is terrifying."
Aboard Cool Mountain, Fox-Pitt was one of only a handful of riders to get around the four-mile course without a problem inside the time allowed.
He said he was surprised that the course took such a heavy toll on the standings. "For it to cause enough trouble for me to move from 12th to second, I'm amazed," Fox-Pitt said.
Holder, riding Courageous Comet, rode a clear round but was slightly over the time allowed, incurring 3.2 time penalties.
"He was turned on the whole way," Holder said. "He's got that great Thoroughbred blood and his gallop was right there to the end."
Others weren't so lucky. Numerous horses refused to jump some of the elements and several riders came off along the course. At one point in the afternoon, four in a row suffered falls.
Most of the riders and horses walked off under their own steam, but competition was delayed for about 45 minutes after Italian rider Juan Carlos Garcia came off his horse, Iman du Golfe, at fence 20, a narrow corner. Garcia appeared winded but was up and walking shortly afterward.
His horse caught his left shoulder on the corner of a wood-shingled cabin roof, tearing open a gash in his chest that required immediate treatment. Vets stabilized the horse before taking him in an ambulance to Rood & Riddle equine hospital.
Games officials said in a statement that Garcia was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and was in good condition.
Boyd Martin, the first American rider on course in the morning, jumped cleanly within the time limit. "It wasn't the prettiest round I've ever ridden," he said. Martin almost came off at the Land Between the Lakes water jump, but clung to Neville Bardos's neck and "found my saddle again," he said.
U.S. teammate Buck Davidson's horse initially refused to go over the ditch at jump 15, the Red River Gorge. The refusal added 20 points to his score and put the pressure on the rest of the Americans riding in the afternoon to improve their standings.
"I'm disappointed. Bummed, in a word," Davidson said afterward.
But teammates Karen O'Connor and Phillip Dutton poured it on in the afternoon to move the United States into second place in the medal standings.
"How about that for an old fart?" joked O'Connor, who is 52, after her clear ride on Mandiba. "I got pretty fired up and he got fired up."
The last American of the team, Dutton also rode clear on Woodburn to keep U.S. medal hopes alive.
Germany, which looked like a strong medal contender after dressage, slid to fifth place, more than 50 points behind the leaders, despite a fantastic ride by Ingrid Klimke, who is in fourth place.
"I was really happy because my little black pony really tried so hard," Klimke said of FRH Butts Abraxxas.
"It was really really fun," she said. "Can't I do it one more time?"
Two German riders came to grief within sight of the finish. Dirk Schrade fell two fences from home.
"It's a disaster, 200 meters from home," he said.
He said his horse, Gadget de la Cere, tried to put in an extra stride and hit the jump. Schrade said the horse fell on the landing, and Schrade come off. The horse was fine and Schrade was just a bit scraped up, he said.
Fellow German Simone Deitermann, riding as an individual and in third place after dressage, crashed into the last fence, landing in a box of Kentucky apples, after what had been a fantastic ride through the other 27 jumps.