When the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, kick off in July, odds are good that many of the competitors in eventing will have ridden this week through the Kentucky Horse Park.
There were a record 82 entries for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, held annually in the Lexington park, with possible riders from seven countries. The United States, Great Britain, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand will use the Rolex Kentucky to help select the teams at the World Equestrian Games, which are held every four years, opposite the Summer Olympics cycle.
"As always, this year's Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event has an impressive field of world-class horses and riders," said Darren Ripley, president of Equestrian Events Inc., producer of the Rolex Kentucky. Fewer horses than are registered will ultimately compete in the event, he added, but "it is very exciting that the best riders from around the world have submitted this record number of entries."
The sport of eventing involves tests in three equestrian disciplines: control in dressage, stamina in cross-country jumping, and fitness in show jumping. Riders must complete all three disciplines on the same horse over just three or four days.
The Rolex Kentucky has drawn many former Olympians, including:
■ Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand, last year's Rolex Kentucky champion and a six-time Olympic veteran with three team medals (silver in 1992 and bronze in 1996 and 2012).
■ William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, the 2010 and 2012 Rolex Kentucky champion and a four-time Olympian with three team meals (silver in 2004 and 2012 and bronze in 2008).
■ Mark Todd of New Zealand, a six-time Olympic veteran with two individual medals (gold in 1984 and 1988, bronze in 2000) and two team medals (silver in 1992 and bronze in 2012).
■ William Coleman III of the United States, who competed in the 2012 Olympics.
■ Hawley Bennett-Awad of Canada, a two-time Olympian (2004 and 2012).
■ Selena O'Hanlon of Canada, who was in the 2008 Olympics.
■ Ruy Fonseca of Brazil, a 2012 Olympian.
Veteran U.S. rider Buck Davidson, who was the top American last year with a fourth-place finish, is poised to anchor Rolex Kentucky's American delegation with multiple horses entered.
One top rider fans likely won't see much of is Boyd Martin, who was on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Martin broke his right leg in a fall off a horse in a competition in March. Fellow U.S. rider Phillip Dutton, who was part of Australia's gold-medal Olympic team in 1996 and 2000, apparently will ride Martin's horse, Trading Aces.
Martin's fall happened three weeks after his wife, dressage rider Silva Martin, suffered a head injury in a training accident that left her unconscious for days. (She reports on her blog that she is recovering but not riding.)
Boyd Martin might ride two other mounts during the dressage phase of the three-day event but withdraw before cross-country competition.
He is scheduled to speak at a Thoroughbreds for All event promoting the use of "off the track" Thoroughbreds for eventing and other equestrian sports. Martin rode Thoroughbreds Ying Yang Yo and Neville Bardos in top-level eventing competitions, including at Rolex Kentucky.
(Martin will join Olympic dressage judge Linda Zang, Pan American Games eventing gold medalist Lynn Symanski, and Kentucky Oaks winning jockey Rosie Napravnik in sessions on second careers for former racehorses. The event will benefit Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and Retired Racehorse Training Project. Details on the Thoroughbreds For All events are on NewVocations.org.)
At least 16 retired Thoroughbred racehorses might be competing this year.
New for 2014
■ This year's Rolex Kentucky will feature a new element: team competition, based on riders' countries.
The Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge will award $20,000 in prize money, and help national teams prepare for the team competition at the World Equestrian Games this summer. The winning nation will be the team with the fewest penalties after adding together the final scores of the three highest placed individuals from that country.
■ Also new this year, in the trade fair, is a "Kentucky Uncovered" section featuring products unique to Kentucky.