Fayette County

Horse park’s biggest crowd of the year turns out for Rolex cross country

Why do people love Rolex?

For many horse lovers, cross country at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is the best day of the best weekend of the year.
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For many horse lovers, cross country at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event is the best day of the best weekend of the year.

Kylie Davis moved to Lexington two days ago, and she starts her new job on Monday. Someone told her she had to see the Kentucky Horse Park, but they neglected to mention that April 29 is the venue’s biggest, craziest and most crowded day of the year as tens of thousands of people come to see cross country at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event.

Rolex cross country day at the Kentucky Horse Park features almost as many dogs as people, every size, shape and kind.

“I had no idea,” said Kylie, who visited with her mother, JoAnne, who traveled from Montreal to help her move. “I kept saying, ‘Why is it so busy? What is this?’ But it’s awesome!”

“It’s exactly what she’s looking for,” added JoAnne.

On the other end of Rolex was Denise Kinney, who was tailgating for her fifth year at Rolex with her daughters and friends from Kennett Square, Pa.

“It’s a chance for us to be together,” Kinney said. “You get to know these horses and riders, and it feels like you’re part of something.”

Wendy Long of Huntington, W.Va., uses Rolex as a yearly reunion with friends she’s met at competitions here and abroad.

“It’s a great time for everyone to reconnect,” she said, standing next to a tailgate that included a grill and a full bar.

Long and Judy Gooden met at the World Equestrian Games in France in 2014, and they said they are planning to go back to WEG next year in Tryon, N.C.

“The camaraderie and the excitement here are so great,” Gooden said. “It’s hard to believe the horses and riders do all these things. It’s the best weekend ever.”

Certainly, Gooden and the rest of the 35,677 spectators at the horse park on Saturday were treated to a great day of cross country as a few showers held off the worst of the predicted heat and humidity. A tough course by designer Derek Di Grazia pitted horse and rider against challenging combinations of huge jumps, but there were only a few minor spills, with no major injuries to horses or riders.

German rider Michael Jung, Rolex champion in 2015 and 2016, was in second place after dressage, but he moved into a commanding lead after a clear and very fast cross country ride on FischerRocana FST. Maxime Livio of France aboard Qalao des Mers came in second, and Zara Phillips Tindall, the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, was in third place on her horse, High Kingdom.

Jung and Tindall, whose horses are based in Europe, said they were initially concerned about the heat and humidity.

“At first I was worried ... but she jumped everything very powerful. That gives me a good feeling, and I let her run,” Jung said.

Tindall, who had to withdraw from Rolex two years ago because of an injury to her horse, said she was happy to get to the cross country course.

“I had a great ride,” she said. “I was a little worried how he would cope with the heat, but he coped with it really well.”

The overall winner will be determined Sunday after the stadium jumping phase of the competition. The jumping starts at 1 p.m. For more information, go to rk3de.org.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford