Winner at Rolex Three-Day Event makes history

Mary King celebrated on Kings Temptress after they held on to first place after the jumping competition Sunday.
Mary King celebrated on Kings Temptress after they held on to first place after the jumping competition Sunday.

Britain's Mary King dominated the 2011 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event on Sunday, finishing in first and second place overall, the first time that's happened in the history of the 33-year event.

She won on a mostly Thoroughbred mare she bred herself, Kings Temptress, but she had the competition won before they ever entered the show-jumping arena at the Kentucky Horse Park Sunday.

To avoid riding horses back-to-back, King rode her second-place horse, Fernhill Urco, a few places early. After having no jumping or time faults on him, nobody could beat her but herself.

As she raced back to the warm-up ring to saddle up her mare, King cried out, "I have a wonderful feeling about this!"

In addition to a Rolex watch and trophy, King won $80,000 for her first-place score of 47.7 on Kings Temptress and $37,000 for the second-place score of 49.7 on Fernhill Urco, making it a $117,000 weekend.

As the other riders duked it out for lower-place ribbons, King swiftly switched from one horse to the other, scooping her saddle off the gray gelding and onto the bay mare for a quick warm-up before a second faultless ride.

"It's never been like that before for me in all these years of competing," said King, 49.

King has competed in five Olympic Games and is intent on the 2012 Games in London. A sixth appearance would be a record for a British athlete.

She said that despite having two horses at the top after Saturday's cross-country phase of the three-day event — which includes dressage, cross-country and jumping — she was up at 2 a.m. watching TV just to get her mind off things.

"I didn't get very much sleep," said King, who is known for her serene and upbeat attitude. "You just hope, hope, they pick up their feet."

She wasn't the only one having the day of a lifetime.

American Sinead Halpin, riding in her first four-star or Olympic-level competition, flew into third place with a score of 53.1, ahead of several previous Rolex Kentucky champions.

As Halpin rode around the ring after her clear jumping round, she was overcome by her achievement, stunned as the crowd of 15,743 gave her a huge cheer.

"Right now, I feel great. I'm just beside myself," said Halpin, 29, of New Jersey. "I'm not going to cry anymore. .... I probably am going to cry some more."

Last year's winner, British rider William Fox-Pitt, moved up into fourth place with a score of 54 after Australia's Clayton Fredericks, the 2007 winner, knocked down a fence to slip to 57 points.

Fox-Pitt said he was proud of the showing by Halpin, who worked in his stable in England in 2008.

Only two other Americans finished in the top 10.

It was an especially British winners' parade, with Oliver Townend on ODT Sonas Rovatio finishing in sixth place with a score of 58.2.

After her win, King was congratulated by Gov. Steve Beshear, who said her riding bested Friday's royal wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton for excitement.

"You have just delivered two of the finest rides this facility has ever seen," Beshear said. "William and Kate have nothing on you this weekend."

For the four days at Rolex, total attendance was 62,886; the two nights of the newly added Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup at the Alltech Indoor Arena had an additional combined attendance of 6,782.

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