Luck was on William Fox-Pitt's side Sunday as he won his second Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, and the second leg of the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam. Next weekend he goes for the final leg at Badminton in England.
Fox-Pitt, the leader after Saturday's cross-country phase by less than two points, could have lost Sunday's show jumping if American Allison Springer hadn't given him a bit more breathing room.
The ultra-tight show jumping finals proved that every rail counted.
Springer, riding Arthur, knew she likely had second place, at least, sewed up. She could afford to knock down a rail and still beat fellow American Boyd Martin, who'd turned in a clear round to inch into third place on Otis Barbotiere.
So when Arthur tapped down a fence, she kept her composure as Brit Fox-Pitt came in on Parklane Hawk, his former racehorse turned eventing champ.
Fox-Pitt now had a "rail in hand," meaning he could knock down one fence and still win. Fox-Pitt was feeling fairly comfortable until Parklane Hawk knocked down a rail.
When that fence came down, Fox-Pitt said, his thoughts were unprintable.
"That was a bit of bad moment," Fox-Pitt said afterward. "When you've got a fence in hand, it's a good feeling; when that fence came down, I thought, 'Uh, oh.' "
But he and his horse gutted it through the rest of the tricky show jumping test to take home his second Rolex win in three years — Fox-Pitt won in 2010 on Cool Mountain.
Springer said she was happy with second place, the top finish for an American rider this year and a good showing for selectors for the upcoming London Olympics.
"I was thrilled with (Arthur)," Springer said. "My best was going to have to be good enough."
Springer said it was especially painful to have to wait all afternoon to ride, particularly with what was happening in the ring.
Earlier in the competition, the riders were splitting rails like Abe Lincoln. But as the stakes got higher, so did the horses' feet.
There were some bright spots: Madeline Blackman on Gordonstown turned in the first clear round of the day, although they finished 24th; Emily Beshear, daughter-in-law of Gov. Steve and Jane Beshear, knocked down a fence and had seven time faults but still finished in the money at 20th place.
As veterans like New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson and Americans Karen O'Connor and Boyd Martin turned in clear rounds inside the 88 seconds allowed, huge cheers from the crowd of 9,504 poured on the pressure. (Only five out of 27 riders went clear all day.)
New Zealand's Jonathan Paget rode into the ring in third place but plowed through two fences of the Calumet triple to drop to sixth place and clear the way for Martin to move up to third and O'Connor to fourth. (Although their scores were the same, the tiebreaker was who had the quickest time on cross-country.)
Fox-Pitt gave credit to his horse, Parklane Hawk, a New Zealand-bred racehorse who raced until he was 7.
"I believe he was thoroughly useless (as a racehorse). He used to go off like a rocket and out like a light," Fox-Pitt said.
But as an eventer, that extra bit of speed comes in handy, Fox-Pitt said.
"He's just a joy, such a good galloper. You can be a bit behind the time, and you know the second you put your leg on, you'll be catching up."
After the champagne, the watch and the handshakes, Fox-Pitt was off like a shot himself, hoping to evade hordes of fans and catch a plane. Next week, it's Badminton and a shot at eventing immortality, although he was predictably modest about his chances of becoming the second Brit to manage the feat in 10 years.
"This is the closest I've ever got," Fox-Pitt said. "I've won four-stars before but never two in a row. Next week, I think, is fairly unlikely."
At Kentucky Horse Park
Standings after dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping in the Rolex Kentucky Three - Day Event:
Place Horse Rider Score
1. Parklane Hawk William Fox-Pitt 45.3
2. Arthur Allison Springer 47.0
3. Otis Barbotiere Boyd Martin 51.0
4. Mr. Medicott Karen O'Connor 51.0
5. Twizzel William Coleman 51.3
6. Clifton Promise Jonathan Paget 52.8
7. Qwanza Andrew Nicholson 55.8
8. Remington XXV Boyd Martin 56.9
9. RF Demeter M. Little-Meredith 63.8
10. Mighty Nice Phillip Dutton 66.7
11. Kilrodan Abbott Peter Barry 67.5
12. Fernhill Eagle Phillip Dutton 67.8
13. No Boundaries Erin Sylvester 69.3
14. Tsunami Sarah Cousins 78.1
15. Belmont Kate Hicks 78.3
16. Andromaque Will Faudree 91.1
17. Rutherglen Andrew Hoy 91.7
18. Running Order Doug Payne 99.0
19. High Society III Jessica Hampf 101.4
20. Here's To You Emily Beshear 107.2
21. UN Jane Sleeper 110.7
22. Mojito Kate Brown 118.1
23. R-Star Kristi Nunnink 122.8
24. Gordonstown M. Blackman 130.1
25. Wonderful Will Michael Pollard 137.5
26. Sal Dali Beth Perkins 148.1
27. T. Hawkwind Jordan Linstedt 162.7
Not passed horse inspection (E) or withdrawn (W) before second horse inspection: Eveready Barb Crabo E
Rovano Rex M. Little-Meredith W
Slate River Heather Morris W
Icarus Michael Pollard W
Manolo Blahnik Sara Kozumplik W