New Zealand’s would-be London Olympians go head to head with some of the best combinations in the world at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in the United States this weekend.
Andrew Nicholson has two of his younger horses in Qwanza and Calico Joe at the four star event, while Jonathan Paget has his World Champs star Clifton Promise and Lucy Jackson the 10-year-old Kilcoltram Ambassador.
It’s a star-studded field though with a record 73 horses entered including former Kentucky champions, Olympic medal winners and some of the sport’s biggest names from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The Americans are using the Lexington event as selection trials for the London Olympics and the Kiwi selectors will be looking very closely at the trio lining up for New Zealand.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance director Sarah Harris is expecting big things from all of them.
“Jonathan (Paget) has been there before on (Clifton) Promise, so knows the tracks and is in a good position to win,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for Lucy (Jackson) to experience an international course outside of the UK and Europe, and Andrew (Nicholson) may be starting two young horses in their first four star event, but never underestimate this world class rider.”
The three are part of a seven-strong crew vying for the five London Olympic spots.
Paget has ridden in Kentucky twice before, both in 2010 – at the Rolex and the World Equestrian Games where he finished seventh.
“I love this event,” he says, “and I am very happy to be here. I’ll be trying my best, that’s for sure. I am lucky enough to have such a special horse who is capable of winning if everything goes our way, but this is a four star event and the best in the world are here.”
He says everything will have to go perfectly for them.
“It feels a bit like the calm before the storm. I’m taking each day as it comes.”
Both of Nicholson’s horses are having their first four star starts.
“It is a beautiful place to come to and from a distance the cross country looks similar to what it was at the World Champs (in 2010, where he won a bronze individual medal),” he says. “I would like to win but I may be pushing a bit – there are some very experienced four star horses here, but these two will hold their own. If we are near enough in the dressage we could do well.”
Meanwhile Jackson is bubbling with excitement.
“This is my first trip to Rolex so is hugely exciting! The weather is freezing but that will suit my boy. I can’t get over the scale of the site – there are hundreds of acres of hundreds and stables.”
Kentucky is the only four star three day event held in the United States, and is the third leg of the six part HSBC FEI Classics – in which Nicholson is sitting third – with riders vying for part of the $250,000 prize purse and a shot at the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing which goes to any rider who wins Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley in succession.
The event is expected to attract up to 100,000 spectators and is seen by millions more on worldwide telecasts.
The event gets underway with the vet inspection early Thursday morning (NZ time), followed by two days of dressage, the cross country Sunday morning and culminating with the showjumping on Monday morning.