The conditions couldn't have been more perfect for a day of brilliant cross-country action, and the riders and horses didn't disappoint. Defending champion Michael Jung of Germany and Fisherrocana FST showed the depth of their partnership to take over the top spot after adding only 0.4 penalties to his dressage score to lead with 27.5.
Breathing down his neck is Australia's Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 (27.9) and Oliver Townend of Great Britain on Cooley Master Class (28.7). Townend is also tied for fourth aboard MHS King Joules (31.3) with Lynn Symansky and Donner (31.3). Less than a rail separates all of them as they head into the Sunday's show jumping finale.
Symansky and Donner, as the highest-placed Americans, are currently leading the Land Rover/USEF CCI**** National Championship. Overnight leader Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous added 8 time penalties to drop to sixth overall, and second in the national championship.
While Jung's performance was brilliant, it wasn't perfect, as the pair survived a scary moment at the big brush corner at 18B in the Land Rover Head of the Lake. After getting the striding wrong, the mare twisted badly, and was hung up for a moment on the corner, before extracting herself and carrying on. Though the 13-year-old German-bred mare jumped clean, and despite an incredible effort to catch back up on her time, they finished one second slow.
"On jump 18 in the water, I would have liked to do four (strides) and I missed it in the end," said Jung, 35, of Horb, Germany. "She tried to keep straight in front of the fence, and she tried not to jump, but just to go over."
Want to see Michael Jung's Cross Country? Click Here.
"But, this is what you need in a partnership," he continued. "That the other half is fighting for you, and she was really fighting for me. It makes me proud, she never gives up and every chance she has she fights for me. We lost a few seconds, we were good in time up to there, but then had to go really fast after that. It's a nice feeling when a horse had such great fun on a tough course like this."
Burton, 36, the two-time Olympian from Godalming, Surrey, England, had nothing but praise for his horse, and for the course and conditions. "Because there were such good conditions, I was able to enjoy it. My horse has gotten a bit stiff as he's gotten older, and it's taken a lot of work to get him here. I'm delighted he came home as well as he did. He looked through the flags really nicely and had a great time out there," he said of the 13-year-old Hanoverian. "It's easy to be happy when you've had a good run, but there wouldn't be anyone who didn't think it was a great day of sport. The (course) designer has a great feel and it was a great track and the footing and course were great."
Townend, 35, Dudleston Heath, Ellesmere, Shropshire, England, had two tremendous rides today, even though he said his two horses are quite different. "It was an unbelievable track. Derek (di Grazia) is one of the best designers in the world," he said. "The ground and the track were both fantastic, with a great deal of feel and empathy for the horses.
"I had two very different rides with my horses," he continued. "Joules is notoriously strong, which is why I've got the ride. There's no question there's a huge amount of talent and gallop and ability is no problem, but trying to stop or slow down is quite difficult. So I got run off with for 11 minutes on the first horse. I just put him between the flags and went whoa, whoa.
"(Cooley Master Class) I couldn't be happier with. He's new at this level, and started out not quite so confident and not used to the crowds. He grew in confidence as he went, which is a good sign from a course designing point of view. I couldn't be happier with both horses," he finished.
MHS King Joules and Cooley Master Class are both 13-year-old Irish Sport Horses.
Donner, a 15-year-old Thoroughbred, is competing in his ninth CCI****, and their experience showed as he and Symansky, 35, Middleburg, Virginia, cruised around easily. "I don't have any complaints," she said with a smile. "He takes a bit to get into the groove, especially with the crowd. But then it was pretty boring, he went around like clockwork. It's a tribute to knowing the horse so well and having a great partnership with him. He tried his heart out, and I'm pleased with how he came home."
Want to see Lynn Symansky and Donner's round? Click Here.
All in all, 11 pairs came home double clear around Derek Di Grazia's course. Burton/ Nobilis 18, Townend with MHS King Joules and Cooley Master Class, Symansky/Donner, Phillip Dutton/Z, Sharon White/Cooley On Show, Erin Sylvester/ Paddy the Caddy, Will Coleman/Tight Lines, Tim Bourke/Luckaun Quality, Kelly Prather/Truly Wiley, and Savannah Fulton/Captain Jack.
Thirty-six horses finished the course, six with jumping faults. Three were eliminated and four retired on course.
Want to hear Michael Jung talk about his ride? Click Here.
Course designer di Grazia, who will design courses for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, was pleased with how his course rode, even though more made the time than he was expecting. "I'm generally very happy about how the course rode," he said. "I think the faults were spread out, quite a number clean without jumping faults and I think all the combinations rode well and at the same time (the riders) didn't have to do them all the same way. People did things differently and it still worked out for them. And, we didn't have any horse falls or rider injuries, and to me that's all a positive.
"I think that the ground ended up being quite fast today," di Grazia continued. "(In part because) the conditions couldn't be better. A little rain would have been different, but you never know. We also had a very good field of riders today. It may not have been a huge field, but the ones we had were good."
In the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge, Team Germany/Great Britain/Australia/Poland (Jung/Fischerrocana FST, Burton/Nobilis 18, Oliver Townend/MHS King Joules, Pawel Spisak/Banderas) continued to dominate, adding only 0.4 to their overnight score to stand on 86.7 over Team USA (108) and Team Canada (207.2).
The 33,323 spectators who turned out to watch cross-country were treated to gorgeous spring weather. Sunday's activities get started with the final horse inspection at 8:30 a.m., with the show jumping getting underway at 1:00 p.m.
About the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event:
The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event is the nation's premier three-day event. Known as "the best weekend all year," this multi-day competition features the world's best horses and riders vying for their share of $400,000 in prize money, as well as a shot at the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing which is awarded to any rider who wins the Land Rover Kentucky, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley Four Star Events in succession. Land Rover Kentucky is one of only six annual Four Star Three-Day Events in the world and the only one in the Western Hemisphere.
This event also serves as the Land Rover/USEF CCI**** National Championship for the American riders.
Also featured as a part of the competition is the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Cup Team Challenge, with each team vying for $20,000 in prize money. Four teams will line up for their share of the winnings.
The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, May 6, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EDT. It will also be broadcast on the Olympic Channel on May 26, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. EDT. USEFNetwork.com will livestream the competition in its entirety. Competition will also be archived and available on demand.
The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event is also hosting a $225,000 Invitational Show Jumping Grand Prix.
Spectators can also shop at the Sponsor Village and International Trade Fair with almost 200 booths and tents. Land Rover Kentucky also features tailgating, glamorous camping "glamping", and Champions Live! on Sunday morning.
For further information: www.kentuckythreedayevent.com.