In the 39-year history of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Land Rover, only three riders have ever managed to win two years in a row. Michael Jung of Germany made history by winning the 2017 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event aboard FischerRocana FST, making him the first rider to win three consecutive years. The two-time Olympic champion added just a few penalties to his dressage score to finish on 42.7 penalties, just ahead of France's Maxime Livio on Qalao Des Mers (44.6) and England's Zara Tindall and High Kingdom (46.6).
By placing fourth, a pair of U.S. veterans, Phillip Dutton and Mr. Medicott (54.6), took home the Roger Haller Memorial Trophy for winning the Rolex/USEF CCI4* Eventing National Championship. Dutton won the USEF championship for a record fifth time, and his finishes on three horses gave him an astounding 40 completions at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
In all, 80,654 people came to the Kentucky Horse Park to enjoy amazing performances. After the first phase of competition, American Clark Montgomery led the way with a fantastic score of 33.6 on Loughan Glen, just ahead of Jung (37.1) and three-time winner Kim Severson with Cooley Cross Border (41.0).
"I was really happy," said Montgomery, 35. "He came out this morning for his pre-ride and was a little on the muscle, so I didn't know what he was going to be like. But he came back out for warm-up and felt good, and in the test he felt great."
But the heart of eventing is its second phase-cross-country-and it caused a considerable shakeup in the standings. Montgomery and Loughan Glen dropped down the order after runouts at 18ab, the first of two narrow wedges in the water at the Land Rover Landing, and the second of the Horse Park Barns at 27. Severson retired Cooley Cross Border after a run out at the corner at the Fox Den at 22. The Land Rover Landing proved to be the most influential fence of the day, with 10 pairs coming to grief there.
In all, only five of the 57 starters managed to come home double clear, and only 26 came home with no jumping penalties. The five putting in double-clears included: Livio/Qalao Des Mers, Tindall/High Kingdom, Super Socks/Matthew Brown, Tim Bourke (IRL)/Luckaun Quality and Erin Sylvester/Mettraise.
Jung did not have his signature perfect round as his mare got a few funny distances. "I think that's cross-country," said Jung, 34. "You never know what will happen. You walk the course and make a plan, but then I felt in the warm-up today that Rocana was not feeling perfect with the weather. It made me nervous before the start, but on course she was galloping well and jumping powerfully."
Livio had praise for his horse and his partnership. "I am super happy with my horse, who had a super round," said Livio, 29. "He started like he starts every time-fast and strong. I tried not to fight too much at the beginning, but he never wanted to get quiet. He did exactly what I wanted everywhere."
Tindall, 35, had a rough time during her last trip to the Kentucky Horse Park (2015), when her horse High Kingdom had to be withdrawn after injuring himself in the stables right before dressage. This time they had a much better weekend, with a good showing in dressage and a strong double-clear in the cross-country to stand third.
"I had a great ride," she said. "I was pretty happy after my dressage and to get through to cross-country was already better than two years ago! I was happy for the rain last night, the ground was incredible. He loves this phase -- he gallops great, he's easy to turn, he's very good at all the combinations and we did what we planned the whole way around. He kept galloping well in the heat -- he coped really well."
Sylvester had something to be extra pleased about, other than just jumping double clear at her horse's first CCI4* -- by finishing exactly on the optimum time she won the Land Rover Best Ride of the Day as the American finishing closest to optimum time with no penalties. She won a two-year lease on a 2017 Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Show jumping day was hot and blustery, but that didn't prevent 24,159 fans from packing the Rolex Stadium to see the best in the world compete for $400,000 in prize money. Double-clean rounds were few and far between, with only one coming in the first session, by Will Faudree and Pfun. There would only be three more in the second session, turned in by Livio, Tindall and Kurt Martin on Delux Z. Dutton and Mr. Medicott would leave all the rails in the cups, but they had 1 time penalty.
Jung was not perfect, but good enough, having a rail down in the triple combination. However, his six-point lead going into show jumping allowed him to claim the victory even with that one mistake. In addition to his $130,000 share of the prize money, Jung's victory brought home prizes for him groom Sabrina Zatche, his parents and owners of Rocana, Brigette and Joachim Jung, and Rocana's breeder, Mirko Glotz.
"Without the horse you are just walking people; I'm not sure how you say that in English," said Jung with a laugh. "This is a wonderful horse, she is absolutely a top horse, and she is always fighting for me. We have a partnership, I know everything that she needs for me to motivate her. I am so thankful for my whole team and especially for my horse."
Livio had been chasing Jung all weekend, and he is the only person to have beaten him in recent memory (at the Pau CCI4* last year), but he settled for second place. His powerful double-clean round put the pressure on Jung as he cantered out of the ring.
"There is always a little pressure in the ring, especially at a four-star with all the top riders," Livio said. "With my horse, I just have to stick to him and stick to my ride, and if I do that the pressure goes down. I know if I'm focused on my riding, the horse will do his best."
Tindall put in a sparkling performance to join Livio as the only two to finish on their dressage score. "I'm obviously very lucky to come back and very thankful to my owner and to Land Rover and Rolex to be able to come back," she said. "It's great to be sitting up here with these guys. My horse was fantastic all the way through the competition -he jumped great today.
"He doesn't owe me anything," added Tindall, noting the horse has been in the ribbons at several four stars and has a Olympic and World Championship medals on his resume. "I loved riding him all weekend. This is such a fantastic competition, thanks for having it."
Dutton, 53, brought three horses to Kentucky, and all three finished in the top 10, with Fernhill Fugitive finishing eighth (63.0) and I'm Sew Ready 10 (69.1). But it was his top placing mount, Mr. Medicott, who brought Dutton his fifth USEF national championship.
"Cave," as he is known, is 18 this year, well past the age that many horses are competing at this level, but he has Olympic performances to his name and was bought for Dutton with those goals in mind. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury and has spent the last two years recovering, but after showing Dutton he was ready, he earned a trip to Rolex Kentucky.
"I was quite unsure about whether I should bring him," Dutton admitted. "He's been off for two years, but there wasn't much else for him the rest of the year that was suitable, and for a horse like this, this is an appropriate event. For him to show so much heart-I mean, I only did one horse trial on him in two years. He's such as an incredible horse. I probably didn't have him fit enough, but he was just incredible this weekend."
While the horse looked wonderful all weekend, Dutton announced that he would be retiring Mr. Medicott from this level of competition.
In the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge, Team USA edged the combined New Zealand/France/Germany team to win with a score of 179.2. The combined team finished second with 180.3. Team Canada was third with 231.5. Team USA included Hannah Sue Burnett/Under Suspection, Boyd Martin/Cracker Jack, Dutton/Fernhill Fugitive, and Lauren Kieffer/Vermiculus.
Other special prizes included Canada's Hawley Bennet-Awad bringing home the Bank One Trophy as the highest placed rider/sole owner aboard Jollybo and Madeline Backus and PS Arianna winning the Reeves Trophy as the highest-placed young rider. Savannah Fulton and Captain Jack won the Zeppa International Trophy for the best presented at the horse inspections and Backus and Arianna brought home the Equis Boutique 'Best Presented Horse' for the third horse inspection.
The Dubarry of Ireland 'Best Dressed' Award was given out at the first horse inspection, with the prize of boots going to Allie Sacksen and Boyd Martin.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the nation's premier Three-Day Event and one of the most prestigious equestrian competitions in the world. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the world's governing body of equestrian sports, has designated the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event as a 'Four Star' eventing competition, the highest designation, which is given only to the Olympic Games, World Championships, and six annual events around the world. "Rolex Kentucky" is the only Four Star event in the Western Hemisphere and is part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. It hosts the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge and serves as the Rolex/USEF CCI4* Eventing National Championship. The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, May 7, from 1:30-3:00 p.m. EDT.
Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) is a non-profit charitable Kentucky corporation that was established initially to produce the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park. Following the success of those championships, EEI established an annual event that evolved into the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
The official charity of this year's Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is Central Kentucky Riding for Hope (CKRH). Further information is available at the event's official website at www.RK3DE.org.