Michael Etherington-Smith's eventing cross-country course at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games didn't produce any of those gut-wrenching, truly awful moments for which the sport of eventing is occasionally known; yet it still managed to prevent 19 of the 79 starters from finishing the 28-fence course.
We can't say Mike didn't warn us. In my previous blog post, I shared his warnings about the "tricky" fence 7ABC, the Walnut Hall Corner. The four-foot ditch at 7B claimed its share of victims who came over the rails at 7A too flat and fast to regroup before the ditch, resulting in runouts or, in at least one case, an unplanned slide to the lip of the ditch.
Many of the eliminations resulted from three refusals and (thankfully) not from injuries. I'd tell you exactly how many except that, when last I checked, officials were still puzzling out the exact tally of penalties and time faults and therefore had not yet released the official list of results. But I can tell you that, of the US team, Boyd Martin on Neville Bardos and Phillip Dutton on Woodburn went clean. Karen O'Connor on Mandiba had 0.8 time fault. Becky Holder on Courageous Comet (competing as an individual) had 3.2 time faults. And Buck Davidson on BallyNoe Castle RM had 20 jump faults and 26 time faults.
Great Britain's eventing powerhouse, William Fox-Pitt, was only in twelfth place after dressage, but the casualties of cross-country combined with his own clean trip aboard Cool Mountain moved him all the way up to second place in the standings. Michael Jung of Germany, who won the dressage phase with La Biosthetique-Sam FBW, handily maintained his lead with a clean round. And even with her time faults, Becky Holder moved up from fifth after dressage to third overall.
Even those riders who came out on top tipped their helmets to the challenging course. Even the veteran Fox-Pitt, whose time of 11:09 was the day's fifth-fastest, said that "no one anticipated the problems it [caused]." There was "enough trouble for me to have moved up from twelfth to second. I'm amazed." He added that "I didn't feel any more relaxed for having ridden around here in the spring" at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.
Holder said of the course: "We were very much aware of the cumulative effect of little, tiny mistakes as the course went on."
Jung, the leader going into stadium jumping, said the WEG is his first championship at the four-star level. With the aid of a translator, he called the cross-country track a "difficult but very beautiful course. Every jump asked a very big effort from the horse."
Jung characterized his horse, La Bioesthique-Sam FBW, as "very careful. He does not have a lot of scope, but he wants to work with me with all of his heart."
"It's a very big course--the biggest thing I've ever jumped," said Boyd Martin. Of his go, he said, "It wasn't the prettiest round I've ever ridden. Neville was pretty wound up and excited. It was the biggest crowd we've both seen." The pair had a big bobble at the Land Between the Lakes (aka the Head of the Lake) water jump that nearly got Martin out of the tack.
A record crowd of 50,818 thronged the Kentucky Horse Park for cross-country day, jamming traffic on Iron Works Pike, the main artery to the park entrances, for miles in the morning and again at the end of the day.
There were a few injuries on cross-country, most thankfully minor. Italian pair Juan Carlos Garcia and Iman du Golfe fell at fence 20, the 3'10"-3'11" high corner called the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace. Both were taken to hospitals, with the horse being transported via ambulance to nearby Rood & Riddle. By late evening, WEG officials had released statements on both. Garcia was treated for "minor injuries" and released the same day. Iman du Golfe sustained "a deep laceration and a small bone chip near his left elbow." The laceration was sutured, and veterinarians are optimistic that he will make a full recovery.
Fernhill Clover Mist, ridden by Patricia Ryan of Ireland, sustained an unspecified injury to his left hock while galloping between fences on course. He was treated at the on-site WEG veterinary clinic and also has a positive prognosis.
Finally, Australian rider Paul Tapner's horse, Inonothing, was injured at fence 13B, a 3'11" high coop with brush. He too was examined at the on-site clinic, and radiographs revealed a fracture of Inonothing's left hind patella. He is reported to be resting comfortably in his stall at the Horse Park and should recover fully.
You probably already suspect this, but the finish line at a WEG cross-country course is a busy place. In Kentucky, grooms were hard at work cooling horses while sweaty riders dashed over to the media "mixed zone" (our sport's low-tech version of figure skating's "kiss and cry" area) to give the press a quick rundown on their trips. Here, filmed from the mixed zone (so forgive the noise) is a quick clip of the action.