It went just as Michael Jung thought it would. Another smooth exhibition in collection with his fine mare fischerRocana as the pair began their pursuit of a third straight Rolex Kentucky crown. Problem is, Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen threw down a test for the ages and hold a near 4-point lead heading into Saturday’s Cross Country.
“I was really happy,” said Montgomery. “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 in the test. But he came back out for warm-up and felt good, and in the test he felt great.”
Montgomery is a recent transplant to the Lexington area, having returned to the States after spending several years living and competing in the UK.
“I think it will be a great place to have a business and a great place to raise a family,” he said.
In addition to being in the overall lead, as the highest-placed American, Montgomery also leads the Rolex/USEF CCI4* Eventing National Championship.
Jung comes into this weekend as the favorite, as his list of CCI4* wins is long and impressive, especially at the Kentucky Horse Park. Although he is standing in second, he was still pleased with his mare’s competitive performance.
“I was very happy; she was very nice to ride,” said the 34-year-old German. “She was very relaxed, so I could try to go forward and push her a little bit to get some very good marks. I think it was a very good test for her, but maybe not good enough.
“I was not watching the dressage today but maybe I should have, I heard it was very beautiful,” he said of Montgomery’s ride.
Sitting in third is four-star veteran Kim Severson, who has three Rolex Kentucky titles to her name. Severson’s Cooley Cross Border however, is competing for the first time at this level. She was thrilled with how he handled the atmosphere in the Rolex Stadium for today’s dressage.
“My horse was fantastic today,” said Severson. “He has really grown up a lot over the last six months. I got most of my flying changes today, which has been my thing, but I couldn’t have been happier with him. He was quite good.”
“I think a lot of us are going to find out a lot about our horses tomorrow. Hopefully, we’re all smart.”
With dressage behind them, tomorrow’s run over Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course now looms prominently in the riders’ minds. The weather is predicted to turn stormy overnight, but be clear and hot by the time the horses start at 10:00 a.m., and the heat will factor in the rider’s preparation.
“We have very good conditions (now), and if it’s not too hot tomorrow, I think we will have a lot of fun,” Jung said. “I will check on Rocana in the morning, and if everything looks perfect, I won’t ride her again before the warm-up.”
“Glen goes out early in the morning and gets loosened up, and especially with the heat, I’ll do most of my warm-up in the early morning,” Montgomery said. “So all I have to do in the afternoon is a little trot, canter and just jump a few jumps.”
“Here in Kentucky we’re very lucky to have the closed-circuit TV to watch the early riders go,” Severson said. “I haven’t decided about my warm-up yet. I’m going to have a look around (in the morning) and decide what to do.”
Di Grazia’s course is big and galloping, and it’s clear by the placement of some of the more challenging combinations, he expects the riders to leave something in the gas tank as they go around the course.
“I’m worried about the heat,” Montgomery admitted. “Glen doesn’t like the heat, though he likes the fast ground here. Derek’s done a beautiful job. You just have to ride well. For Glen, we just have to make sure we don’t come out too fast because it’s big and tricky all the way around, and at the end of the course you need ridability.”
“I think it’s a very nice course,” Jung said. “It’s changed a bit from last year, and it’s a bit better for galloping in a rhythm. In the beginning, to not have (two water combinations) directly is nice, but it’s very tough and there are some big fences and some tricky combinations in the end.”
“I think a lot of us are going to find out a lot about our horses tomorrow,” Severson said. “Hopefully, we’re all smart.”