Equiratings pegged this year’s CCI5*-L Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event the highest rated in field strength on record.

With competitors from the world over descending on Lexington to contest the competition, there were high expectations for low scores on day one of dressage.

And they didn’t disappoint.

USA’s Tamie Smith, the Equiratings favorite with a 14% win chance, dazzled with her veteran partner Mai Baum. She and the 12-year-old German Sport Horse gelding delivered a smooth, rhythmic, and relaxed test that scored a 24.2. Smith called it one of his best tests to date and waxed poetic about her partner.

“I think something, he does it. I look somewhere, he goes,” she gushed. “It’s been like that for the last few years.” 

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. ©Atalya Boytner

Their score was good enough for first place. But they didn’t get to enjoy the lead for long. Waiting in the wings was Olympic individual silver medalist and team gold medalist from Great Britain, Tom McEwen. Partnered with the reigning European Champion and former Nicola Wilson (GBR) ride in JL Dublin (aka, Dubs), the pair went three rides after Smith and scored an incredible 22.6.

“Nicola has done all of the work so I have her to thank,” he said of the 12-year-old Holsteiner. “Dubs is the kindest person you could ever meet. He loves just being on the stage and competing in front of people.”

McEwen heads into day two of dressage with only two or three competitors to come who could challenge that lead. World Champion Yasmin Ingham (GBR) and Banzai du Loir (11% win chance) and Will Coleman (USA) with Chin Tonic (9% win chance) are his biggest threats on Friday, according to the Equiratings Prediciton Centre.

Joining McEwen and Smith in the top three on Friday was Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA), current leader of the CCI4*-S with Cooley Nutcracker. Her 5* mount Deniro Z was ultimately kept off the Pratoni 2022 world championship team by a small scrape. They set out with something to prove in Kentucky and prove it they did. Scoring a 29.0, they were the first pair to break the thirty-barrier on the day. But the test wasn’t without its challenges.

Flying changes have long been a physical challenge for the 15-year-old Dutch warmblood and when asked, Liz ruefully commented that “he got three out of the four so I guess we should be excited about that.” A little spook at the video camera on the centerline didn’t help keep the tension from creeping in.

To no one’s surprise, the German contingent made up of Sandra Auffarth and Alina Dibowski cracked into the top six. Auffarth and Viamant Du Matz scored a 30.4 to sit in fourth overnight after some cheeky tension crept into her test. Dibowski and Barbados 26 have a solid 30.7 for sixth place.

Only 0.4 penalties separates Auffarth in fourth from Kristy Chabert and Classic VI in seventh with a 30.8.

Sitting between the Germans in fifth is Woods Baughman (USA) and C’est La Vie 135 with a 30.6. Baughman will be rueing a gamble in the extended canter, which ended in a flying change and break to the trot, scrambling his scores for two movements. While his quick actions saved him a third movement’s points, his test was trending to challenge the top three.

Action restarts at the Kentucky Horse Park tomorrow at 1:00pm. Both Ingham with Banzai du Loir and Pratoni team silver medalist Boyd Martin (USA) aboard Tsetserleg TSF will make their bid for the top in the first group of the day on Friday. Coleman will be last to compete.

Feature image: ©Atayla Boytner