Weather Watchers at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event

Weather during the cross-country phase played a key role in the outcome of this year’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, held in Lexington, Ky., at the Kentucky Horse Park on April 25-28. While some riders, including American winner Kim Vinoski on the 9-year-old Thoroughbred Winsome Adante, had the luck of going before incessant rains hit on Saturday, others struggled with pelting rain and less-than-desirable footing in the afternoon. Out of 34 competitors who went out on course once it started raining, 10 withdrew their horses, five retired on course, and three were eliminated.

At the start of cross-country, British rider William Fox-Pitt was leading with Springleaze Macaroo with a dressage score of 36.20, but he withdrew before starting the cross-country course (Phase D). With 16.8 time faults after the steeplechase (Phase B), Fox-Pitt said his horse was struggling.

“I had time faults on the steeplechase course because the condition of the track deteriorated so rapidly,” said Fox-Pitt. “When you have a nice horse, you don’t want to take those chances.” Fox-Pitt rode his other mount, Stunning, to a fourth-place finish after riding a clear cross-country round during the overcast--but dry--morning session.

The second-place horse and rider combination after dressage, Darren Chiacchia and R.G.’s Renegade, was bumped to 10th place after being penalized 5.6 time faults on the steeplechase and 26 time faults on the cross-country course. They rode in the late afternoon when conditions were the worst.

This left an opening for second-place finisher John Williams and Carrick, who rode early in the morning. Williams was 16th after dressage, but rode a clear cross-country round on Saturday and had only four jumping faults in stadium jumping. Williams retired his other horse, Hazmat, on the cross-country course.

“It didn’t take much rain,” he said at a press conference on Saturday. “The ground was already saturated from previous rains (earlier in the week). After each jump, I kept thinking this isn’t worth it, I should pull up, and I finally did.”

Amy Tryon and Poggio II, who went fairly early in the rain, managed to handle the difficult cross country course, coming out of it with only four time faults.

“The rain changed things dramatically,” she said. “It’s almost like two different competitions for those that went in the morning versus those that went this afternoon,” said Tryon, who was wet, but thrilled with her horse’s performance. Her cross-country score pushed her up from 24th place to fourth. The pair finished third when Fox-Pitt got 12 jumping faults on Stunning during stadium jumping.

Fatal Fall at Fence 10

Activity came to a halt on course Saturday afternoon when Titleist, ridden by Mark Weissbecker, suffered a fatal injury at cross country obstacle number 10, a rail fence heading toward a ditch and rails combination. Weissbecker walked away from the fall uninjured. Two veterinarians witnessed the accident and were at the horse’s side within 30 seconds. According to Jean Mitchell, president of the Ground Jury at Rolex, a committee of inquiry was formed, which is a standard procedure in accordance with Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) directives when a fatal injury occurs on course.

“This committee determined that as the horse jumped fence number 10, it hit the fence with its hind legs and fell,” Mitchell explained. “The horse did not move. The emergency crew was there immediately.”

The Ground Jury did not attribute the fall to ground conditions, and the course designer performed a complete check of the course footing directly after the accident to verify that riders could continue. Veterinarians in unofficial reports speculated that Titleist might have been tired from working through the more difficult footing on steeplechase and the beginning of phase D, and that might have compromised his ability to clear the obstacle.

According to FEI Event rules, the Ground Jury is authorized to make alterations to courses “when exceptional circumstances (such as heavy rain or hot weather) make obstacles or a test unfair or dangerous.” Additionally, the Ground Jury also may bring forward, postpone, or cancel scheduled rides due to dangerous conditions.

The conditions on Saturday afternoon at Rolex were not deemed dangerous by the Ground Jury, and afternoon riders were able to complete the course successfully.

Catherine Kohn, VMD, President of the Veterinary Commission, reported at a press conference held for the incident that, “preliminary results of a necropsy performed on Titleist at the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington indicated that the horse suffered trauma at the junction of the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae with associated spinal cord injury.

“The horse was non-responsive when the veterinarians arrived, and death occurred within two minutes of the fall,” added Kohn.--Sarah E. Hogwood, and Stephanie L. Church

There were many factors involved in the placings of this year's Rolex, from the ability and preparation of horse and rider, to a new dressage test, to changes in course design, rider decisions during the various tests, etc. But the weather was definitely a factor in the final outcome. Note that the top-placed riders after the dressage test dropped in the standings due to weather, footing conditions, and time faults. Three ended up withdrawing. In the final standings, four of the top five rider-horse combinations moved up after gaining an advantage with drier riding conditions, while Amy Tryon and Poggio II, who went in the rain, handled the course well with only 4.0 time faults.
Standings Before the Rain
After Dressage
After Cross-Country*
After Stadium Jumping
Final Score
William Fox-Pitt (GBR) Springleaze Macaroo First with a score of 36.20 Withdrew before starting phase D with 16.8 time faults on steeplechase, due to footing conditions, horse was struggling.
**Ride time: 2:11 p.m.
Withdrawn Withdrawn
Darren Chiacchia (USA) R.G.'s Renegade Second with a score of 36.80 10th with 31.6 time faults, rode late in afternoon during the worst of the rain. Ride time: 2:15 p.m. 15th with 16 jumping faults 84.4
Olivia Bunn (AUS) GV Top of the Line Third with a score of 37.40 11th with 32.4 time faults. Ride time: 1:47 p.m. Ninth, with four jumping faults 73.8
Kim Vinoski (USA) Royal Venture Fourth with a score of 38.00 Withdrew before starting phase D with 12 time faults on steeplechase, due to conditions. Ride time: 2:07 p.m. Withdrawn Withdrawn
David O'Connor (USA) Custom Made Fifth with a score of 38.21 Withdrew before starting phase D with 7.2 time faults on steeplechase, was scheduled to ride second to last in the afternoon session. Ride time: 2:39 p.m. Withdrawn Withdrawn
Final Standings
Kim Vinoski (USA) Winsome Adante Tenth with a score of 48.20 First after riding a clear round in the dry morning session. Ride time: 8:59 a.m. First with eight jumping faults 56.2
John Williams (USA) Carrick 16th with a score of 52.61 Third after riding a clear round in the dry morning session. Ride time: 8:43 a.m. Second with four jumping faults 56.61
Amy Tryon (USA) Poggio II 24th with a score of 55.80 Fourth with only 4.0 time faults, rode early in the rain, and the horse handled the course well. Ride time: 12:43 p.m. Third with a clear round 59.8
William Fox-Pitt (GBR) Stunning 12th with a score of 48.60 Second after riding a clear round in the dry morning session. Ride time: 9:03 a.m. Fourth with 12 jumping faults 60.6
Bruce O. Davidson, Sr. (USA) High Scope 27th with a score of 56.21 Ninth with 10.80 time faults during the dry morning session. Ride time: 10:27 a.m. Fifth with a clear round 67.01
*The cross-country test is divided into three phases—Phases A & C (Roads and Tracks), Phase B (Steeplechase), and Phase D (Cross-Country).
**Ride time refers to the time the rider began Phase A of the cross-country test.


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