The 3rd Decade
A new era in Kentucky, the U.S., and the world began in 1998, 20 years after the fourth World Three-Day Event Championships were organized by Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) at the brand new Kentucky Horse Park. Those World Championships were the first held outside of Europe, and the new four star three-day event (CCI****) was the first held outside of Europe, indeed outside of the even smaller sphere of England, and only the third in the world.
The 1998 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event also was the first competition in the world to offer both a four star and a three star competition. The reason was not one of increased revenue or spectator draw but simply one of responsibility to the sport of Eventing in the U.S. No organizing committee was ready to take over the CCI*** and EEI would not leave the U.S. without a Spring three star three-day event even though the new four star provided more than enough additional challenge to resources and personnel. The U.S. Equestrian Team named two champions at Rolex Kentucky in 1998, the first USET CCI**** Champion and the 20th USET CCI*** Spring Champion. The world was focused on the new Four Star at Kentucky in 1998. It did not disappoint. The top five placings, a true international cast, ensured that more riders from "across the pond" and "down under" would be making the trip in 1999.
In 1999, Rolex Kentucky hosted the three star competition for the last time. The new Grand Slam of Eventing, offering $250,000 to any rider who wins Rolex Kentucky, Badminton, and Burghley in succession, added to the excitement at each of these events in 1999.
In 2000, Rolex Kentucky became the first Four Star of the New Millennium and served again as the primary U.S. Equestrian Team Olympic Games Selection Trial. Commensurate with the importance of the Four Star, prize money was been raised to $150,000, with title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A. providing $100,000 and organizer EEzI. putting in the additional $50,000.
In 2001, Kentucky served as a Qualifying Competition for the 2002 World Three-Day Championships in Spain. A large foreign contingent was entered, due in no small part to the tragic outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the United Kingdom and on the Continent. The cancellation of all events on the Spring calendar left competitors with no place to go except the U.S. EEI willingly accepted entries well past the closing date to ensure that these owners and riders had a place to run their horses.
The 2002 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event marked the 25th Anniversary of the Kentucky Three-Day Event that began with the 1978 World Championships. It also marked the 10th year of Michael Etherington-Smith's superlative cross-country course design. The Event served as the primary U.S. Selection Trial for the World Three-Day Event Championships of the World Equestrian Games scheduled for Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, September 11-22. A strong foreign contingent challenged a remarkable group of U.S. horses and riders. With an additional $40,000 from Rolex Watch U.S.A. enabling prize money to increase to $190,000, Rolex Kentucky 2002 was going to be a major player in equestrian competition worldwide.
What a major player it turned out to be! Five of the six members of the U.S. contingent came from the 2002 Event, and the sixth, the inimitable Giltedge, won Kentucky in 2001. The U.S. was the only country to finish all four team members and its two individual riders and capped it off by winning the Team Gold Medal. It doesn't get much better than that!
In 2003, EEI published a commemorative book, celebrating the 25 years, 1978-2002, of championship Three-Day Event competition at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Event served as a Selection Trial for the Eventing Championships of the Pan American Games, a qualifying competition for the 2004 Olympic Games and a U.S. Equestrian Team Observation Trial to assist in determining horse and rider combinations to represent the U.S. abroad later in the year.
Another stellar group of foreign riders was on hand, including from Great Britain the 2002 FEI World Leading Rider William Fox-Pitt and 2002 European Champion Pippa Funnell in her first try at Kentucky and, indeed, her first trip to the United States. First time was charm for Pippa and she and Metier Consulting's Primmore's Pride captured the coveted Rolex Trophy. History was made when Pippa returned home and repeated her 2002 Badminton win on Supreme Rock and in September won the Burghley CCI**** on her Kentucky winner Primmore's Pride to become the first to capture the $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.
In 2004, as it often does in Olympic years, Rolex Kentucky offered a special division for riders and horses that had already met the Olympic qualifying requirements. The Bayer Modified Four Star Three-Day Event was patterned after the new Olympic format that doesn't include the Roads and Tracks and Steeplechase phases of the classic competition. The established Rolex Kentucky CCI**** served as a Qualifying Competition for the Olympic Games in Athens in August and both classes of competition were used by the U.S. Equestrian Federation as Selection Trials for the 2004 Eventing Team with spectacular results.
Kim Severson and Winsome Adante won the classic Rolex Kentucky CCI**** for the second time and went on to win the Indivdiual Silver Medal at the Olympic Games and a Team Bronze Medal. Fellow Bronze Medal Team Members Julie Richards and Jacob Two Two placed 5th in the classic format. The other three Bronze Medal Team Members at the Olympic Games, Darren Chiacchia and Windfall 2, John Williams and Carrick and Amy Tryon with Poggio II, all competed in the Modified Four Star with Darren and Windfall capturing the win.
The Rolex Equestrian Championship was shown on NBC television May 9, 2004, a first for an Eventing competition in the U.S. outside of an Olympic Games. The ratings for this program were much greater than NBC expected, so much so that the network agreed to air the Rolex Kentucky program for another two years.
In 2005, Rolex Kentucky returned to the classic format as its only division, believing that the full test of speed, endurance and jumping ability on Cross-Country Day, when combined with the tests of Dressage and Show Jumping, is necessary to fully showcase the complete equine athlete and the horsemanship of its human partner. A highlight of the 2005 Event was celebrating the 25th year of title sponsorship of the Kentucky Three-Day Event by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. If there are any other event title sponsors with as long or longer an association with a specific event, we were unable to find them. EEI knows for certain, however, that there cannot be any more supportive, constant and generous sponsor than Rolex Watch, U.S.A. has been since 1981.
Kim Severson and Plain Dealing Farm's Winsome Adante won the Rolex Kentucky Four Star for the third time and back to back, a feat that, in the classic Eventing format, will never be repeated. Their 2005 win put them in the history books and stamped "Dan" as what will forever be looked to as a true Event Horse.
The primary U.S. Selection Trial for the Eventing World Championships at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, the 2006 Event ran in the "without Steeplechase” (short) format since all FEI Championships are currently run in the short format. Rolex Kentucky 2006 was thus the first opportunity for all U.S. riders to compete in the standard short format Four Star event on home soil.
In 2007, Rolex Kentucky celebrated its 10th year as a Four Star competition. The Event served in 2007 as not only an FEI Qualifying Competition for the Eventing discipline of the 2008 Olympic Games, but also as a U.S. Equestrian Federation Selection Trial for those Games.