Lynn Symansky and Donner (Smart Gorky) clear a jump in the cross-country phase of the Rolex Three-Day Event (photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
By Melissa Bauer-Herzog, @mbauerherzog, America’s Best Racing
As final preparations were being made with the Kentucky Derby contenders at Churchill Downs over the weekend, 75 miles to the east their Thoroughbred relatives were competing in a big event of their own.
Thirteen Thoroughbreds competed at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., the only four-star event (the highest level of eventing competition) in North America.
After three demanding phases, five of Thoroughbreds finished in the top 25 with two proving to be among the best horses in the competition with top-five finishes.
ANDREW NICHOLSON AND CALICO JOE DURING DRESSAGE
Andrew Nicholson’s Calico Joe was on fire from the beginning of the event. After the dressage phase of the event, in which he scored 40.8 penalty points, he was in third behind two of the strongest event horses in the world.
Cross-country is where the grandson of breed-shaping sire Sadler’s Wells really shined though as he went double clear around the course, a feat only 12 of the 41 horses to attempt cross-country pulled off. The run put him in the second-place spot behind Nicholson’s other mount, Quimbo, going into the final event, stadium jumping. Nicholson was guarded about Calico Joe’s chance of going penalty free in the final event of the weekend.
“It would be unusual for Calico Joe to have a clear round,” Nicholson said about his chances in the final phase.
Calico Joe finished with 12 faults in stadium jumping, moving him down to third place. However, the run was a major improvement for the 11-year-old gelding, who retired on the cross-country course last year to eliminate him from the competition. Calico Joe also won the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program’s award as the highest-placed Thoroughbred.
Calico Joe never raced before becoming an eventer, but he is well bred for a Thoroughbred. He is by Sadler’s Wells son Clerkenwell, who won four times and out of a daughter of Beau Sher, who placed in three stakes, including the Prince of Wales Stakes.
LYNN SYMANSKY AND DONNER
Lynn Symansky’s Smart Gorky, shown under the name of Donner, was the opposite of Calico Joe’s early event success story.
Donner had to fight his way to the top of the standings after a 54.8 score in dressage placed him 19th. But Donner pulled off an amazing feat when he was able to go clear in the other two phases for zero penalty points. Donner was one of only two horses to finish the event on his dressage score, the other one being Olympic medalist William Fox-Pitt’s Seacookie TSF. Donner’s clear rounds propelled him from 19th to fifth in the final standings. As the highest-placed Off-the-Track Thoroughbred, Donner received an award from CANTER for his efforts.
Donner raced under the name Smart Gorky around the mid-Atlantic circuit in 2006. He wasn’t very impressive on the track, missing the board in six starts for only $2,870 in earnings. He was retired at the end of his 3-year-old year after finishing sixth in his final race, a maiden claiming race at Laurel Park. It’s not surprising that the gelding handled cross-country so well, as he is by steeplechase stakes winner Gorky Park. His dam, Smart Jane was a flat racer who only won three times in her 45-race career, but she is by Smarten, a multiple graded stakes winner who won the 1979 Illinois Derby.
This isn’t the first big placing for the New York-bred as he was on the United States’ team for the 2011 Pan-American Games, at which the team won the gold medal and Donner finished eighth individually.
Overall, the Thoroughbreds had a good showing at the top event in North America with seven of the 13 who started the event finishing in the Top 30.
For more information on all the Thoroughbreds entered in the 2013 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, go to http://retiredracehorsetraining.org.