Warning: we’re going to rave about Jung at Kentucky

What a class act Michael Jung is and also great to see mares getting first and second!

Jung, Jung, Jung, Jung, Jung, Jung, we could go on. He’s incredible. He seems unbeatable. He is SO good, at every phase. He makes it look easy – which is always a sign of a really, really good athlete.

Michael Jung did have four rails in hand going into the show jumping, and poles fell regularly throughout this phase, playing havoc with the leaderboard. ‘Michi’ had one hiccup, when he had a slightly unlucky rail on his mare FischerRocana FST.

Michael Jung riding FISCHERROCANA FST GER points to the Rolex grand Slam trophy. Photo Rolex / Kit Houghton
Triumphant: Michael Jung and FischerRocana FST. (Image: Rolex / Kit Houghton)

Yes, he has won again at Kentucky, as he has every time he’s been there. He won the CCI4* last year and, on his first visit, won gold at the 2010 World Equestrian Games. With this win he now has two legs of the Rolex Grand Slam secured, and ‘just’ Badminton to go next weekend. Our friends at Equi-Ratings have provided the statistics for us: Michael has ridden at 20 four-star events. He has had 14 top-five finishes, and has won seven of them. How awesome is that?

Michael Jung points to the Rolex Grand Slam of eventing sign. Will he win it next week? Photo Rolex / Kit Houghton
Will he win it next week? (Image: Rolex / Kit Houghton)

At the press conference after prize-giving, Michael was asked how he felt about “his place in history” but ducked the question, saying it was a team effort, and that he was thankful for his family, his supporters and his horses. He confessed that “waiting makes me nervous” rather than feeling extra pressure from expectations.

In regard to preparation for Badminton, Michael said he won’t make any changes and will tell himself it’s a normal competition. “It’s important to have a good feeling for the horse and have a good round together.”

Lauren Kieffer riding Veronica, USA. Photo Rolex / Kit Houghton
Lauren Kieffer and Veronica, USA. (Image:Rolex / Kit Houghton)

There’s a lot of love for Veronica, Lauren Kieffer’s horse, and they incurred just one time fault in the show jumping, finishing second overall, which meant that mares filled both top spots. Both Michael and Lauren were asked about embryo transfers, and Michael’s response was an adamant ‘no’. “It is not the natural way,” he added. Veronica however, already has two foals on the ground thanks to surrogate mares.

Maya Black riding DOESN'T PLAY FAIR USA. Photo Rolex / Kit Houghton
Maya Black and Doesn’t Play Fair (Image: Rolex / Kit Houghton)

Maya Black’s gelding Doesn’t Play Fair was third after Phillip Dutton’s show jumping rails meant he slipped down the rankings to fourth, fifth and 13th – still a very impressive performance from the ex-Australian.

The best-placed New Zealander was Sir Mark Todd, who just keeps on demonstrating what a classy rider he is. While he couldn’t quite pull off an elusive clear round in the show jumping, having one down, he did a great job overall and has finished in seventh place. Eventing is all about ‘what-ifs’ – if he had been earlier in the order, perhaps we could have seen him finishing further up the leaderboard? In any case, he really did show his class and must now be assured of being in the New Zealand Olympic team. Let’s all just hope that horse (or rider) injuries don’t scupper those words!

Jock Paget had a round that he will want to improve on, with three down on Clifton Signature, but it was a very tough show jumping track and he will be chuffed with his 14th placing.

Blyth Tait also showed his show jumping class by posting the first clear round of the day and under the time on Xanthus who looked fresh and accomplished. The final phase was very influential, with poles and time faults added to many scores. There were only four clears within the time, and Blyth was one of those.

Joe Meyer and Clip Clip had four down and four time faults; still a qualifying score at four-star for this pair, as they look towards doing more at this level in the future.

Kentucky was always going to be crucial in the New Zealand Olympic eventing team selectors’ decision-making. Chief selector, Bill Phiskie, was there to observe, and the results haven’t made his job easy. While Sir Mark was a stand-out, the other contenders have really muddied the waters. Tim’s Bango looked sensational across country, and seemed likely to be the only horse to go inside the time, until disaster at the second-to-last fence. Elimination for the fall meant we couldn’t see him show jumping. Clifton Signature and Jock also looked amazing around the cross-country, but show jumping left a few questions. Blyth’s show jumping was near perfect, but his cross-country wasn’t!

All attention will now focus on Badminton. Bill won’t be there, but our other two selectors will be. We’ve got riders competing on their other top horses: Tim with Ringwood Sky Boy, Sir Mark with Leonidas, Blyth on Bear Necessity and Jock on Clifton Lush. Then we have Jonelle on Classic Moet, and Clarke Johnstone on Balmoral Sensation. We’re looking forward to seeing how Clarke gets on after totally dominating the New Zealand scene over the last couple of years. Also competing will be three outsiders for Olympic selection: Jesse Campbell and Kaapachino, Dan Jocelyn on Beaucatcher and Lucy Jackson on Bosun.

And of course the dark horse for selection is Andrew Nicholson, who – along with Sir Mark – if chosen would be making history at his seventh Games. Despite the fact he and ESNZ have yet to kiss and make up after their well-publicised stoush following WEG 2012, ESNZ say he is still on the Rio long-list. “There remain some administrative requirements to be completed, as for every long-list athlete.”

Who said being a selector was easy?