Halliday-Sharp primed and ready for CCI4* debut at Rolex Kentucky

  • Jenni Autry, Fernhill By Night-562Liz and Blackie eager to impress at the FEI Classic
  • Only Le Mans 24 Hours comes close to dream-come-true experience 

Liz Halliday-Sharp faces the greatest challenge of her equestrian career this week when she and Blackie (Fernhill By Night) make their CCI4* competition debut at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (April 23-26).

One of just six CCI4*s in the world, Lexington, Kentucky brings together the best of global eventing and thousands of spectators for the biggest competition on the US calendar.

While her previous motor racing career and subsequent international equestrian events have helped prepare Liz for this weekend, the magnitude of reaching the sport’s pinnacle won’t fully sink in until she arrives at the famous Kentucky Horse Park on Monday.

“I’ve thought about competing at Rolex for nearly 20 years, so to finally be entered and going is a dream come true,” revealed the British-based Californian. “But I don’t think it will really sink in until I get there, do the trot up and walk the course. I don’t know what to expect exactly, but I imagine it will feel like racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve finally made it’ when I first walked into the pit-lane there, and believe it will feel the same when I finally get to the Horse Park.

“This is the culmination of many years’ hard work and, although I’m feeling nervous, I cannot wait to get there. I must say a huge thank you to all of my team, sponsors, family and supporters for helping us reach this point; I definitely couldn’t have done it without them!”

Liz has been riding Fernhill By Night, her only horse entered at this year’s Rolex, since the end of 2012. But despite this being their first international four-star together and a step into the unknown, the USA High Performance Listed rider has no plans to take things steady.

“These are some of the best riders and horses in the world and the competition will be really tough this year,” said Liz. “To be counted amongst that company is great, and I will be looking to put myself firmly on the map as one to watch in the future. Blackie at his best is a super horse and very competitive, and the fittest he’s ever been. He’s not always the easiest ride on Cross Country, but I certainly believe he has the talent and ability to do a good job at Rolex. I just have to be really on the ball and make sure he understands all of the questions.

“Blackie does a good test and is a tidy jumper, but the biggest thing I would like to achieve is a clear Cross Country round. The course has been laid out by the same designer who built Pine Top Horse Trials’, where Blackie won the Advanced competition in February, so at least we’ve already sampled a taste of the design style, which definitely suits Blackie and his big open stride. I’m just going to have to really attack the course, keep fighting and give Blackie the best ride of my life!”

The original plan had been for two of Liz’s horses to compete at Rolex, before Cooley’s (HHS Cooley) hopes were dashed by a minor injury sustained during his final warm-up event at The Fork earlier this month.

“Cooley ran great around The Fork CIC3* and was feeling fit and ready, but he sadly suffered an acute injury on course.” she added. “He should be back for a three-day event later in the year but losing him so close to Rolex obviously came as a blow, especially when he was feeling so up for it. He was in tremendous shape and I’d been looking forward to seeing how he handled the step-up in competition. Unfortunately it also means our chances of qualifying for the Pan-Am Games will have to wait another four years, but the good news is there shouldn’t be any repercussions from the injury. I’m expecting him to make a full recovery and be back out later this season.”

Liz’s Rolex Kentucky debut starts with Wednesday’s vet inspection, before reprising her role as guest commentator during some of Thursday’s live coverage on the USEF Network. Her and Blackie’s event then begins in earnest on Friday with Dressage before Saturday’s Cross Country and Sunday’s Show Jumping.

Don’t forget you can see Liz in action live on www.feitv.org and on www.usefnetwork.com across the weekend, as well as hear her commentating this Thursday. US-based viewers can also watch the event on the NBC Sports Network.

Click here for the event’s 2015 entry list and here for the weekend schedule.