William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and the eye-catching chestnut stallion Chilli Morning set the competition alight at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (USA), third leg of the 2012/2013 HSBC FEI Classics™, with a superb Dressage test, to go into the lead with a 4.7 penalty advantage.

But a thrilling showdown is now assured as Andrew Nicholson (NZL), Fox-Pitt’s only challenger for the Rolex Grand Slam, is breathing down his neck in second and third places with Quimbo and Calico Joe.

Nicholson, the current HSBC FEI Classics™ leader after his victory at Pau (FRA) last year, scored the only other sub-40 penalties mark with the exciting prospect Quimbo. Earlier, he set an early standard with a mark of 40.8 on his first ride, Calico Joe, who put in a significantly improved performance in this phase.

“I hoped the test would score in the 30s and I did have a sneaky look at the scoreboard, at which point I thought ‘OK, right!” said Fox-Pit, who has won at Kentucky twice before, in 2010 and last year.

“It can be quite demoralising to look at the marks sometimes, but this was feeling so good I thought it was worth the risk. Chilli has an amazing presence and loves being in the arena where he thinks he’s king.”

Chilli Morning was fifth at Pau last year, but a stallion has never won at CCI4* level before – there are currently only three competing at this level in the world. However, Fox-Pitt, who took over the ride last year after the horse was produced by British rider Nick Gauntlett, explained: “It puts him under extra pressure, of course, but he’s got a great temperament. He’s a very dear, kind horse that you can give a cuddle to. He never puts his ears back and is a real gentleman.”

In contrast to the vast combined experience of Fox-Pitt and Nicholson, fourth-placed Alexandra Knowles (USA), a young rider and CCI4* débutant based locally in Paris, Kentucky, has found herself in exalted company. She scored the excellent mark of 43.3 on the mare Last Call and is 0.7 ahead of another big name, Mary King (GBR), riding the grey Fernhill Urco. King, the 2011 winner at Kentucky, is tied in fifth place with last year’s HSBC Training Bursary winner, Marilyn Little (USA) on RF Demeter.

Fox-Pitt, who will be first out of the 46-starter field on tomorrow’s Cross Country course on Seacookie TSF, currently lying 10th, says he is looking forward to riding Derek di Grazia’s course. “It looks a superb course, but we all know that things can change. There are some big questions out there, and lots of turns and skinny fences, but the footing is amazing, especially considering all the rain we had on Wednesday.”

Results after Dressage

1 William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning (GBR) 33.3
2 Andrew Nicholson/Quimbo (NZL) 38.0
3 Andrew Nicholson/Calico Joe (NZL) 40.8
4 Alexandra Knowles/Last Call (USA) 43.3
5 Mary King/Fernhill Urco (GBR) 43.7
6 Marilyn Little/RF Demeter (USA) 43.7
7 Becky Holder/Can’t Fire Me (USA) 44.2
8 Buck Davidson/Ballynoe Castle RM (USA) 45.2
9 Shandiss McDonald/Rockfield Grant Juan (USA) 45.7
10 William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie TSF (GBR) 46.2
See full leaderboard here.