EN Today: The end of an era at Rolex Kentucky

The “Voice of Rolex,” longtime announcer Nigel Casserly, will be missed at future events due to a decision by the Event Board. Samantha Clark reports.

From Samantha:

The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, North America’s only CCI****, has become a staple in the spring calendar for countless hundreds of thousands of people over the years – competitors who have painstakingly aimed their horses here for years, owners who have dreamed of running a horse at Rolex, grooms, volunteers,  lower level riders, family connections, serious shoppers or tourists who might happen to be in the area, Reiners and Western fans now come too and in thirty-six years one thing has never changed: all these people have been welcomed, informed, and entertained throughout by Nigel Casserly.  Nigel came to his first event at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1977 when it was a Young Rider Test Event for the World Championship for the next year. Since then he has returned every year, to not only commentate on all the action that takes place every day, but he is also responsible for supplying and installing the sound system throughout the Horse Park, “We come in about two weeks before the event each year, put in about five miles of wiring, then take it all out again, put it back in the trailer and leave. To run an event you need footing and a good sound system, and I certainly pride myself in the fact that there isn’t anywhere on the Horse Park during Rolex that you cannot hear what is going on, and that you can hear one voice with no delays.”

Due to a decision by the Event Board, you will no longer  be able to hear Nigel’s voice at Rolex, but you will be able to hear him at Red Hills International Horse Trials, Richland Park and Rebecca Farm Horse Trials. As well as being incredibly popular on the Steeplechase circuit he’ll also return to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Driving Trials.  Of course he has many  fond and incredible memories of his time spent in Lexington for the Kentucky Horse Trials, but as we talk he still seems a bit stunned by the news which only came a couple of days ago, “As Allie my wife said, ‘It’s been a lifetime’s work’, and I didn’t think about it that way but it really has, I mean thirty-six years is a very long time. It’s changed unbelievably. When everybody said we’d go to the four star and wouldn’t have any other divisions, Janie Atkinson and I talked at length about it and about the numbers of entries, and we both concurred that you can have a world class event with only 48 entries but last year we had more than ever, so the event continues to grow.  The wonderful thing about the Horse Park is we’ve never had to cancel; we’ve had pouring rain – I remember one year Torrance Watkins was on course and all you could see was this yellow blur going along. That was the year Bruce Davidson went out at the end of the day when the mud was just ghastly and rode the most beautiful round I think I’ve ever seen anybody ever ride, it was amazing. There’s been some extraordinary competition at Rolex over the years. Since Rolex came on board as a sponsor some thirty-five years ago it’s just grown and grown.  I love to watch good riding and that can come from those who are competing at the international level or from those who are there for the first time, and the beauty of Rolex is that you get to see top horses. Beautiful horses being ridden well –  that’s the joy of our sport.”

As well as the switch to four star Nigel also bore witness to the changes wrought when Eventing introduced Short Format, and although personally he’s not a fan, he doesn’t think it’s harmed the sport for the greater good, “For the spectator, no it didn’t change the sport – people came to watch wonderful horses jump extraordinary fences and that’s what they still come to see.”

Michael Tucker will take over the commentary at Rolex Kentucky in 2013, and Brian O’Connor’s Speakeasy Ltd will be charged with handling the sound system throughout the Horse Park.  At the time of writing Rolex Kentucky Director of Competition Christina Gray could not be reached for comment, but I’m hoping she’ll join me on the Eventing Radio Show this week to discuss the event in general as it draws steadily closer, less than 100 days now.

It’s a testament to Nigel’s character that as he ponders his own future, especially the month of April which now suddenly leaves him very available, that he can still be excited about the future of US eventing, “Both Red Hills and Rebecca Farm have grown absolutely enormously over the years, and next year Red Hills will have a totally new cross country course altogether so there’s lots of exciting things happening at the bigger events. Ian Stark did a phenomenal job with the cross country course at Rebecca Farm last year; he made some significant changes and it rode so well, it was extraordinary.” I am also excited that the ‘Voice of Rolex’ will not be lost to us forever, and you can hear my entire conversation with Nigel, including him recalling his Rolex bloopers on the Eventing Radio Show next week. I think I spoke for most of us when I told he would be missed, and Rolex will never be the same without him, and he replied, “To all of those who miss me, I thank you for your support over the years, it’s been extraordinary.”

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