Postcard From WEG Show Jumping Trials

Who'll make the team? There was a whole lotta shakin' going on in the rankings after the first day of the final set of World Equestrian Games selection trials.
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Who'll make the team? There was a whole lotta shakin' going on in the rankings after the first day of the final set of World Equestrian Games selection trials.

July 26, 2002--San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

There's a lot of California dreamin' going on here at the U.S. Equestrian
Team's show jumping selection trials for the World Equestrian Games.
Everyone's looking at the standings, with only two rounds left, and figuring,
"Now if we can go clear, and some of the others have a rail, or two, we're in
shooting distance."

And to tell the truth, today's round justified that approach, as the rankings
got a good shaking-up. Lauren Hough, the leader with Clasiko after the first
set of trials last weekend in Del Mar, turned in a perfect trip this
afternoon -- but it was aboard her other mount, Windy City, who had been tied
for 12th. Clasiko stopped at the triple combination after the water jump
(Lauren blamed herself for not keeping her leg on him) and a knockdown at the
final fence, a big oxer. The delay for the refusal also left her with 9
penalties for a total of 17. That dropped Clasiko from first to 13th overall,
and elevated Windy City to a tie for sixth in the standings with McLain Ward
on Viktor. Each has 16 penalties.

"I guess you put in a clean round on the wrong horse," I said to Lauren. What
I meant was, she obviously wanted to keep Clasiko on top. Unfortunately, what
she THOUGHT I meant was that wiry little Windy City wasn't up to a trip to
Jerez, Spain, in September for the WEG.

Lauren made sure she set me straight.

"Windy City is a top-class horse," she said, looking me straight in the eye
from under the brim of her baseball cap, printed with the slogan, "Go, baby,
go."

"He has proved it time and time again. Every question I ask, he answers," she
insisted.

There were three other clean rounds today from Molly Ashe with back-to-back
American Invitational winner Kroon Gravin, Ray Texel with Fleur and Nicki
Shahinian-Simpson. Nicki's surprise was that she did it with her
up-and-coming horse, El Campeon's Petri, rather than El Campeon's Cirka Z,
who was tied for third before today. But not to worry, Cirka Z's overall
record is so good that he's tied for the lead in the standings on 12
penalties with Kroon Gravin, Fleur and Beezie Madden's mount, Judgement.
That horse, previously ridden by Michael Matz, as you may recall, was on his
way to a clean round for Beezie and just dropped a rail at that last fence,
the fatal oxer. The obstacle with the copper-colored rails was a little coup
de grace from course designer Leopoldo Palacios, who also did the routes for
the 2000 Olympics.

Now, Molly is kind of a surprise at the top of the standings. The reason is
more than just the fact that the horse has been out of action after twisting
her right front fetlock in a show this spring. You see, Molly told me several
times--and it was printed right here--that she wasn't going to try out for
the WEG. She was concerned about someone else riding her baby girl in the
finals for the individual medals in Spain, where the four best riders will
take each others' mounts over the course.

So she looked at me sheepishly, and even before I asked, she said, "Why am I
here?"

It seems USET coach Frank Chapot and USET Vice President of Show Jumping
George Morris told her "when you have a horse of her quality that it's a
responsibility to take part in these events."
Because the mare hadn't done anything since April, Molly also wanted to get
her ranking on the computer list improved so she could be accepted to some
shows in Europe and World Cup qualifiers here. But now that she's going well,
if she's selected for the team, Molly will participate.

Ray had a slow start with Fleur, who originally came from British show jumper
Michael Whitaker. She logged 8 penalties in the first trial and 4 in the
second before scoring two clears in a row, the only horse besides Windy City
to have achieved that in the trials.

So Ray played a trick on his mare. Because Fleur often drags her heels a bit
while getting going, he pretended yesterday's warm-up was the real deal, and
she bought it. That meant she came into the arena today raring to go and then
just blossomed.

"Fleur and I have a great history together. I believe we're very reliable as
a pair," said Ray, whose other horse, Lexicon, with which he stands fifth,
lacks mileage.

"I think that we could be a good asset for the team," he said of Fleur. "But
if I made it with the stallion, I think equally as well, he's a slightly
younger horse with a little bit less experience, but I'm an experienced rider
and I have confidence in my ability."

The horse everyone was watching yesterday was Viktor, since McLain is number
one on the USET computer list and has been touted as a hot prospect for the
squad. And when I say EVERYONE was watching, I meant that started out first
thing in the morning when he had to be re-presented to the ground jury that
passed the other horses in the soundness jog Wednesday.
The horse had problems with the jog in Del Mar, and then fell in the warm-up
area there. He flipped and ran over McLain, who suffered bruises. They were
still able to go in the ring and put in a 4-fault trip before McLain was
taken to the hospital.

He's achy, though, and Viktor obviously is, too. The horse was off when he
was presented to the jury this morning, but he was still allowed to jump.
USET President Armand Leone said the soundness exam procedure needs to be
refined in regard to selection trials, but noted a fine line must be drawn on
the horse's capability.

"You don't want to err on the side of over-restricting, because of the
potential of denying an athlete an opportunity," said Armand, who wants to
study the way the jog is done and improve it in the future. He also noted
that a horse who is sound today may not be when the plane gets ready to leave
for the WEG, while a horse with minor problems now could be in tip-top shape
when it's time to take off.

"It's not the kind of a sport where you can just be black and white," said
Linda Allen, the course designer for the 1996 Olympics, who is one of the
USET selectors here.
"Very few show jumpers who reach this level are 100 percent problem free
because they're athletes," she said, agreeing McLain should have a chance to
jump.

The showgrounds here in the shadow of the Santa Margarita Mountains are
beautiful, acres of manicured grass surrounded by tents full of catered
goodies and grandstands topped with fluttering flags. It's a good place to
meet and greet, as it seems everyone is turning up here.

I ran into Joe Gillet from Saddletude here and he told me he just got engaged
to Blythe Miller. Joe, who formerly was an item with eventer Abigail Lufkin,
is an amateur steeplechase jockey, while Blythe is a pro in that department.

The two finished 1-3 in the Virginia Gold Cup recently.
Well, we're all on pins and needles to see how the trials will come out. If I
have butterflies, I can only imagine how the riders feel. I'll tell you all
about it in my next postcard. In the meantime, I'll head down the highway a
few miles and pull up alongside the Pacific for a nice beach stroll.