Wellington, Fla., March 9, 2008 -- What a weekend. Wish you could have been here at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC)--to help me out! We had the Olympic selection trials, the USA's only Nations' Cup (won by America for the first time since 2003) and the Challenge of the Americas dressage quadrille competition. All in one place. That's not to mention a couple of spectacular parties, but I can't get everything into a single paragraph! Now the trick is to see if I can get this all into one postcard.
Let's start with the selection trials, since I sent you a postcard Friday about them, and I'm sure you're looking for the inside scoop on how they finished.
There was loads of drama in the final trial, which was embedded in the $150,000 CN US Open Grand Prix.
Actually, the drama started before dawn Saturday morning with a thunderstorm. Carlsson vom Dach, the surprising and amazing horse with which Californian Will Simpson was tied for second in the trials standings, was hurt after being spooked by the thunder.
"We speculate Carlsson had some kind of trauma in his stall...we think he flipped over and hit his neck, his withers and probably knocked himself out," said Will.
When his caretakers got there at 6 a.m., the horse was "almost neurological," Will revealed.
Vets, chiropractors and acupuncturists went right to work.
"He's made a remarkable recovery," said Will, and I can vouch for that. I stuck around until late in the afternoon to watch the jog for the Olympic candidates, and the horse looked fine to me.
However, Will noted, "he has 90 percent mobility in his neck to the right," but 100 percent to the left. Although he jumped a 1-meter-high combination before the grand prix, Carlsson didn't participate in the final trial.
"He's exhausted and has no energy whatsoever and is not ready to jump a championship course today," said Will, explaining why he was scratched.
I'll let him tell you how the horse is reacting to treatment.
The good news is that after giving byes to Authentic (Beezie Madden), Sapphire (McLain Ward) and Armani (Jeffery Welles) the selection committee has one more bye to hand out. We don't know as of this moment who will get it tomorrow when the matter is to be decided, but my bet is that it's Carlsson.
He looks like the real deal, with three clean rounds out of four in the trials.
Cedric, Laura Kraut's little gray dynamo, won the trials (if there really is a winner per se, since there was no ribbon or anything for it) with a total of seven penalties. He had accumulated six in the four previous trials and logged a single time fault today over Pepe Gamarra's sturdy course.
Second in the trials was Will's wife (they're separated) Nicole Shahinian Simpson on FRH Dragonfly, who was clean for a total of 12 faults through the trials. She also jumped off for the $150,000 class, but I'll tell you about that later.
Third in the trials was Olympic multi-veteran Anne Kursinski with Champ 163, who has 23 penalties and looks like the real deal, too, though he's still new to her. Charlie Jayne and Urbanus have 24 penalties.
The other spots will have to be decided by tie-breaking procedures, as Anne's second mount, Roxana, Kate Levy's Vent du Nord and Christine McCrea's Vegas all have 25 penalties. But if Carlsson gets a bye as expected, there will only be two berths left on the short list. As I said previously, 10 horses will be going to Europe for the Super League. They'll be divided into two squads of five, and their performances abroad will determine who makes the team for Hong Kong. By the way, I asked all the candidates if they had any concerns about going to China in typhoon season and no one said anything, so it's obvious they're a determined bunch. March 10 Update: USEF Names Show Jumping Short List
Now, back to the $150,000 class.
There were seven clear in the 42-horse field, with Nicki the only trials rider who went fault-free. The winner was Up Chiqui, one of my favorite horses with the amazing Kent Farrington aboard. This guy can ride, and as further evidence of that fact, which I already knew, he cut nearly 3 seconds off the time of Canada's Eric Lamaze, who had to settle for second with the brilliant Hickstead. Eric could get an individual medal at the Olympics, believe you me. But Kent won't--he did not put Up Chiqui in the trials, believing the lithe chestnut gelding was not the sort of horse to handle five rounds in a championship. Instead, he's pointing toward the World Cup finals this spring.
Nicki wound up with 8 faults on Dragonfly in the jump-off, putting her sixth.
Just so you know, both Nicki and Laura Kraut are not so familiar with their mounts that they can say for sure they are Olympic horses. I guess you can put Anne in that category, too, as far as Champ is concerned. So the tests in Europe will tell them more about whether they should be on the team in Hong Kong.
McLain, meanwhile, has no doubts about Sapphire, nor should he. She dropped a rail in the class (he wasn't going in as a trial, just as a grand prix) but he took it in stride.
So, on to other things, like the CN Nations' Cup. It was a great victory for the U.S. Friday night. McLain was clean and only had to go once, since America enjoyed a good lead over Canada. Kent had four faults in the first round with Up Chiqui, but was clean in the second (he was the lead-off rider). Daniele Torano made her Cup debut with Marlo and had 0/8, while Hillary Dobbs had onlyone1 time fault in the first round and clinched the prize in the second with a clear on Quincy B.
The U.S. total was nine penalties to 16 for Canada, which was without its captain, Ian Millar. He was at home in Ontario, where his wife, Lynn, died on Thursday after a long struggle with cancer. The team had 16 penalties in the first round, as Karen Cudmore's Southern Pride refused out. He did the same in the second round, but the other riders--Eric, Mario Deslauriers and Mac Cone--all went clean in tribute to Ian and Lynn to finish second. Mexico was third with 24 penalties.
It was a fabulous night, with Mexican and Irish supporters among the loudest in the stands and on the field, as they ran around with their countries' colors at intermission. The place was packed to capacity, about 4,000 people, and free champagne (just as is done at the International Polo Club up the road) lubricated more vocal chords at the end of the evening. The presentation said that the new era really has arrived at the old Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club venue.
It is no exaggeration to say that you could go to a party every night in Wellington during the show season, but this weekend's Saturday night was amazing even by the glittering standard that is par for the course around here.
The Challenge of the Americas, a benefit for breast cancer research, is one of my favorite events of the year and ran last evening. It's a quadrille competition, done by three teams of six riders each, who delight and amaze spectators with their intricate patterns done to music. This is the ticket for anyone who really wants to popularize dressage.
Judges grade the teams on everything from synchronicity to the quality of their music, their choreography and "impact." It was a winner for the U.S. squad. My vote for best-dressed went to the Canadians, who had pink browbands and bandages in honor of the color with which breast cancer fighters campaign.
The quadrilles were preceded by a high-jump competition won by Canada. Two exhibition rides also delighted spectators. First was Steffen Peters, doing a freestyle to Irish music on a horse he had never ridden before Saturday. It was a pretty amazing performance from this master rider and his mount--even more so because he was quite ill and went home to bed immediately after his ride.
The other exhibition was given by Pan American Games team gold and individual silver medalist Lauren Sammis on the magnificent Sagacious HF, who was braided with rhinestones in his mane.
"He's all about bling tonight," Lauren said. And that isn't everything she told me. She's pregnant with twins, who are due in August, and she's aiming for the Grand Prix ranks at Dressage at Devon in the fall.
Her ride to Billy Joel music was a tribute to Sagacious' owner, Judy Guden, who died of breast cancer in November.
The Challenge moved this year from the International Polo Club to PBIEC, and drew a sold-out crowd of 750 for a post-show party.
There I caught up with Cathy Morelli, who rode on the victorious U.S. team. Cathy, who shows the lovely BeSe, is a breast cancer survivor with quite a story. So let her tell you.
I also caught up with Pan American Games dressage double-gold medalist Chris Hickey, who explained why riders are so eager to participate in the challenge.
At the same time as the Challenge, about a three-minute drive down the road, CN head honcho Hunter Harrison threw a "Light Up the Night" party under a tent at the old Palm Beach Polo stadium for the show jumping stars. Everyone was there--you name them, they appeared. And there were drummers hanging from the ceiling (really!), performance artists on stilts, Chinese food, fish and chips, ice cream with M&Ms and champagne, and lots of other stuff, too.
At the party, I had a chance to talk to Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of the Wellington Equestrian Partners, which owns the company running the shows at the equestrian center. I wanted to know what was happening with his plans for a pre-Christmas festival show in December. He told me it is definitely running December 4-7 under the supervision of Simon Brooks-Ward from Great Britain. They call him Harry Potter, because he's magic. Simon is one of the world's most respected show managers and runs the Olympia Christmas show in England, which Mark visited last year.
There's still no official word on the future of the National Horse Show, which used to occupy that early December time slot here, but Mark said he has reserved an early November date for it if its officials want it.
My guess is they don't. I think the National will be reunited with its equitation feature, the ASPCA Maclay, in early November at Syracuse, which has hosted the class for the last three years. I'm thinking there will be an announcement soon.
This is the longest postcard I've ever written, so I'm going to rest up--but not for long. Check back April 6 for my postcard on the Budweiser American Invitational, but if you want more about Wellington, be sure to view my photo gallery of this weekend.