One of the Olympics’ greatest story possibilities did not have a happy ending.
Movie rights were optioned for the tale of Neville Bardos, the Australian ex-racehorse who was rescued from the killers, and then rescued again in May 2011 from a stable fire by his heroic rider, Boyd Martin.
But the well-prepared Boyd also had two other mounts that were candidates for the Olympics, and this week the selectors chose one of them instead, Otis Barbotiere, his newest 4-star mount. Otis, third at the Rolex Kentucky 4-star, had better performances in dressage and show jumping recently than Neville.
Boyd and Otis will be one of the pillars of the team, along with Phillip Dutton and Mystery Whisper, tipped as a possible individual medal winner (behind Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and Germany’s World and European champion Michael Jung.)
Karen O’Connor‘s new partnership with the former German team mount, Mr. Medicott, paid off with a team nod. The pair was fourth at Rolex, while Will Coleman, fifth at Rolex on Twizzel (like Mystery Whisper, owned by Jim Wildasin) also was named to the team. Placing well at Rolex didn’t help Allison Springer, however she was second to William Fox-Pitt at Rolex with Arthur, but she wound up as one of 10 alternates.
Surprisingly, so did Sinead Halpin, who had been on the “A” training list since last fall with Manoir de Carneville. But the horse had a nosebleed after finishing cross-country at the final outing, the Barbury International 3-star, last weekend, and the risk that it could happen again during the Games was too strong. Sinead attributed it to allergies, but it has happened before and the presence of blood in front of millions of fans watching on TV is something the sport wants to avoid.
Having a fifth team spot enables selectors to make an interesting (read “risky”) choice if they want one. Since the scores of only three team members count, and they already have a spare in the fourth team member, the fifth position can go to someone who has the possibility of doing well, and at the same time, might also falter. The spot went to Tiana Coudray on Ringwood Magister, who can do a beautiful dressage test but also has not completed a 4-star. They were the top American pairing at Barbury, finishing fifth.
What are the American team’s chances? There are still a few weeks to go before the first horse inspection in London, so anything can happen before that. Horses, as we all know, are fragile and it would not be unheard of for a horse or two to be replaced before the Games. It just happened with the British team. Piggy French had two horses turn up with problems, so she was replaced by veteran Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz, who many thought should have been on the team in the first place.
Should a U.S team horse need to be replaced, the country fields depth in spare combinations that it hasn’t enjoyed in the sport since its 1984 Olympic gold year.
Assuming the team stays intact, however, it has a good shot at the bronze medal, though it will face stiff competition from New Zealand and Australia for that prize. It is widely assumed that Britain and Germany will battle for team gold, though in eventing, anything can happen, which could open the door even at the top of the podium.
Award-winning photojournalist and author Nancy Jaffer is covering her ninth Olympic Games. One of the most respected writers on the Olympic disciplines of dressage, show jumping and eventing, she has attended all the World Equestrian Games ever held, as well as numerous major competitions around the world. A lifelong rider, she keeps busy with her own horses when she’s not working.