Aachen, Germany, August 30, 2006 -- Compared to the well-populated stands in the show jumping arena, things are quiet next door at stadium 2, where the four-in-hand driving world championship at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) is taking place.
It might almost be a different country, with harness vendors and the quiet sound of carriage wheels rolling, not to mention the look of another century--and I'm not talking about the 20th.
The U.S. is starting off tied for 11th out of 25 who drove today with a credible, 61.44-penalty, 61.6 percent test by Jimmy Fairclough, who I think has been to nearly every four-in-hand championship since they began. He drives Jane Clark's team with one of his own horses thrown in, and is helped by Felix Brasseur of Belgium, a former world champion.
If you want to hear what Jimmy had to say about his test, just click on the audio clip below.
The second day of dressage is tomorrow, and Felix is driving in that, along with a bunch of other former and current world champions, including Zoltan Lazar of Hungary (the reigning titleist), Ysbrand Chardon of the Netherlands, Thomas Eriksson of Sweden and Michael Freund of Germany, who just lost his 2004 title to Lazar because his horse had a prohibited substance in its system. He contends the animal grazed on Valerian innocently during the championships in Hungary; the courts said "You're out" anyway. They're supposed to have a re-do of the 2004 medal ceremonies here, but things being as busy as they are, I don't imagine I'll be on hand.
Anyway, the 2004 champ will have precious little time to enjoy the title unless he wins here, too, because the 2006 championship will be decided on Saturday. Things move fast at the WEG...
I saw Tucker Johnson, who is also on our team, and he wasn't really optimistic about his chances, because his horses are a work in progress. I'm guessing our squad probably isn't in line for a medal; certainly not the silver we got at the last WEG in Jerez four years ago.
But Chester Weber, the third member, is our national champion, and he may have a shot at an individual medal. I'll be interested to see his dressage tomorrow. I think I can squeeze it in before the show jumping begins.
In first place today was Gert Schrijvers of Belgium, who had 46.21 penalties, or 71.1 percent. That would be good even in ridden dressage!