Can the U.S. parlay its team gold medals at the last two Olympics into its first World Equestrian Games gold?
The 2008 Olympic squad is no longer intact. Will Simpson's mount, Carlsson vom Dach, has been sold and Beezie Madden's Hong Kong ride, Authentic, is out after a tendon injury that will keep him on the sidelines for a year.
But McLain Ward with Sapphire is a huge asset and should be the pillar of the team that will face the European champion Swiss (can they prove consistency?) and a German squad that should be strong with a post-pregnancy World Cup champ Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum leading the way, most likely on Shutterfly.
Then there are the Italians, who are on the rise with their new coach, Markus Fuchs, and you can never count out the Dutch; Albert Zoer was third in the 2009 World Cup Finals with OkiDoki and he'll be hungry to make up for missing the 2008 Olympics because of a broken leg. The French, winners of the top league in the 2008 Nations' Cup competition, also cannot be taken lightly.
Of course, the USA has a great asset in its leadership; Coach George Morris has proven time and again he can get the best out of whatever team takes the field for America.
Among the key U.S. team candidates are:
The New Yorker and his two-time Olympic gold medal mount Sapphire had the most stellar of years in 2009, with a close second place at the Rolex FEI World Cup finals in April and a season-ending victory in the world's richest Grand Prix, the $1 million (Canadian) CN, at Spruce Meadows in Canada in September. In between, victories included the FTI grand prixs at the Hampton Classic and in Florida. Sapphire started only 10 times in 2009, but her earnings average was close to $100,000 per grand prix. She is one of the world's greatest horses, and since the WEG could be her last big team championship, it's likely her performance will be one to remember and could also propel McLain to the individual medal he has been missing in the team frays. BIO
She has won two Olympic team golds and an Olympic individual bronze in 2008 with Authentic; but he won't be a player at the WEG. Luckily, Beezie has an up-and-comer in Danny Boy, who had his first big test at the World Cup finals, where he placed 12th, and went on to show good form at Spruce Meadows. As 2009 drew to a close, the New Yorker took time off for shoulder surgery; but she and her husband John were also busy looking for more horses for her. Who knows, one of them might be her WEG mount. BIO
The 2000 Olympic alternate has a very deep string that includes President's Cup winner Alaska, as well as Presidente and Pavarotti. He's a very tough competitor, but he's had problems in 2009 with an adductor tendon injury, more commonly called a groin pull. It takes a lot to keep the former bull rider from Florida down, but he may have a lot of sidelines time, though he's hoping to be ready for the Florida circuit and the selection trials. BIO
She's been riding in grand prixs since before she was old enough to drive. Lauren had her first Olympic experience at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She was extremely inexperienced internationally then, but has made up for it in terms of consistency over the past nine years. A native of California who now lives in Florida, she had a disappointment early in 2009. Her top mount, Quick Study by Quick Star, had to miss the World Cup finals because of a minor injury. However, he came back into form later in the season after a rest. She also has a winner in Naomi. She spent much of the second half of 2009 in Europe sharpening her game. BIO
This brilliant newcomer from California made quite a splash on her first European tour in the top league of the Nations' Cup. This was on the heels of key victories at Thermal, California, that led her to her first FEI Rolex World Cup finals. Though it remains to be seen whether she can stand the crucial test of time that defines a real champion, Ashlee is well on her way with Cadett 7. BIO
Laura Kraut's victory in the final selection trial showcased how far her relationship with Cedric has come in the last few years. He's gotten over his fear of walls and water, and with her experience that could make Kraut an individual medal contender at the WEG.BIO
A member of the 2002 World Equestrian Games team, Nicki is adept at catch-riding, and can turn a new mount into a memorable performer. That's what happened at the selection trials for the Alltech FEI WEG, where she led the rankings with Tristan, who she had been riding less than a year. BIO
After covering all five previous World Equestrian Games in Europe, award-winning photojournalist Nancy Jaffer is looking forward to reporting and photographing the first WEG in the U.S. Her experience also includes eight Olympic Games, 21 World Cup finals and more major three-day events, grands prix, driving competitions and dressage shows than she has time to tally. Her books include ?Life in the Galloping Lane? with eventers Karen and David O?Connor and ?Riding Through,? with dressage star Debbie McDonald. An equestrian all her life, she still rides her horses when she's not on assignment.