August 8, 2010 -- Consistency, one of the hallmarks of champions, was the name of the game today at the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Festival of Champions.
The first three in this morning's Grand Prix Special--Tina Konyot on Calecto V, Katherine Bateson-Chandler aboard Nartan and Todd Flettrich with Otto, placed just as they had yesterday in the Grand Prix, the first of four selection trials for the USA's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games dressage team. Of course, anything can happen in next week's continuation of the trials, but at the moment, the odds are good that they will join Steffen Peters and Ravel on the squad.
While I may be secure in my prediction, Todd isn't making any.
"I take it day by day," he explained. "Anything can happen." And I have to say, knowing horses, that he's probably right.
During the afternoon, the Intermediaire I National Championship went to Cesar Parra on Olympia, who won both yesterday's I-1 class and today's musical freestyle. The reserve championship belonged to last year's Young Rider champ Kassie Barteau on Toscano, and third in the rankings was Chris Hickey with the American-bred (imagine that!) Cabana Boy. Kassie and Chris, who were second and third respectively yesterday, switched places today in the freestyle.
Cesar's routine to an Earth, Wind and Fire medley recorded in Germany had a real flow, and Olympia followed it as smoothly as running water.
I chatted with an emotional Lori Washton, Olympia's proud owner, after the awards ceremonies. As she wiped away tears following the national anthem, she said, "I feel honored and privileged."
After all, the bay gelding was purchased as an amateur horse for her, but Cesar brought him along to the point where he has been competitive nationally, and now his aim is the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico. Next stop, Guadalajara.
One of the judges, former U.S. chef d'equipe Jessica Ransehousen noted about Olympia, "He's very movable. You can go different directions without having a big problem with rhythm changes or anything like that. Overall it's a lovely picture and a very elegant picture."
Cesar's 74.800 percent score was more than two points better than Chris's entertaining effort, which included lots of pirouettes and the most appropriate music. It started with a sexy woman calling, "Oh, cabana boy" and featured such beachy tunes as "Good Vibrations" and "Groovin'."
I asked Cesar for his thoughts on the freestyle, and here's what he told me.
The Special wasn't as clean a test for the competitors as the Grand Prix. Most (but not Otto) had a bobble of some sort in the tempi changes. Though Calecto broke into the trot for a few steps during the extended walk, overall his effort showcased his dynamism and strength, earning him 72.375 percent. Katherine's score was 71.895, while Todd just missed breaking 70 percent with a total of 69.917.
The ranks of WEG hopefuls thinned today. Elisabeth Austen didn't compete with Olivier, who has had problems with a case of scratches. Susan Jaccoma withdrew a reluctant Wadamur part way through her test, and Jane Hannigan, last with Maksymillian, doesn't think he's himself and decided to take him home.
Lauren Sammis, fourth yesterday with an impressive ride, could do no better than ninth today when Sagacious HF resisted in the piaffe, had problems with the one-tempis and lacked smooth transitions down the final center line.
She's keeping it in perspective, though.
"I take responsibility as a rider, but at the end of the day, I've got a great horse and great kids at home. Every day's another day," she said, noting that she has two more rides before it's over.
Having Courtney King-Dye at the competition Friday and yesterday also meant a lot to Lauren. After nearly dying when she fractured her skull in a training accident last winter, Courtney has been making remarkable progress and gave Lauren a standing ovation after her Grand Prix.
I'm very intrigued by the combination of Nartan and Katherine, because they've only been together since mid-May, and they're making quite an impression.. I asked Nartan's owner, Jane Clark, if it was a big gamble to buy a horse for the WEG just a few months beforehand.
"Talented horse, talented rider," she said with a smile.
"If it had been a big gamble, I wouldn't have taken it."
I caught up with Jeanette Haazen, the Dutch rider who sold Nartan to Jane. I first met her at the 2009 World Cup finals, where her love of bling fascinated me. Appropriately, she was wearing a very flashy necklace today. She's been helping Katherine, and I asked for her thoughts on seeing her horse with another rider.
Katherine, who previously was Robert Dover's assistant and rode his Olympic mount, Kennedy, is loving her new partner Nartan. She enjoyed talking about him with me, so listen in on our conversation.
I like the way the WEG team is shaping up. We really do have some formidable contenders, and though the U.S. isn't favored to take a team medal, we could surprise everyone at the Kentucky Horse Park.
And Jessica thinks so too.
"I feel no one should ever underestimate what our riders are capable of doing," she said.
"What is really wonderful about our riders is that they know how to fight for every point they're going to get. A lot of nations are taking too much for granted--and we never take anything for granted."
The USEF debuted streaming video for this event, and the federation's Kathy Meyer was proud to report that the program was an instant success, attracting 26,500 viewers from 26 countries. The U.S. and Canada had the most, but the Netherlands and Germany were right behind. I guess they're scoping out the competition for the WEG.
The USEF also will air next weekend's competition and plans are in the work for people to be able to access previous shows on demand, avoiding the traffic and the weather.
But I'll be at the final set of trials in person, sending updates and a postcard not only on the Grand Prix competition, but also on the national championships for the juniors and Young Riders, as well as the Brentina Cup. Kassie has a horse in that one, too.