June 2, 2012--Can you believe it? The second observation event at the Devon Horse Show for the U.S. Olympic show jumping team was harder than the first? And that was a pretty difficult route on Thursday night, as I told you in my last missive.
For this one, they dug a water jump in the middle of the Dixon Oval. I have photos (look for them in my gallery next week).
Water jumps are always featured in the Olympics, so the selectors need to test team candidates. A lot of Nations' Cups have been lost by "a toe in the tub."
And this time, it was Cedric, Laura Kraut's 2008 Olympic gold medal mount, who faulted at the water. And at two fences in the triple combination as well; ouch. Cedric was given a bye from the selection trials because of his record. But the competition is so fierce even a horse who hung out around the podium at the last Games doesn't get a free ride to this one.
When the selection process started, Cedric wasn't the only one who got a bye. So did Beezie Madden's Coral Reef Via Volo and McLain Ward's Antares F (as well as Sapphire, who retired Thursday). But that didn't mean they can lounge on the sidelines, munching carrots and admiring their glossy hooves.
Today's test showed that anything can happen. Anything. You can't ever count your Olympic chickens before they hatch.
The $50,000 Idle Dice Stake (which doubled as the observation event) was won by Charlie Jayne on Chill RZ. Maybe you haven't heard of this horse. Charlie had tied for 35th on the long list of Olympic candidates because Chill needed medication after having stitches before the trials, so his bay gelding missed them. But he's trying to make up for lost time, and finished third with a good double-clear Thursday. He wanted to do better today.
"I thought the course was big," said Charlie. "I thought the course was as technical as two nights ago, the water came up quick and that line was very difficult. It was a big round two nights ago and I think it was bigger today. By the last line, I think your horse still needed to have some energy left. I couldn't ask much more of my horse. I think he's a world class horse."
He's doing three Olympic observation shows, as opposed to the required two, determined to prove that Chill's quality is worthy of a trip to London. He did have a single time penalty, since his concentration was more on clearing the jumps than watching the clock, but no matter. He was still at the head of the class.
Charlie and I talked a bit about his strategy and how he's focused on the biggest prize of all -- riding into the arena marked by the five interlocking Olympic rings.
Michel Vaillancourt, who designed the course with the help of Tony D'Ambrosio and Robert Ridland (filling in for chef d'equipe George Morris), said this afternoon's course had a few more scope tests than Thursday's routes.
"When we came up with these two rounds, we wanted a balance between the two courses, so we could not ask the same questions over and over again," said Michel.
"Today, there were a lot more questions. I thought the horses performed extremely well. The arena did its job, even with some of the distances we set, horses were handling it really, really well because of the quality of the footing."
He noted that despite the need to ask all those questions, the horses needed to be fresh to show again. It was important to remember "it is after all not the Olympic Games. Today's course showed what the riders need to do to improve...it's still the road to London, it is not London yet."
McLain Ward, the winner of Thursday's class in a tour de force with Antares F, looked very together with his horse until fence 11, a vertical at a liverpool five strides from a massive triple bar, the first element of a one-stride double combination. McLain blamed himself for taking the fence for granted, and perhaps thinking more about the triple bar to come than concentrating on the obstacle he was facing. A rail came down and he said, "I was a little upset with myself but he jumped better today than Thursday."
When you look at pictures of Antares, you may wonder what he's wearing on his head. Many of you had the same question about Karen O'Connor's Rolex mount, Mr. Medicott, and the answer is the same; a hackamore. McLain doesn't like the way the hackamore looks in the tack room (really! But if I felt that way, I'd just keep it in my tack trunk). However, he felt using it lifted him over a plateau and took his horse up a level.
Antares was second as the fastest 4-faulter, ahead of Christine McCrea and Romantovich Take One.
There actually was one fault-free round in the class. It belonged to Coral Reef Via Volo, but as was the case in Thursday's class, Beezie couldn't ride into the ring for a ribbon. She had three horses (Simon, with 4 faults and Cortes C with 8 were the others) but she was only allowed to ride two for the placings. She picked the other two, which meant Via Volo was just jumping for Olympic selection purposes.
The mare had a rest after Florida, a swollen leg and a skin infection kept her out of the ring, but she's obviously back in form now.
I think she'll definitely make the short list, and I have to say if Chill keeps going like he's going, he deserves to be on the flight to England with the other 11 horses too. But there's still Spruce Meadows to go for the last two observation events, so we'll see.
Didn't I just tell you that anything can happen?
Before the class, I took a tour of the grounds, saying farewell to Devon until I return in September for the dressage show (the dressage folks prefer that you call like this fixture "Spring Devon" as opposed to the Devon).
Over the years, the quantity and quality of Devon souvenirs has increased exponentially. Should you be so inclined, you could dress in Devon logos from head to toe; hats, jewelry, flip-flops, hoodies, sweats (what would the American aristocracy who started the show have thought of that?), not to mention all the tailgating gear and home decor items. Devon is practically a way of life.
I caught up with Gail McCarthy, head of the souvenir committee (we consulted on the Sapphire souvenir T-shirt) and asked about the ever-expanding offerings.
Devon is a great show. If you haven't been, you should come. Put it on your calendar for next year--there's nothing else like it in the country.
I love being here because it's an experience that goes beyond what's happening in the ring. And it's neat to see such an enthusiastic crowd There are people who have made the pilgrimage annually for decades; it's a Main Line of Philadelphia "must". They may never go to another show, but they wouldn't miss Devon.
Okay, now it's time for me to change gears. Next up is the Olympic dressage team selection trials as I change my camera settings from oxer to piaffe. Look for my postcard next Sunday.