September 18, 2002 -- DARN! Aachen, Germany, has just been awarded the 2006 World Equestrian Games, trumping a bid by the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the next set of combined world championships.
It's very disappointing. That will be the fifth WEG in history, and the fifth in Europe. Maybe they should call it the EEG, since they seem to be ignoring the rest of the world.
Kentucky could have held everything in the same place, instead of separating different events because of a lack of room in one location. I really believed in the Kentucky bid, and think it would have been great for horse sports in the U.S.
But one source I spoke with, who knows the politics of international equestrianism, thinks the FEI may have been hesitant to award it to America because of the long-running fight between the U.S. Equestrian Team and USA Equestrian over which will be the sport's national governing body. The battle doesn't look like it's going to be over soon, and I know the Kentucky people felt one of their pluses was having the headquarters of the federation in their park.
On its side, Aachen is near Dusseldorf, which is bidding for the 2012 Olympics. I'm told that Aachen would be the site of the equestrian events (assuming there are any left) for the 2012 Olympics, which means it could be getting an infusion of money and the WEG would be good practice for 2012.
Rob Hinkle of the Horse Park said the Kentucky contingent was told "they were both great bids, they just didn't side with us...it was a very tough decision."
I asked Rob if they'd consider bidding for 2010, and he said, "we'll regroup and think about it."
John Nicholson, the Horse Park's executive director, said he's pleased that at least "Lexington and the Kentucky Horse Park received such favorable comment throughout the equestrian world."
He added, "Aachen's a great site. It's a prestigious place in the equestrian world." He thinks the decision "has more to do with what a good facility Aachen is than anything Kentucky did."
The Kentucky folks are throwing a long-planned party here tomorrow night. I hope it's not more like a wake, but certainly it belongs in the drown-your-sorrows category of merrymaking more than any place else.
Anyway, life goes on at this WEG, where the U.S. Equestrian Team took the lead in driving and reining as those sports got under way today. It had to settle for seventh in show jumping, but two out of three ain't bad, as the song goes.
The jumping started out in a promising fashion with Peter Wylde as the lead-off rider for the U.S., and I held my breath, knowing there had been problems with his horse, Fein Cera, yesterday.
She came out of the stall stiff and "didn't feel like the horse I know," said Peter. He had three theories about what happened -- she had gotten cast in her stall, she was in heat and it just passed, or she was hurting from sitting on her tailbone on the plane. Re: the latter -- I know the feeling.
Peter got his own vet here from Belgium to check out the horse, and she was fine.
"I tend to overreact," he conceded with a sparkling smile.
Her good health was obvious from the way she jumped in the one-rounder against the clock, which counted toward both team and individual placings. Fein Cera left everything up and went around in a speedy 75.2 seconds, placing Peter fourth of 97 starters.
"It was such a great feeling. She's just unbelievable," said Peter.
"Like a picture book," was the way coach Frank Chapot assessed the round.
Peter is being helped here by Conrad Homfeld, who was on the gold medal team the last time the USET won a world show jumping championship, in 1986.
"He has all the experience and knows what this is about. He's a genius," said Peter.
Peter is behind Switzerland's Markus Fuchs, France's Eric Levallois (like Peter, one of my picks for the Final Four for the individual medals) and Olympic gold medalist Ludger Beerbaum of Germany.
Next best was Nicky Shahinian-Simpson, who had the last fence down with El Campeon's Cirka Z. Hey, she was in good company. Reigning World Champion Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil on Baloubet du Rouet also had it down. Beezie Madden ran into trouble with Judgement at the next-to-last jump, a double decked out with Spanish fans that she thought may have distracted the stallion, who dropped rails at both jumps.
I was worried about the water jump for Leslie Howard, whose Priobert de Kalvarie has had problems there, but he was fine with the H20. It was the triple that got him when, Leslie thinks, he saw a shadow and started to jump, then didn't. It looked as if he misjudged his take-off point and smashed into the first element. When she turned him around and tried again, he was perfect, but he was charged five seconds for the knockdown, and four seconds for the crew having to reset the fence.
So Nicky is 31st, Beezie, 47th; and Leslie, 59th. In the teams, France leads the way, followed by Germany and Sweden.
The jumps were terrific. I always like it when they're in keeping with the setting of the competition. We had standards shaped like castanets, a Jerez 2002 jump flanked by replicas of the WEG mascot, Fino, a blue-winged horse; and a double of giant Spanish fans. It made the course walk entertaining.
On to the good news. As expected, the USA dominated the reining. America had a 20-point edge over second place Canada, as Tom McCutcheon, Shawn Flarida and Scott McCutcheon were 1-2-3, all within 2.5 points of each other. This is only a qualifying class, however. They'll start clean again on Sunday, when the Nations' Cup and individual medals will be awarded.
Everyone was thrilled to play to a packed house for the debut of reining at the WEG.
"We're proud, humbled and excited to be here and show horses at this level," said chef d'equipe Jeff Petska.
The four-in-hand driving result is particularly impressive when you consider America has more than a five-penalty lead over favored Germany. While all three of the U.S. drivers went today, one German is set to go tomorrow as the driving dressage wraps up.
The USA's Jimmy Fairclough didn't get a break today, having the misfortune to go first in the competition. He couldn't get much of a warm-up, because it was practically dark when he was starting out, and a cleaning crew in the stands didn't help him, either. His score was 55.04 penalties, but teammates Tucker Johnson and Chester Weber tied on 39.36 penalties.
Tucker noted that the grassy warm-up area made his drive there "like a Sunday walk in the park," but he compared the arena to "a nightclub." His horses didn't get jangled at the rude transition, but both he and Chester noted the entrance to the arena was difficult, and astroturf over mud and concrete wasn't the best thing to drive on.
Both men were pleased, though.
"If you told me Chester and I were going to be tied at 39 in such a good position, I would have been dumbfounded," said Tucker, who has been tipped as a candidate for an individual medal.