San Juan Capistrano, Calif., May 24, 2004 -- Summing up her view of the final Olympic show jumping selection trial, Beezie Madden said, "It was a bit of a roller coaster day."
She was, perhaps, guilty of understatement. When I got to the Oaks Blenheim Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park yesterday morning, the first thing I heard was that DeSilvio, Beezie's mount who was third in the standings after Saturday's round, was out of the trials. I confirmed the rumor with Beezie's understandably glum trainer/husband, John, who said, "I don't know what it is. Maybe he grabbed himself."
Something like that would have flustered the heck out of me, which is probably among the thousand reasons why I have yet to make an Olympic team. But the word fluster and Beezie don't belong in the same sentence.
"It was a big disappointment," admitted Beezie. Still, as she pointed out, "I came in (to the trials) with three strong horses. Thank God I had a lot of depth and had another great horse ready to go."
And ready he was. Authentic, just nine years old but already a star who is living up to his name, was the only horse to turn in two clear rounds yesterday over astounding routes produced by Sydney Olympics course designer Leopoldo Palacios. Not only did Authentic's performance earn Beezie first place in the selection trials, but it also won her the $175,000 Cargill Grand Prix of the U.S., which the final two trial rounds comprised.
So Beezie got a ticket to Athens, $52,500 in prize money and realized an ambition. A pretty good ending for a day that had started so badly.
"It's your dream since you were a little kid to represent the (U.S.) team at the Olympics. It's a thrill, really," she said, a pretty effusive sentiment for cool, calm and collected Beezie. Everyone has been expecting her to make an Olympic team for years, because she's such a natural rider. And it's no accident that she had three good horses for the trials. Her husband made sure they were available, and excellent management insured that they would be up to the task at hand. This is the point where I should mention that her other horse, Judgement, was sixth in the standings.
Actually, the day wasn't really any easier for the other riders expected to join Beezie on the short list.
McLain Ward hung on to finish third overall on 15 penalties with the amazing Sapphire, a horse who competed in her first grand prix less than a year ago. She narrowly avoided disaster at the second fence in the final round, however. This was a vertical where others came a cropper -- most notably, four-time Olympian Anne Kursinski, who was tossed head first by Great Point when stopped there. (Anne was okay and eventually got to her feet and waved to the crowd.)
In all the excitement as the trials ended, no one was really talking about Margie Goldstein Engle, who toughed it out and rode faultlessly in the first round last weekend on Hidden Creek's Perin before calling it a day. In case you've forgotten, she split her left femur when a horse fell on her three months ago, and she's still healing. It was decided for the sake of her recovery that she should not continue in the trials but instead, take her chances and hope the selectors used her as their second subjective pick (Chris Kappler with Royal Kaliber was the first, and he didn't need to compete in the trials.)
The selectors don't have to say what they'll do until Tuesday afternoon because they have 48 hours after the end of the trials to name who will join Chris on the short list. At this point, the selectors are mum about their plans. But my guess is that Margie's Olympic hopes are toast. I'm surmising it will be felt that all the top finishers at the trials (perhaps, should the chance arise, even down to fifth-place Lauren Hough with 25 faults on Clasiko ) deserve their chance to go to the Games, based on their performances in the trials. I think (and again, this is just a guess) that there is concern about whether Margie will be really healed by the time the team has to go to Europe to train in June, though her doctors say she'd be ready.
Beezie and Peter, according to the selection procedures, can't be replaced if their horses are sound and all is well. So that leaves McLain, and he wouldn't be happy about having Margie take his spot, even if she is an eight-time American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year.
"She showed she's not ready," he contended. If he had to stay home and Margie went to Greece, "I would be very angry," said McLain, who has had a number of near-misses for major championships over the years.
Well, we'll know for sure what's what on Tuesday, after the horses are tested for soundness later today. Don't forget that it's still three months before the Games, so a lot can happen in the meantime. Hey, a lot happened just this weekend!
By the way, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did show up as promised with his wife, Maria Shriver, and their daughter, Katherine, who's a rider. He didn't present the ribbons as we thought he would, though -- we were told this was a private family outing. I found it funny that The Terminator came with an impressive security retinue. I was thinking he should be protecting them, based on what he did in most of his movie roles.
Well, I'll be back here in less than a month for the final weekend of the Olympic dressage selection trials. In the meantime, I'm going to be writing from Devon June 4 to tell you about all the doings down at one of my favorite horse shows. Chris Kappler is planning to make that Royal Kaliber's last U.S. outing before the Olympics, so it should be interesting. Anyway, I'll make sure you know all the details.
Read Nancy's first postcard from the Final U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Selection Trial on May 22, 2004.