Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 20, 2007 -- The American event riders are in the lead in the team portion of the competition and swept the top five places individually after the dressage phase today at the Pan American Games.
American Mara Dean riding Nicki Henley went to the head of a field of 27 horse-and-rider combination. Team members Stephen Bradley and From are second, and Karen O'Connor riding Theodore O'Connor are third.
The most experienced rider on the squad, O'Connor, was second in the ring and got things off on the right foot for the U.S team with the 12-year-old pony Theodore O'Connor and a score of 47.10.
"His score was eight points better than [Rolex] Kentucky," said O'Connor. "A lot of that is Mark's influence [chef d'equipe Mark Philips]. The three of us get along really, really well... I'd like to think in the next six to eight months, I can improve it even more. Having the dressage people here with us, they told me they can help me get an extended trot out of him."
Darren Chiacchia and Better I Do It (owned by Adrienne Iorio) were the second American combination in the arena. Chiacchia, the reigning gold medalist from the 2003 Pan American Games, is riding again as an individual. He and Better I Do It, a 14-year-old Swedish Warmblood, put in a very workmanlike performance to end up fourth on a score of 49.4.
"I've really been trying to get it to the next level," he said. "But whenever you up the grade a bit, it takes a while for that to get confirmed before you really have ownership of that at the competition. In a couple of places I got a little greedy looking for the new work, but maybe didn't have the connection."
The Second team rider, Californian Gina Miles with Thomas Schulz and Laura Coates' giant 13-year-old Irish Thoroughbred, McKinlaigh, filled up the ring with lots of movement and presence, but made a couple of mistakes that cost them a top score. McKinlaigh broke to canter in the first extended trot and picked up the canter instead of the trot after the halt at A. They finished on a score of 56.9, good enough for 11th place.
"I think that we put too much pressure on him out in the warm up," said Miles who represented the U.S. as an individual at the World Equestrian Games. "We pushed him over the edge a little bit. So, obviously, I'm disappointed in my individual score, but the point I'm here for is to ride for the team, so I'm going to finish on that score."
Stephen Bradley and Charlotte Harris' From, the third team combination for the United States, put in a polished performance. Bradley, who was a member of the gold medal team effort in 2003, used his experience to finesse a score of 46.5 out of the 15-year-old Russian Thoroughbred gelding who received two eights for his first flying change. The pair also got eights for the halt at A and took advantage of very good canter work to go to the lead temporarily.
"I was real pleased with my horse especially considering after Jersey Fresh [in June] he'd been a little over the top and wound pretty tight," said Bradley. "In particular, I've been working with Mara [Dean] on a regular basis, and she spent a lot of extra time helping me work through this and sitting on him for me in preparation for this. It made a total difference in the horse that I feel brought him up another whole level."
Riding as an individual, Dean did not disappoint with Willow Bend Farm's Nicki Henley, a big moving 12-year-old Irish Thoroughbred.
"I'm thrilled with the place I'm in and with the score that I got," said Dean. "My horse can be a little bit difficult in the atmosphere, and it was a little touch and go to start, but then he took a deep breath."
A 10 for the halt at C highlighted her test, which received a score of 40.20.
Phillip Dutton, riding under the U.S. flag for the first time, and the 10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Truluck finished fifth on a score of 49.8. Owned by Ann Jones and Shannon Stimson, Truluck is still relatively inexperienced at the highest level of the sport.
"I was pleased without being ecstatic," said Dutton. "We had a few little errors that stopped it from being a really good test. He was good. He's still on the green side, but he's improved a lot since Kentucky. I've got to keep in mind that this time last year he'd just done a two-star."
After Dutton's test, Team USA finished the day with a score of 143.4 and stretched out a significant lead over Canada who ended on 159.9. Brazil lies in third with 173.2.
The cross-country begins at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, and Karen O'Connor will be the first American on course at 10:05 a.m.