Lexington, Ky., September 26, 2010 -- It was a foregone conclusion that the American reining team would win the first gold medal of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), but it was the way they did it that made the achievement so memorable.
"They hit it out of the park," said U.S. Chef D'Equipe Jeff Petska, and that is as good a way of putting it as anything more horse-oriented or elaborate.
The squad of Tim McQuay, Craig Schmersal, Tom McCutcheon and Shawn Flarida smoked the Belgian team with a total of 674.5 points to 659, while the Italians got their third WEG bronze with 655.5.
I asked Jeff about the magnitude of the victory.
The Belgians, resplendent in their dark red shirts, were thrilled to be on the podium at all, let alone in second place. But they don't aspire higher. America, for the moment at least, is unassailable in its reining supremacy.
"I don't think we could ever beat them," said Belgian team member Cira Baeck. "They are way too good for us."
"I think the world has closed the gap a lot," Tom responded, but he noted that America had the dream team this time around.
"Every horse on this team has won $200,000 or more. It's an amazing team and we may never be able to put anything like this together again. In 20 or 30 years, I'll be able to look back and remember this team," he said.
And it has a chance to dominate even further. All four U.S. riders have qualified for the individual medal finals, though their scores from the team competition won't count toward Thursday's competition.
Shawn, the anchor rider on RC Fancy Step, another of the palomino legion that is so predominant here, put in a stellar run worth 227 points to go to the top of the rankings. A true competitor, he's now focusing entirely on the individual medal fray.
"I need to go back and repair some things," Shawn mused.
"He maybe didn't run down the left side as good as he could have." Picky, picky. But then he did add he thought the horse was good, a real understatement, in view of his performance.
Here's how Shawn looked at it, "We all came here to do a job and that horse was set up to go show."
Listen to his thoughts.
Tom was second-highest ranked on the team with 224 points on Gunners Special Nite, putting him third ahead of Craig's Mister Montana Nic (223.5) in fourth place. The only non-Americans to break the top four were Italy's Stefano Massignan with Yellow Jersey, tied for second with Tom, and Belgium's Bernard Fonck, tied with Craig on BA Reckless Chic. Tim finished tied for ninth on Hollywood Tinseltown, who scored 220.5 points.
There was a good laugh at the post-competition press conference when someone asked about the fact that the team members are (to put it politely) carrying some extra pounds.
Jeff's clever retort: "We brought a bunch of heavyweights to a heavyweight fight." Good strategy, apparently.
I have to tell you a funny story about Jan Boogaerts, who rode Gumpy Grumpy BB (love those reining horse names!) on the Belgian team. He had a definite Texas accent, so I asked if perhaps he had lived in America and moved to Belgium, I mean, he sounded like the real thing. Turns out he picked it up from TV.
"Belgium is such a small country it doesn't pay to dub" the TV shows, he explained, saying he used to watch Chuck Norris in the "Walker, Texas Ranger" show. He got it down pat.
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