Lexington, Ky., April 29, 2007 -- If only I could do this with the stock market!
As Clayton Fredericks of Australia galloped around the arena at Rolex Kentucky during a salute to his individual silver medal status at the 2006 WEG, I remarked to some friends (yes, I have witnesses) that this would not be his last victory lap of the day.
"That's the guy that's going to win," I said firmly, referring to the 4-star three-day event that wrapped up this afternoon with show jumping.
And it turned out just that way, with his mount, Ben Along Time, proving to be the class of the field as the leaders faltered.
David O'Connor said that Clayton should change his horse's name to Once in a Lifetime, and that might be more appropriate for the horse he bought as a 4-year-old from an Irish dealer in the south of England. Clayton, such a nice guy, just rhapsodizes about him.
Clayton Fredericks talks about his horse
(Click "Play" to listen)
The only thing that stopped the competition from being a 1-2 Australian sweep is the fact that Clayton's former countryman, Phillip Dutton, had become a U.S. citizen late last year. Phillip, a "bridesmaid" several times at Rolex, had 59.1 penalties on Connaught, 5.1 more than Clayton, who incurred only a single time penalty over Richard Jeffery's testing course. Phillip himself (who won the U.S. 4-star championship, for which a foreigner is not eligible) had two time penalties, which just squeaked him in one penalty ahead of the adorable and amazing Theodore O'Connor, the first pony ever to compete at Rolex.
Does this pony have a fan base! Every seat at the Johnson Arena was spoken for, and every voice was raised in cheers for the breedy-looking little chestnut as he turned in one of only two double-clear rounds today. The difficult route involved fences commemorating Kentucky landmarks, such as Churchill Downs (complete with twin spires) and Calumet (done in red and white, naturally).
But nothing fazes Theodore, and rider Karen O'Connor was in heaven now that he has proven her contention that this thoroughbred/Arabian/Shetland cross owned by Sportponies Unlimited is something very, very special. The Pan American Games could be next on his schedule.
Karen O'Connor talks about Theodore O'Connor
(Click "Play" to listen)
But the big story of this competition was the upsets. Neither the leader after dressage nor the leader after cross-country finished the event, quite a sad situation in both cases.
Kristin Bachman and Gryffindor were at the top of the standings coming into today, with Heidi White Carty second on Northern Spy and Clayton third.
Heidi had problems with the clock (not advisable at Rolex), incurring seven penalties for going over the 92-second optimum time and adding four penalties for a knockdown as well. That put her in fourth place.
Last to go, Kristin was doing okay in the pressure cooker until she knocked a plank off the eighth fence, the Hickstead gate. Obviously upset, but still with 1.8 penalties in hand, she went off course and was eliminated.
It was reminiscent of what has happened to several of the "next" generation of riders who have had trouble coming into the arena as the leaders over the years. In 2006, it was Becky Holder who had a series of knockdowns to lose her shot at the title. A few Rolexes ago, it was Nathalie Bouckaert who was victimized by falling rails.
Asked what she would tell Kristin to comfort her, Karen said, "We're very sad for her. But she's a very talented rider on an extraordinary horse and she'll be in that place again -- soon." Karen also observed that Kristin undoubtedly would never make that mistake again, noting that everyone has gone through a similar situation at least once.
(Remember her husband, David, hesitating for a long, scary moment at the 2000 Olympics, when we all worried he had lost his way? He pulled a gold medal out of that one.)
Of course, the biggest mishap (though that is far too mild a word to describe it) is the situation involving the leader after dressage, Amy Tryon.
Some have asked why Amy didn't pull up Le Samurai when he started to limp before the last fence on cross-country. Her husband, Greg, told me she didn't know what was going on. She thought perhaps he had just caught a clip on his shoe; she had to decide whether stopping him suddenly would risk a crash. Her choice was to keep going.
But officials here now are calling it a case of "alleged abuse" and have referred it to the FEI (international equestrian federation.) In addition, although she withdrew, they are considering it a "disqualification."
Amy, who is one of the sweetest people and best horsewomen around, is devastated.
I asked U.S. Coach Mark Phillips what he thought, and he gave me an earful:
"Amy said she felt the horse take a bad step at the top of the hill. Then he started to get a bit better and then he locked onto the fence in front of him. At that time, when you're traveling at 25 mph, it happens in a matter of seconds. She felt it was safer to try to jump the fence than to try and pull up."
He continued: "If you have got an injury, it takes time to pull up so you don't make the situation worse. When Barbaro had his injury, he went a long way before he was pulled up. Secondly, she didn't know at the time what the injury was -- or if it was an injury. In that moment, you don't know whether a bandage or boot has slipped. You don't have the advantage of a video. All you know is what you're feeling in your hands and with the horse underneath you.
"Amy is one of the most sympathetic of all riders and her horses come first of everything in her life. She would never knowingly do something cruel or unkind or harmful to any of her horses. I feel very sorry for her, because if this had happened three fences earlier, it's in her words, a 'no brainer.' If it happens at the finish, you don't have the luxury of going for a bit to see how and when you can pull up."
Mark recalled that when he was riding Columbus at Burghley in 1974, the horse slipped a tendon off his hock at the next-to-last fence, and he went on to jump the last.
"A lot of riders have been in that position," he pointed out.
"In a moment of uncertainty so close to the finish, most riders would do what Amy did. They don't have the advantage of hindsight and video."
This is, of course, all terribly depressing and I wish Amy the best of luck in getting it straightened out.
So let me end on a brighter note and backtrack to this morning to tell you what was happening then. There was seemingly a cast of thousands for the trot-up. I have never seen the area around the strip where the riders parade their horses for the ground jury so crowded, but as someone pointed out, we haven't had this sunny a day for it in a long time here.
I went over to chat with Scotland's Ian Stark, because I saw he had jogged in a kilt with (as I found out later) nothing on underneath it. Thank goodness it wasn't a windy day! And Scotty, as he is called, told me the cool air beneath the pleats was quite "refreshing," since "there's nothing to get in the way." Okay.
He usually only wears the kilt when he trots-up in Scotland, but since this was the last event of his long and special career, he decided to make an occasion of it.
I always associate Scotty with unusual clothes. I first met him walking the cross-country course at the 1984 Olympics, when he was wearing a Union Jack bathing suit. I'd never seen anything like that before (remember, it was 23 years ago, and I was practically a naive child.)
Scotty finished 11th with Full Circle II, scoring just a time penalty in show jumping and feeling proud that a horse he started at age 4 finally made it to a 4-star. But eventing is behind him now.
"I'm busy, I haven't got time to ride," said Scotty, 53 ("going on 12"), who's a jockey club steward, a course designer, a pilot and is seeking a license to fly helicopters.
The other big event of the morning was the dedication of a bronze statue of Bruce Davidson riding Eagle Lion into the water at Rolex. On hand for the occasion were his son, Buck, who competed here but retired on the cross-country course; his daughter, Nancy Wood, and his grandson, Oram Wood.
Bruce has a special connection to the Horse Park, since his victory in the 1974 world championships entitled the U.S. to hold the next world championships four years later. They were presented at the fledgling park, starting it on a road that will culminate (but not end!) with the 2010 WEG. I wonder how many people will attend--this weekend we had a record 96,478 in attendance.
Though it has been a fun two weeks; first the World Cup, now Rolex, it also has been a long road with little sleep. So let me rest up for awhile and I'll send you my next postcard at the end of the month from Devon!
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