June 21, 2008 -- Day one of the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions was highlighted by the afternoon performances of the 12 best horses in the country competing in the USEF Selection Trials for the 2008 Olympic Team in Dressage. Serving also as the National Grand Prix Dressage Championship, the class featured four Olympic veterans.
San Diego rider and Olympic veteran Steffen Peters had plenty of fans on hand to watch him ride his two horses. His new star Ravel proved to be the class of the field, winning his fifth Grand Prix in a row with a fantastic effort and a score of 75.792%.
"I was beside myself," said Peters after his test. "It adds a lot of pressure when you've had a good season. There were areas that I took a little more risk with Ravel and everything came together on the right day. It's an Olympic year and you have to raise the bar, if you jump it that's even better."
The 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding's test featured beautiful flying changes and transitions. Relatively inexperienced at the level, Akiko Yamazaki's horse put the veterans on notice that he was going to be in the mix for selection.
"For him, at his age with his experience, that is what I can and should expect," said Peters. "The last four or five days were exactly like he was today. The plan was to stick to the program and make some adjustments if needed I to. He pulled it off."
Peters' other mount, Lombardi 11, who won the 2007 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Grand Prix Championship, put in huge extensions to pick up good marks from the judges and earn a score of 70.625%. The 17-year-old Holsteiner gelding, also owned by Yamazaki, lies in third place going into the second day of competition.
"Even though he's 17, he can still be a little bit unpredictable," said Peters. "It's very hard to keep him focused. He's a horse with tremendous talent, but his mind is not always where it needs to be. It certainly helps to have a test like that."
Brentina, a 17-year-old Hanoverian mare owned by Parry & Peggy Thomas, was first in the ring and didn't disappoint her legions of fans. With her longtime rider Debbie McDonald aboard, she commanded presence when she entered the arena, and although she did make a couple of mistakes, the overall quality was rewarded with a score of 72.667%
"Knowing this will be our last year together, I enjoy every moment with her," said McDonald.
McDonald and Brentina were members of the bronze medal-winning teams at the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2006 World Equestrian Games. The veteran mare had a very quiet 2007 but has returned in force for one more Olympic bid. McDonald also rode her second horse of the afternoon, Felix, for a score of 66.50%
"He's still very green. I've shown him very sparingly trying to get him confident," said McDonald.
"I definitely think we have a strong chance to medal," said McDonald of Team USA's chances at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. "Steffen's horse proved that he is right up there in the mid to high 70's. Brentina can improve and you have another horse that can get in the 70's and you get it right on the day, that's what it is about."
Courtney King-Dye and Harmony's Mythilus slipped into fourth with a score of 70.208% just ahead of King-Dye's other horse, the veteran stallion Idocus. Harmony's Mythilus, despite just being in his second year of Grand Prix, showed his maturity and talent to put in a very solid performance.
"Mythilus I was very pleased with," said King-Dye. "I made a mistake with his shoeing and it took him about a month to get over that. But Myth is really on an upturn. I feel really good about making what I have in him better."
King-Dye expected a better performance from Christine McCarthy's Idocus. The 18-year-old stallion didn't put in his best test.
'Idocus to be honest, I was disappointed," said King-Dye. "He's been really awesome, he came out today a little bit fighty. The second piaffe conked out on me. It definitely wasn't the ride I was hoping for with Idocus. Sometimes I just love him too much, I kept the warm up too short."
The National Grand Prix Championship continues Sunday afternoon.