September 27, 2010 -- I probably could have stayed home and written the story about the first day of dressage at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
This one was as predictable as the U.S. winning the reining gold. Just the way everyone who knew anything had it figured, the Dutch lead the standings with 145.702 percent, followed by Germany (140.340) and Great Britain (138.341).
The good news is that the U.S., rather than Canada is fourth, but not by much. The Americans have 136.170 percent to 135.702 for the north-of-the-border folks. Why is this important? I've told you before and I'll tell you again, but further down in my postcard. Don't want to break my rhythm...
It rained today, which meant the backdrop on the non-covered side of the arena was plastic raincoats and empty seats. On the other side, which has a roof, there was a decent crowd for a Monday in September. For many of the spectators with whom I've chatted, the WEG is a big deal, the one time that they'll be able to see in person the horses and riders they've read about and watched in videos, so they're not discouraged by the weather (if they happen to have seats that are covered.)
The stronger riders compete tomorrow, with the USA's Steffen Peters in the enviable position of going last aboard Ravel, so maybe America's fortunes will improve. But even the Dutch agree they look unbeatable, though as they noted, "We still have to ride." Yeah, don't cut out for a beer down at the Alltech Experience in the trade fair or anything like that.
If they show up, the odds are that they win, since their anchor is the superhorse Moorlands Totilas. Today, rider Edward Gal presided at a book party for a new volume on the black stallion, or as it says on the cover, "The Living Legend."
The end of that story hasn't been written--stay tuned for the next chapter tomorrow--but it's already sure to be a big seller among the Dutchbred's many fans.
This afternoon, Edward's teammate, Imke Schellekens-Bartels, was his placeholder on the leaderboard with a 73.447 percent test on Hunter Douglas Sunrise, vastly improved in the last couple of years. And the Hanoverian mare was pretty good to begin with! Her only big mistake came in the canter zig-zag, when Imke leaned the wrong way and Sunrise zigged instead of zagged, or maybe it was the other way around.
It's also possible that her spot in the rankings will go to another of her teammates, Adelinde Cornelissen with Jerich Parzival, the only horse to have beaten Totilas at Grand Prix.
One of the German young guns, Christoph Koschel, nipped into second place with Donnperignon in a very impressive test, marked at 72.638 percent. The Germans aren't at their strongest, not like the days when they dominated the discipline, but they know how to dig in their heels and fight.
Third is another Dutch rider, Edward Gal's partner, Hans Peter Minderhoud with Exquis Nadine (72.255), followed by Great Britain's Fiona Bigwood with Wie-Atlantico de Ymas looking quite fancy, or fancy enough to be marked at 70.128 percent.
And now the good news--wait for it--the USA's Katherine Bateson Chandler is fourth with veteran Nartan, just missing 70 percent. She had a couple of bobbles, including an extra change in the one-tempis, but her effort was still worth 69.617 percent. What's really cool is that Katherine used to be the groom for six-time Olympian Robert Dover, so she's been at the WEG before; just not in the saddle. It's quite a story; maybe someone will write a volume about her, too, and she can have a book party at the next WEG.
She has worked very hard to get here as a rider, and it's been a special challenge since she only got together a few months ago with Nartan when her sponsor, U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation President Jane Clark, bought the 15-year-old gelding last spring. She's worked hard and it's paid off. We talked about what it's like to have reached her destination.
Todd Flettrich, Katherine's teammate and the lead-off rider for the U.S., had some problems during his ride with Otto, and that put him down in 16th place with a disappointing score of 66.553, since this duo is capable of much more than that. We talked about his ride.
Okay, so back to why fourth place is important here. The top three teams qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London. But if the Brits are third or better, since they get an automatic qualification as the home team for the Olympics, the fourth-place team would qualify.
Perhaps you'll think it's odd that during a break in dressage, the medals for endurance were presented. But it's understandable when you realize that people want to look their best when accepting a medal, and who looks their best after riding 100 miles?
So it's done the day following the race. The winner, Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton, who you met in my postcard yesterday, rode in on the irrepressible Nobby. He looked great. Also on hand was Sheikh Hamdan Mohd al Maktoum, the bronze medalist and son of the silver medalist, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the emir of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. The silver medalist didn't appear, however, sending the United Arab Emirates' chef de mission, Saeed Al Tayer to sub for him. The Sheikh sent a statement saying he was away on official state business. Must have been embarrassing for his wife, FEI President Princess Haya, who presented the medals. She kissed her stepson, Sheikh Hamdan, when she put the medal around his neck. She didn't kiss the chef de mission.
And then, the UAE riders, who won the team endurance gold, failed to show up at the endurance press conference. Whoops. Here's how Saeed (who I don't think was having a good day) explained it: "Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication, the team members did not attend the post-medal press conference and for that we apologize. We would have been honored to speak to the media, but we were genuinely unaware that this was standard protocol."
One of the fun things about the WEG is running into people you know, whether it's folks from home or Phillip Dutton in flip-flops and wearing a back pack as he heads down an interior road in the park. I'm staying in a hotel that's hosting the Australian team. As usual, struggling with bags of cameras and computers, I decided to put my burden down on a luggage trolley to take everything to my room. When I brought the trolley back downstairs, it was going out of control until I was rescued by a courtly man with a German accent. It turned out to be Franz Venhaus, a native of Germany who's now an Australian and assistant chef de mission for the team. Franz came on my radar screen when he ran the equestrian events at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, so we reminisced a little.
When I came back to the hotel tonight, the whole Australian team was having a party in the lobby, featuring people in green and yellow wigs (those are the Australian colors.) They looked like they were having the kind of fun that only Australians can, but unfortunately, I had to write this postcard so I couldn't join them. That's the story of the non-stop WEG for serious journalists. But I digress.
I wanted to tell you that Lyle Lovett, the country western singer, came to the press room today to talk about reining and his role in the closing ceremonies five years from now (actually, it only feels like five years, it's really a mere 13 days.)
Lyle, an amateur reiner who comes from a Texas family that raises quarter horses, had a horse in the reining competition. It was that palomino, Smart and Shiney, with the long mane that I said I loved a couple of postcards ago. (You remember.)
The horse was ridden by Marco Ricotta of the Italian team, the assistant to Lyle's trainer, Tim McQuay, a member of our gold medal squad. Unfortunately, with the noise of the crowd and music (I think they were playing Lyle Lovett, actually) Smart and Shiney didn't hear Marco's command to stop when he should have, and after that, everything went south, he noted. Marco had a mistake in his pattern (the equivalent of going off-course in a jumper class) and wound up with a zero score. If he had done what he's capable of with the horse, would Italy have overtaken Belgium for the silver? Possibly, but we'll never know.
I updated my reining story with some soundbytes, so take another look at that. And tomorrow, read my next postcard, because it's dressage medal day.
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