August 7, 2010 -- Today's selection trial for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games dressage squad was only the first of four, but the team picture already is starting to come into focus.
Even casual followers of the sport knew that Tina Konyot and Calecto V were the likely winners of today's Grand Prix, and they didn't disappoint. The score of 74.894 percent was their best ever for this test, which they have won eight times since April 2009. One of the judges, Uwe Mechlem of Germany, had them at 76.809. And get this--since Calecto just recently got out of quarantine after his successful trip to Aachen, Tina hasn't been pushing him. So she thought, aside from the score, he has had better performances. That means there will be higher marks to come, I'd bet, though I thought this effort was quite dynamic.
He's really special. Tina has been offered more than $1 million for the horse, but she won't take it, even though she isn't wealthy. They are quite a couple, the stallion and the lady; it's a real love affair.
Okay, so the victory was not a shocker and if all goes well tomorrow and next weekend, she and her Danish import will join Steffen Peters and Ravel on the team. (Steffen, as we've told you more than once, got a bye from the trials and is not competing at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation training center here.)
But second place went to a combo that has been a couple only since mid-May, Katherine Bateson-Chandler and the dependable Nartan, with a score of 71.872 percent, seem as if they were made for each other.
"We're a new partnership, so it's learning each other's buttons. It's only my fourth Grand Prix on him, so that's been a challenge in itself," said Katherine, who is getting help from Nartan's former owner, Jeanette Haazen, who sold the horse after she realized she wouldn't make the Dutch squad that is considered a lock for the team gold at the WEG.
"She's been our translator," Katherine said, referring to riding language. Nartan apparently understands English.
I wondered if Katherine was nervous about having her sponsor, USET Foundation President Jane Clark, take a gamble on buying a team prospect so soon before the WEG.
"I always have trepidation buying any horse," Katherine answered.
"It's a lot of responsibility buying a horse, when you're spending somebody else's money and (its) somebody you really respect and care about. But Jane is amazingly supportive and trusts me and says, `If you think you can do it, let's do it.' "
Todd Flettrich also made a good bid for team status simply by fighting back when Otto had a tense start to his test and was marked at 58 percent before he got rolling, and amazingly, wound up with 71.404 percent overall to finish third.
Scores in the 70s weren't limited to the first three. The top seven were above that magic line, which was pretty impressive. Don't forget, there was a lot of moaning over the winter that the U.S. didn't have much in the way of team prospects. Now we do.
Lauren Sammis, who has shown only once since Sagacious HF colicked during the winter, looked good in fourth place with a 70.723 for a smooth performance that included professional piaffes.
Robin Hood, Sue Blinks' campaigner from the West Coast, was fifth with 70.298 percent. By the way, she and Lauren were the only riders wearing helmets instead of top hats. When announcer Brian O'Connor made a point of mentioning it, the two got applause.
The other horses over 70 percent were Pierre St. Jacques' mount, Lucky Tiger (70.298) and Winyamaro (70.255) Catherine Haddad's rising star who looks and (according to Catherine) acts like a pony with his fluffy forelock and big white face. If the trials were a high school reunion, Catherine would get the prize for the person who came the farthest--she's based in Germany.
Those look like the key players at the moment, but we'll see what happens in the Special tomorrow morning, and beyond. The Dutch have the gold unless the earth leaves its orbit, and you have to figure the Germans for silver, but maybe the U.S. could catch the Brits, who many experts feel could tie up the bronze.
Co-featured at the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Festival of Champions this weekend is the Intermediare I national championship. Cesar Parra, number one ranked with Olympia, wasn't happy with being second to Kassandra Barteau and Toscano on Friday in the Prix St. Georges. He was determined to pull ahead and this afternoon turned in an emotional victory in the Intermediare I with a powerful performance on the horse he wants to take to next year's Pan American Games.
He nailed it, and he knew it as he made his final salute amid a flurry of fist pumping, thumbs up and hat waving.
"I was very happy because today he was the horse I like to ride. Yesterday he was a little tense," said Cesar, who represented his native Colombia for many years before becoming an American citizen.
"I rode every stride," he said of his test, marked at 73.263 percent.
"I wanted to get ahead of Kassie," he added, shooting to be 2 percent better than her to gain the edge in the race.
"I almost passed out when I came out, because I was like, `Go, go, go,''' he reported cheerfully. "I knew it was probably the best I-1 I had ridden. The horse was right on. The feeling was very, very good. We did together the best we could do."
Kassie's total was 71.105. With the PSG 45 percent and the I-1 30 percent, Cesar has edged just a bit ahead and tomorrow afternoon's freestyle (worth 25 percent) will be the deciding factor.
I thought it was neat that Kassie's mother, Yvonne, came in third on GP Raymeister, the horse that her daughter took to the Young Rider championship here last year. The Barteaus are very one-for-all-and all-for one; they have a family training business in which everyone participates.
A special day was made even better by great weather, sunny but relatively cool--a relief after a heat wave that had not broken until yesterday.
I'll be back tomorrow night with a full postcard to wrap up the weekend.