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August 4, 2008

Leslie Law Predicts Olympic Team Gold For Great Britain

The reigning individual gold medalist won’t be participating in this year’s Olympic Games, but he’s betting on a showdown between his fellow Brits and the Aussies.

It’s quite an open team competition in eventing this year. I can’t see anybody setting out really as clear favorites. [Horse injuries cost the British team their 2006 World Champion, Zara Phillips, and 2008 Badminton CCI**** runner-up Lucy Wiegersma; neither Bettina nor Andrew Hoy will ride for their respective countries of Germany and Australia].
I think it’s going to be the same names you’re used to hearing—Great Britain, Australia, France, the United States and Germany. You can see them all putting up a good overall team

I’ve got to stick my neck out, so I’m going to go for Great Britain to win the gold. The British team has a wealth of experience with William Fox-Pitt (on Parkmore Ed) and Mary King (on Call Again Cavalier). Those two should log very good scores, so they’ll just need to get one more for the team, and I would like to think that they could do that.

If Daisy Dick can pull off a decent dressage score with Spring Along, she’s got the experiences on the team now to see her through. Tina Cook’s also back there with a nice young horse, Miners Frolic, and then there’s Sharon Hunt, who’s quite solid with Tankers Town. I think they could definitely get one score from those three to put together a good team score.

But I think it’s all going to be close, because I’d have to say all the same things for Australia. The Frederickses—Lucinda and Clayton—are both on fire, quite honestly. So again, they just need one more good score, which they can easily get from any of their team members [Sonja Johnson with Ringwould Jaguar, Megan Jones with Kirby Park Irish Jester and Shane Rose with All Luck]. The team competition will be quite tense and exciting.

I think anything could happen for the bronze, but I’ll give it to the United States, as I’m living here!
Phillip Dutton will be as professional as ever with Connaught, and Amy Tryon’s there too with Poggio. I think those will be the two countable team scores, so again, they’ll just need one more. I think it’s going to be Becky Holder who’s right up there. Her dressage and cross-country with Courageous Comet are solid, and her show jumping has improved drastically, so I think she’ll put up a good team score as well.

Germany and France will also be strong, and I think New Zealand actually has a good team chance
as well. Andrew Nicholson will be well-experienced with Lord Killinghurst, and he could easily pull off a good show jumping round in the first round. Mark Todd with Gandalf and Caroline Powell with Lenamore are both going to be good, so I think New Zealand is going to be a solid bet too. But, overall, it’s really an open team competition.

All of the horses I've picked for possible individual medals are good enough in the dressage and cross-country, but above that, they are very capable show jumpers, and the two rounds of show jumping are going to decide everything for the individual medals.

The Frederickses both have a good chance of winning a medal for Australia, but I would put more money on Lucinda than on Clayton. I think she probably has the edge in the dressage with Headley Brittania over Clayton’s horse, Ben Along Time. They both show jump well, which is so important for the individual medals, but if Lucinda can get those two clear rounds out of her mare, which she’s certainly capable of, she’ll have an edge over Clayton from the dressage.

France’s Nicolas Touzaint should be riding Galan de Sauvagère. This horse will be in the top three after the dressage, and it's a fantastic cross-country horse. Nicolas is an experienced show jumper, and he will have learnt from his experience at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens [where the pair won team gold and placed eighth individually].

I think two U.S. riders have a good chance at an individual medal. Amy Tryon is a fierce competitor with a freakishly good horse. She and I were the only riders to have double-clear rounds in the show jumping in Athens [where she finished sixth individually]. With a slightly improved dressage score and the same show jumping performance she gave four years ago, she could easily end up in the medals.

Phillip Dutton is always a competitor who will go there with the aim to win. There’s no question about horse or rider's ability here. Connaught is a fantastic show jumper. My only concern would be that to go to the “well” twice in the same year, since they won the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring, is going to be a lot to ask of this older horse.

Sharon Hunt, of Great Britain, has a good outside chance of a medal with Tankers Town. Her dressage will be close enough, so long as she can get the time cross-country in those hot, humid conditions. At Badminton (England) this year, Sharon did a fantastic job on the horse. She collected a few time faults, but there were only two horses inside the time this year at Badminton. The going there was definitely quite tacky and gluey, and Sharon’s horse will definitely prefer the top of the ground, which she’ll have a better chance of getting in Hong Kong. He probably will get the time, and I know Tankers Town can certainly pull off two good show jumping rounds.

My dark horse pair would be Caroline Powell and Lenamore of New Zealand, who have been such a steadfast team for so many years. Surely their chance could be here. Caroline’s a wonderful, natural talent and the horse has been knocking on the door for so long. She was unfortunate at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen (Germany)—I think she was the first one out on course and had a glance-off at the angled hedges at Fence 5, but they’ve got a wealth of experience now. She’s had enough experience on teams at Worlds and different things that she could really be up for it this time.

I can’t honestly say I know the German riders that well. Bettina is now out [after her experienced mount Ringwood Cockatoo incurred an injury], but Germany has had a strong team over the past three or four years, so you can’t count them out. There could easily be someone else in there who is capable of a medal.

It’s always enjoyable to watch New Zealand’s veterans Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, and while I’ve listed all those other people, you’d never count them out of a chance. They could always pull something, and I watch them with great interest.

I believe Andrew’s taking Lord Killinghurst, who’s strong in the dressage and solid cross-country. The show jumping will perhaps be the trick there, but Andrew’s a master and he’s done it before, so it’s possible he could do it again.

Mark obviously has got a very good horse in Gandalf. The slight weakness I see there is the dressage, but, again, Mark’s experience might just count for it at the Olympic Games, where perhaps some of the less experienced, younger people might feel the pressure. You’d never count him out, but as it stands right now, the dressage might be the one thing that keeps him from winning an individual medal.

As for riders who aren’t going on teams, I think Karin Donckers of Belgium always has a chance. She’s an extremely competitive girl, and she’s knocked on the door many a time, and it could happen for her as well.

But, overall, my top pick is William Fox-Pitt. There’s no one quite as good as William. I would guess he will be on his 2007 Burghley CCI**** (England) winner, Parkmore Ed. He’s a fantastic, steady and reliable horse who, with William on top, could bring home the gold for Great Britain—barring any misfortunes. The horse has had the bonus of being solely prepared for just this event this year, thus he will be fresher than most horses, and jockey and horse will be ready.  

Leslie Law, as told to Kat Netzler

British rider Leslie Law is the reigning Olympic individual gold medalist. Riding Shear L’Eau, he also led Great Britain to a team silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, following up on the team silver he earned in 2000 in Sydney with Shear H20, a full brother to his younger mount. Law has also won two European Championship team gold medals (2001 and 2003), as well as the 2002 World Championship team bronze. He resides with his wife, Canadian eventer Lesley Grant-Law, in Bluemont, Va., and Ocala, Fla.

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