Olympic fever is setting in, the Athens games are less than four months away, and our show jumping selection trials begin on May 14.
Since we`ve all joined forces (at last) in a new federation, there is hope, enthusiasm, and anticipation in the air. I truly believe that if things go as they should, we could have a medal. And if the best horse/rider combinations come through our selection procedure, as I hope they do, it could be a very good medal.
Like our preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, our show jumping trials will take place in Southern California over two consecutive weekends. An added attraction this year had to do with grass and lights. Del Mar has the lights and The Oaks/Blenheim has the turf. Athens will be run on grass, and part of the competition will be under lights.
Again, as in the past few years, we have been lucky enough to get Leopoldo Palacios to build the courses for our selection process. Leopoldo knows every nuance of course construction and how to prepare us in the process.
As in previous years, I`ll alphabetically go down the list of candidates and make a few comments. Some of the applicants have opted for the Super League Tour instead, showing good judgment by deciding that their horses are too green for the Olympics. Any other candidates I don`t mention are ones I consider too green, or their horses too green, to stand a realistic chance. Of course, they might surprise us.
Molly Ashe now has international seasoning, and her hopes lie with Jane Clark`s chestnut mare Lutopia, who placed second last year at Spruce Meadows (Alta.) in the million-dollar class. The mare has tremendous class and is extremely careful, but they`ve shown here sparingly, so we have not seen her true form yet.
Although we haven`t seen the horse this year, we must consider Claire Bronfman`s bay gelding Charlton. He`s extremely scopey, careful, and most rideable. The pair also has lots of European experience under their belt, having won the Grand Prix of Rome a few years ago.
Norman Dello Joio and his seasoned campaigner Glasgow are heavy favorites, having just won the prestigious Budweiser American Invitational. Norman won the FEI World Cup Final in 1983 and the individual bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He and Glasgow are a most consistent combination, and we would be lucky to have them on our team. Nor-man also has two other backup horses entered, Quriel and Peace Train.
Margie Engle was one of the heavy favorites for our team. Coupled with the consistent Perin, she was our top rider at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Most unfortunately for Margie, and the country, she had a freak accident in early February and broke her femur. I had the same break, although much worse, and found it quite a lengthy process to recover. But if Margie is back in the saddle by mid-May with a very fresh Perrin, they`ll be contenders.
Alison Firestone has shown all over the world since her junior years and has come back into really good form over the past year. Her partner is Casanova, a Swedish Warmblood who represented Sweden at Sydney. They had a great Florida circuit and have to be one of the strong contenders.
Lauren Hough and Clasiko are also veterans of the 2000 Olympics, and the horse looks in great shape. Clasiko is very consistent, steady and scopey. With the seasoning they have now, they`d make a good entry for Athens.
Chris Kappler has requested a bye for Royal Kaliber from the trials. Last year the brown Ramiro stallion had a phenomenal year, winning everything in sight in this country, as well as double-clear rounds in the Nations Cup in Aachen (Germany) and the Pan Am Games, where they won the individual silver medal. This year in Florida the horse has retained his form, either winning or being in the ribbons in six FEI classes out of the seven classes he entered. They could be in medal contention come Athens.
Anne Kursinski will have three horses in California. Eros, her 1996 Olympic veteran, still shows great form and youth. He could do it. Her two new ones are Sun God and Great Point, both horses of big scope appearing to just be coming into their own. Anne is such a great horsewoman. And with her experience, any one of these nice horses could make the team.
Laura Linback just finished a strong second in a Florida World Cup class. Laura also has European experience, having participated on a USET developing rider tour. She has two horses entered, Remember Me 9, and Grand So So 2. Laura has always been a competitor.
Beezie Madden goes into the trials with three horses. Judgement, her 2002 World Championship partner, just won the big grand prix in Charlotte, N.C. Authentic, a bay Thoroughbred-type who is extremely careful, had a great Florida, and DeSilvio, a big chestnut of easy scope, placed first and second in several big classes on the Florida circuit. The United States, or any country, would want Beezie Madden on their team.
Todd Minikus has a class horse in Viktor. This dark bay gelding can do it all and has done it all. And, believe me, Todd will give it his all. Gardenio, a very scopey black horse, will be Todd`s backup.
Schuyler Riley has two really nice horses. Ilian, her old reliable, is as consistent and generous as a horse can be. Perhaps it`s his turn to go to a championship. Opus Sept, a big, easy-going, scopey bay, also could do the job. Schuyler rides well and has lots of experience.
Nicole Shahinian Simpson rides as well as anyone, and she`s a 2002 World Championship veteran. I haven`t seen El Campeon`s So Long, but I`ve heard very good things about this horse. I`m sure they`ll be great representatives for the West Coast.
Her husband, Will Simpson, will be riding El Campeon`s Ado Annie. One thing`s for sure–Will and this chestnut mare will be a trying pair.
Richard Spooner, another West Coast entry, has swept the field with his great gray horse Robinson. Richard is another very competitive rider, and if this horse is feeling in top form, he might make the cut.
McLain Ward, certainly one of the most polished and successful riders in America today, has three good horses. His best Olympic candidate would be Sapphire, a big, chestnut mare by Darco. She has immense scope, appears very careful, and is most rideable. She was very impressive in Florida. Goldika 559 and Quickstar 112 are extremely careful and fast.
Peter Wylde, and his bronze-medal mare Fein Cera, are certainly a pair to be reckoned with. Not only does Peter ride superbly and the mare jump impeccably, but both also have such vast European experience. Peter and his mare would be a great asset to any team. In fact, it would probably be unlucky if Peter didn`t make our team.
As you can see, the top four or five combinations are extremely strong. And the next four or five are strong enough to back them up.
Of course, our selection trials system has only worked well for one championship: the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where we won the team silver medal. But in that instance, any subjectively determined list would have coincided with the objective results all the way down to rider No. 12.