They have a saying in theater: “Bad rehearsal, good performance.” And that`s exactly what David O`Connor and Kim Severson were hoping would happen to them at the Foxhall Cup CCI*** in Douglasville, Ga., on April 15-18.
Their last starts with both Outlawed and He`s Got Rhythm had been at Chatsworth CIC*** (Ga.), two weeks earlier, and they`d been among the 20 horses who hadn`t finished the cross-country course designed by Capt. Mark Phillips–who de-signed Foxhall too–in either the CIC or the two advanced divisions.
But O`Connor took the lead in dressage on Outlawed, a 12-year-old, New Zealand-bred owned by Jennifer Taxay of Agua Dolce, Calif., and never gave it back. Outlawed added 4.0 cross-country time faults and 4 faults for one lowered show jumping rail, but still stayed 3.8 penalties ahead of Severson on He`s Got Rhythm, the first of three horses she placed in the top 10 (Maguire was fourth and Upper Register sixth).
Jim Wofford said in his evaluation of the field for the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (April 16, p. 8) that O`Connor`s spring events had been “more exciting than successful,” an indication of the competitive dry spell he`s suffered for the past year while hoping to be able to defend the Olympic gold medal he won in 2000. His last three-day victory came at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) in October 2002 on his gold-medal partner, Custom Made, scheduled to be formally retired at Kentucky, the week after Foxhall.
But at last October`s Fair Hill CCI, O`Connor, 42, fell with Dunstan Celtic and broke his ankle and wrist. He did win an advanced division at Rocking Horse (Fla.) with Outlawed in February, but otherwise this spring has been rather challenging, causing some to wonder if becoming president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation in January has kept him from spending as much time as needed to train his horses.
But O`Connor insists that his administrative position has not prevented him from riding, although it has seriously decreased the time he has to coach.
Still, “It`s been a rough spring,” he acknowledged with a grin, adding, “I`ll take [a win] wherever I can get it.”
Still Knows How To Win
O`Connor`s victory–accomplished with a polished, correct dressage test that put him 2 points in front and a steady, efficient cross-country ride–showed that O`Connor still knows how to win three-day events.
And he got just that little bit of luck that often makes the difference. For half the course, O`Connor didn`t know how fast he was going. His watch stopped at 5:21 (the optimum time was 9:30), and he tried to reset it, without success. “So I didn`t know if I was fast or slow,” he said.
The riders expected time to be a major factor on the flat course, and the dressage leaders agreed they couldn`t even consider the easier options if they hoped to be near the time.
Two of Phillips` narrow-faced fences knocked two of the leaders out of contention. Fourth-placed Denise Rath, 47, on Just A Diplomat, had what she called ” blonde senior moment” at fence 22, a skinny log after the sunken road. Her handsome gray ran past it, and she turned around and presented him to it again, only to have another run-out. After shaking herself, Rath took the option and finished.
Sixth-placed Mark Weissbecker, the Thursday night leader, thought Swayne, 8, was on track until he grabbed the bit after the first of the two chevrons in the middle of the lake (fences 9AB) and just ran past the second one. He jumped it handily on the second attempt.
Just A Diplomat and Swayne had each been eliminated at Chatsworth, and Buck Davidson had retired Idalgo there after two refusals. Davidson rode the bay, Selle Francais gelding smoothly to place second in dressage, then anxiously awaited cross-country.
“He`s got all the jump in the world, but you don`t really need it here. You need steering,” said Davidson. And Idalgo, 8, showed that he and Davidson, who`ve only been together eight months and done half a dozen events, still need to work on communication. They had 6.8 time faults on cross-country and lowered three rails to slip to eighth, one place lower than he`d placed at the Radnor Hunt CCI** (Pa.) in October.
Claiming the silver Foxhall Cup put O`Connor on par with his wife, Karen, who scored at Foxhall in 2001, on Prince Panache. They`ve now each won Rolex Kentucky as both a three-star and four-star, the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) and Foxhall, and it was David`s 16th career victory in a two-, three- or four-star CCI.
Karen was actually Taxay`s first choice to ride her rangy, bay gelding when she approached the O`Connors in 2003. But David said Karen thought he was a bit big for her. Foxhall was only David`s fifth start with Outlawed, and it came after a baffling fall at Chatsworth.
O`Connor said that Outlawed tripped when he landed in the middle of a combination, and when he tried to turn him to the easier option, the horse fell over the second element. “I have no idea why. I really don`t know what happened,” he said.
So he too was a bit apprehensive on Friday night. “Since he`s also new to the level, you just can`t tell what`s going to happen,” said David philosophically.
But he was pleasantly surprised throughout the weekend by Outlawed`s performances. “He was impressive, very mature–every day,” said O`Connor.
The Next Big Star?
Severson`s last Foxhall start was in 2001, when she finished second, to Karen O`Connor, on Winsome Adante, who in 2002 would win the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and the team gold medal at the World Championships. Now she hopes that at least one of these three horses, all owned by Linda Wachtmeister of Scottsville, Va., will join “Dan” as a four-star horse.
Wachtmeister purchased “Jazz,” as Severson calls He`s Got Rhythm, a handsome, chestnut gelding, in July 2001 from young rider Jan Bowie. Severson won the Morven Park CCI* (Va.) on him that October, then won the Camino Real CCI** (Texas) in May 2002 by 20 points. Since then, his development has been slowed by two injuries, so Foxhall was his first three-star.
Jazz, 10, had only made two advanced starts before Chatsworth, where Severson said he ran out at a narrow-faced brush combination and then stopped at a narrow log in the water, where Severson retired him.
She was also worried about Maguire, an 11-year-old Irish-bred purchased in 2003. He had trouble with narrow fences in England before his purchase, so she was tremendously relieved after jumping faultlessly and confidently on both horses.
Jazz had 5.2 time faults and Maguire 3.2 while she made sure of their presentation to each jump. She was fast on Upper Register, a 10-year-old, Thoroughbred mare who had the first of the day`s six fault-free rounds, because she knew her the best and never took back.
“I think they were all really excellent,” said a tired Severson, 30, on Saturday night.
Another of the six clear rounds belonged to Tiffani Loudon on Above `N Beyond, who moved from eighth to third on the strength of his jumping. Loudon, 28 and a new mother, rode with the resolve she showed when she won the inaugural Foxhall Cup in 2000 on Makabi, as she urged Above `N Beyond, 9, away from each jump with all possible haste.
Loudon has owned Above `N Beyond, a Canadian-bred Thoroughbred, since he was 4. That was when Jean Moyer, her long-time coach, called her after seeing him at a show in Washington. Loudon bought him solely on Moyer`s advice, without seeing him, although her original plan was to work with him and resell him.
“Honestly, he wasn`t much of a horse [physically] when I got him,” said Loudon. But he`s always been even-tempered and willing.
“You do have to fire him up. He reminds me of Makabi that way–you have to create a spark in them. And this weekend was the first time he got jazzed up for the cross-country,” said Loudon.
While Severson show jumped faultlessly on Maguire to leap from seventh to fourth (one of just three clear rounds over Richard Lamb`s course), He`s Got Rhythm and Above `N Beyond each dislodged the first fence, giving O`Connor additional breathing room. Outlawed just caught the front rail of the last fence, a liverpool oxer, with a hind leg.
Severson said He`s Got Rhythm didn`t focus on fence 1, and when she put her leg on, he got too deep.
Said Loudon in disgust, “I had that rail because I came around the corner and picked down to it.”