Even the eternally optimistic Robert Dover could not have predicted the strength of his victory at the US Olympic dressage team selection trials, where he won every one of the four competitions with FBW Kennedy, the former pillar of the Danish team.
“I always liked him very, very much,” says Robert. “I thought when I was looking at him that he would be a nice horse to add to a very nice team. But once I got him, he made me aware very quickly that he was much better than I’d thought. I think he’s as good as any horse in the world.”
Robert, who began riding Kennedy last autumn for owner Jane Clark, is now heading for his sixth Olympics. It’s his best chance ever of winning an individual medal — as well as making a huge contribution to a US team that some believe even has a shot of giving Germany a run for its money, if all goes well.
“I’m really excited for the first time in a long time,” says Robert, 48, who suffered back problems during the 2000 Olympics and decided to stop competing soon after.
He came out of retirement to take over the Baden Wurttemburg gelding Kennedy, purchased by Clark from Danish team member Lone Jorgensen.
On the first weekend of the trials, he scored 76.29% in the grand prix and 78.64% in the special. By the second weekend, he was really soaring, with a 78.91% in the grand prix from the panel of five international judges, and 81.70% in the kür.
Robert’s kür has been created by Anky van Grunsven’s musical directors Cees Slings and Viktor Kerkhoff and features show tunes including Mr Bojangles. Robert was nearly five points ahead of his closest rival at the trials, Guenter Seidel, his team-mate on the past two Olympic bronze medal squads, who will ride Aragon in Athens.
The US team is headed by Debbie McDonald, rated second in the world with Brentina. The chestnut Hanoverian mare returned to international competition with a bang in Aachen scoring 74.167% to lead the US squad to third place behind the Germans and Dutch. Brentina suffered a strained tendon in Dortmund in March, which prevented her from defending her 2003 World Cup title.
The final member of the US squad is Lisa Wilcox and Relevant, who is used to competing against Europe’s best from her base in Germany.
Robert believes that the US team needs all its riders in top form to challenge the Germans and Dutch, whom he considers America’s biggest competition for medals.
“One drop-out can change the whole landscape,” he points out.