So, to tackle the elephant in the room before he gets a chance to think about charging, let’s talk about the fact two American riders who missed out on Olympic selection top the dressage leader board at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Firstly, being a selector is a thankless task. If your team wins a medal, everyone forgets your part in the success; if they don’t, everyone remembers to say you did badly.
There must be a horrible feeling of conflict for those American selectors now – hope for their riders to do well here at Burghley, but the creeping dread of knowing the rumbling criticism after a disappointing Olympics will be massively intensified if Sinead Halpin and Allison Springer finish in the top two spots they currently hold.
Statistically, looking from London to Burghley there should be little in this leader board to surprise us. As I analysed in H&H’s preview (30 August issue), Burghley in Olympic and world years is generally won by an Olympic rider on another horse (three of the current top six) or by a pair who were well in the running for a team spot (two of the current top six).
Many thought Sinead was a shoe-in for the American team. Why wasn’t she chosen? I don’t have the definitive answer to that because selectors don’t have to justify their decisions to the press.
Today, Sinead herself spoke about the fact Manoir De Carneville had a slight nosebleed at the final trial at Barbury, which may have been a particular concern with Greenwich being such a public venue – I assume she meant that it was likely officials would quickly pull up any horse with visible blood to protect the sport’s image and the American selectors had that in mind. She also said, ironically after today, that she was struggling with the dressage at the time of selection.
Tonight at the press conference, we saw Sinead, Allison and Clayton Fredericks all try to express the depths of their Olympic disappointment in just a few words. Clayton did ride there, but fell across country when Bendigo III put a stud through his overreach boot.
“Anyone who’s spent time in this sport knows you spend your life picking yourself up,” he said tonight after pointing out that London has been these riders’ focus for four years. And Allison, speaking about many years of ups and downs with Arthur, said: “This sport is heartbreaking. You have to believe in yourself and your horse.”
A Burghley win might not quite be the same as an Olympic gold. But it sure wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
Can Sinead or Allison become America’s first Burghley winner since Stephen Bradley won in 1993, nearly two decades ago? Can Clayton clinch his first British four-star win? Stay tuned for the next two episodes.
Follow every phase of Burghley as it happens using H&H Live, our interactive written commentary supported by Baileys Horse Feeds. Review the dressage and join in tomorrow at www.horseandhound.co.uk/burghley2012live.
Make sure you buy H&H next week (6 September) for our 10-page special Burghley report, with full analysis of every phase, comments from dressage expert Sally O’Connor and former winner Ginny Elliot and more.