Pippa Roome: will fans, riders and journalists be baffled by substitutions at the Olympics? *H&H Plus*


  • Pippa Roome looks at how the format in Tokyo might influence selection

    KENTUCKY was the first chance this year for riders to make an impact on their country’s selectors.

    On the British side, winners Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class will be the names on everyone’s lips for Tokyo now.

    Harry Meade’s fifth on Superstition’s five-star debut was impressive – particularly after Harry’s serious brain injury last autumn. But the selectors may want a longer history of consistent performances for an Olympic berth, in which case the Europeans would be a likely destination for this pair.

    Kevin McNab (sixth on Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam for Australia) and Jesse Campbell (11th on Diachello for New Zealand) have given themselves a real boost to join their nations’ Tokyo line-ups.

    The US may have been a bit disappointed that six of the top 10 places and all the podium spots went abroad.

    Phillip Dutton showed his reliability in eighth on Z, while Boyd Martin was best of the home side in fourth – but on the British-bred On Cue, rather than the predicted star, Tsetserleg TSF. The latter was going well when he fell near the end of the cross-country and a strong result at a four-star could bring him back into contention for selection.

    Tamie Smith’s only error on the way to ninth with Mai Baum was breaking a frangible device across country and I suspect the US selectors may forgive her that – her reliably top-notch dressage is such a bonus and she showjumped clear. But with six more American pairs grouped between 10th and 16th, there’s some thinking to do.


    ALL three team members’ scores will count in Tokyo, which brings reliability to the fore in selection tactics.

    In some cases, combinations can do the later phases even if eliminated in the dressage or cross-country, although the rules prevent continuing in some circumstances, such as after a horse fall. But a pair who don’t finish a test will carry 100 penalties in each of dressage and showjumping or 200 in cross-country, so a team with three true completions has a better medal chance – which may lead nations to select pairs who are more likely to finish, but less likely to record an excellent score. But no one is guaranteed to complete and banking on a team medal with three mediocre completions is a risky strategy.

    Other nations may decide to send three potential individual medallists, even if they are less reliable. That way, they have three shots at individual honours, plus if all three complete, team gold could follow.

    The fourth squad member, the “alternate”, can be substituted into the competition for medical or veterinary reasons for any of the three tests, with a 20-point penalty. It’s not rocket science to say rider temperament will be vital in the alternate.

    I also feel jumping reliability is more important than dressage prowess in the alternates. It’s more likely they’ll take part in the later phases, so putting a pair with exceptional dressage in this spot feels like a waste – unless this horse is expected to go tactically lame after dressage and be replaced, of course!

    I’m fascinated to see whether nations name three team members and an alternate when they make selections or simply announce a four-pair squad. The entries deadline is 5 July and at that point, teams will have to differentiate between their three team members and the alternate.

    That said, assuming all four horses pass the first trot-up, a substitution can be made without penalty until two hours before the dressage. In that case, the withdrawn horse becomes the alternate and can later be substituted in – so in reality, it’s possible to adjust who is the alternate without penalty until two hours before the dressage.

    The rules around substitutions are fiendishly complicated – it will be interesting to see whether they seem any simpler as the competition progresses or if fans, riders and journalists alike are baffled!

    ● What would be your tactics if you were a selector? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com

    This column can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 May

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