Canada’s leading international event rider Jessica Phoenix has won her appeal for a place on her country’s Olympic team.
British-based Canadian Kathryn Robinson had been chosen to ride on the team with her own Let It Bee ahead of Jessica, who was listed as reserve with two horses — A Little Romance (pictured) and Bentley’s Best.
Following the initial selection, Jessica and the horses’ owners appealed the decision through the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC)— which they won in a hearing dated 11 July. The summary of proceedings was released on Monday (25 July).
Following the publication, Canadian eventing team coach Clayton Fredericks said he stands by his statements explaining why Jessica was left off the team.
“We have a great group of riders in their final preparations for Rio and as a coach I am looking forward to the Games and helping our riders perform at their best,” he said afterwards.
“As the eventing team coach my focus has always been on the performance of the athletes and helping them achieve their personal best in competition.
“The aim this year was to have as many combinations as possible achieve their qualification for Rio and be in form and ready for a major games such as the Olympics.
“It is never an easy job selecting and particularly so this year with so many great combinations available to represent Canada.
“As a selector I had to consider both the soundness and performance information available to me and that, ultimately, is what I based my decision on.
“While I respect the appeal process and eventual outcome, I stand by my statements and the process that was followed.”
Eva Havaris, CEO of Equestrian Canada, said the organisation “respects and supports” the appeal process.
“One of the great things about our country and our Canadian sport system is that we have a process in place that honours fair play and integrity,” she added.
“We look forward to seeing a full team of Canadian eventing athletes kick off the equestrian portion of the Games.”
According to the notes of the SDRCC hearing, Equestrian Canada recommended five targeted competitions for prospective team members during 2016, but no particular event was compulsory.
Jessica and her owners submitted that she has been Canada’s leading eventer for the last 10 years and satisfied “all nomination criteria” to be on the team.
They argued the selection panel did not properly apply nomination criteria and should have chosen Jessica with Pavarotti or A Little Romance (two of her possible four rides).
In a statement, Clayton Fredericks said Jessica’s withdrawals at Carolina International CIC3*, Kentucky CCI4* and Bromont CIC3* were not part of a team decision and “went against” his advice as team coach.
“In each instance the withdrawals were communicated to me by [her] on the day of cross-country close to competition time,” he said.
“This pattern of withdrawals has raised concerns regarding Jessica’s level of competitiveness and her readiness to be competitive at the Olympic Games.”
He added he has had concerns regarding the fitness programme of Jessica and her declared horses.
The hearing heard that although Clayton had concerns, he had not reviewed vet reports of Pavarotti or A Little Romance between Jersey Fresh in May and the selection panel meeting on 22 June.
Clayton acknowledged he thought Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best should have run at Bromont, but denied that he told Jessica failing to run the horses would prevent her from being on the team, as she claimed.
He also denied telling Don Good (owner of Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best) at Bromont that he thought he and Jessica were hiding something from him regarding Pavarotti’s soundness.
Jessica argued that she and Pavarotti’s owner were concerned the recovery time between Bromont and Jersey Fresh — a little over three weeks — was too short, so chose not to run him across country.
Jessica testified that Clayton arrived at the barn in Bromont and was “very agitated”.
“He told her, ‘you were in the driver’s seat for this selection and now you have completely ruined your chances not just on Bentley’s Best and Pavarotti but on the other two mares as well,’” read the summary of proceedings.
“Ms Phoenix testified that Mr Fredericks said ‘he could no longer help but was going to spend his time preparing the people who wanted to do this’.”
Graeme Thom, a former chef d’equipe and chair of the eventing high performance committee, testified that Jessica’s scores on all of her horses beat Kathryn’s.
“That Kathryn completed Badminton is very impressive and normally this type of an outing would trump any three-star result,” he said. “However, Kathryn’s time penalties were so numerous (53.2) that her four-star result is not impressive enough to stand on its own.”
He added “neither of the three horses” (Pavarotti, A Little Romance and Let It Bee) will win an individual medal, but the question is which will contribute most to the team’s overall placing.
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Arbitrator the Hon Robert Armstrong QC summed up that he accepts Clayton “earnestly believed” both of Jessica’s horses needed another cross-country run before the selection panel met.
“However, he became a man with a mission on this issue and my assessment, unfortunately, is that he lost it,” he said.
He added “all the evidence” shows Jessica to be Canada’s leading event rider and ruled that she be included in the team along with A Little Romance, with Kathryn moved to reserve.
The three other eventers on the Canadian Olympic team are Rebecca Howard (Riddle Master), Colleen Loach (Qorry Blue D’Argouges) and Selena O’Hanlon (Foxwood High).