Canada Heads Into Final Pan Am Games Qualifier with Small Tour Pairs Neck & Neck, Facing USA Juggernaut

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Canada's Chris Von Mrels on Zilverstar. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Canada’s Chris Von Mrels on Zilverstar. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

May 28, 2015

News Analysis

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Canadian riders hoping to make the Pan American Games team head into their final qualifying competition in Ottawa with three small tour combinations neck and neck as they battle for a place on the squad that will face a USA juggernaut.

At the same time Canadian small tour riders hoping to make the Pan American Games team head into their final qualifying competition in Ottawa battling for supremacy, the United States will show off its headline Big Tour combination of Steffen Peters and Legolas at the World Equestrian Festival in the high temple of horse sports at Aachen, Germany.

After Aachen, the U.S. national championship horse heads home to prepare for the Pan Ams held once every four years and this year in Toronto barely six weeks away.

On the line for both Canada and the United States in the Pan Ams is which nation will win team gold and thus a start at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Other countries do not have the depth at this stage to field a competitive team at the top level

For everyone but the winner with a Grand Prix horse, the path to the Rio Olympics is much more difficult and expensive as the also-rans have to try to qualify three riders and horses as individuals over the next year to make up a so-called “composite” team.

Canada or the U.S. that does not win the team competition can get a head start by earning one individual spot for Rio through the Pan Ams. Then comes the journey of finishing first in the group that cover Canada, U.S. and the Caribbean and a third success through the world rankings and the opportunity to put together the three-member “composite” team in Rio.

Most attention this weekend will likely be focused on the Canadian Prix St. Georges and Intermediate 1 horses at the Ontario Dressage Festival in Ottawa.

Diane Creech on Robbie W has led the Canadian small tour standings for so long in the past year the pair were assumed a slam-dunk with an average of four qualifying scores coming into this weekend of 72.489.

Brittany Fraser on All In, a Young Rider star who held the horse back from Grand Prix on the advice of her trainer, Ashley Holzer, ranked amongst the top competitors and trainers in the world, upset the assumptions to come on strong at the end of the qualifying period and now stands in second place on 72.421.

Chris von Martels and the often spectacular Zilverstar that has the highest Intermediate 1 score of 74.895 per cent of any of the Canadian team contenders is a whisker behind in third place on 72.408. He, too, trains with Ashley when Sjef Janssen, the former Dutch team coach, is not around to give advice.

As for the Big Tour, Belinda Trussell and her 2010 and 2014 World Games partner Anton are way ahead in the Canadian rankings with Megan Lane and Caravella, their team mates in Normandy last year, standing second.

The final show for their competitors south of the Canadian border is at the Max-Theurer tournament in Achleiten, Austria next week that is part of an ambitious program by the United States to show the flag at the world’s top events in a longer term goal of again standing on Olympic and world championship medals podiums.

Ashley Holzer riding Dressed in Black in the stallion's first Grand Prix, a national competition at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ashley Holzer riding Dressed in Black in the stallion’s first Grand Prix, a national competition at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

While Steffen of San Diego, California on Legolas, owned by Akiko Yamazaki, will be the only Pan Am team contender at Aachen the unprecedented presentation of multiple small tour combinations in Europe appears to have reaped benefits with judges now familiar with them.

Before beginning the journey, the American small tour combinations with their top two Prix St. Georges and Intermediate scores for Kimberly Herslow on Rosmarin were at 73.086, Olivia LaGoy=Weltz on Lonoir at 72.941 and Sabine Schut-Kery on Sanceo with 72.585. At this stage, the scores are higher than those for comparable Canadian partnerships.

The European results are not calculated into the averages but nevertheless caused a buzz after filling the top placings in both small tour classes at Munich, Germany.

Kimberly Herslow on Rosmarin celebrating their victory in the Intermediate 1 at Munich. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Kimberly Herslow on Rosmarin celebrating their victory in the Intermediate 1 at Munich. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The American small tour competition success in Europe has garnered attention although the focus for small tour is fixated on the Nürnberger Burg-Pokal that is designed to be a stepping stone to top sport.

The United States has available for the Pan Ams what Canada does not–Steffen Peters and Legolas at the top of the American Big Tour standings with an average of 77.330, Laura Graves with Verdades is not on this tour after their World Cup appearances and is now training fulltime with Debbie McDonald in Idaho but has a qualifying average of 75.716, and if Steffen needs to ride Rosamunde instead of Legolas, the pair have an average of 74.587.

All of those results exceed Canada’s Big Tour pairs.

Add 1.5 per cent to the scores at Grand Prix and the Special that will count in the Pan Ams team competition and the gap appears insurmountable.

Nevertheless, Pan Am competition is one thing, competition for a start at the Olympics begins anew after the continental Games.

Assuming the United States takes the team slot Canada has Ashley Holzer with Dressed in Black, the three small tour combinations of Diane Creech and Robbie W, Chris von Martels and Zilverstar and Brittany Fraser and All In ready to join veterans Belinda Trussell and Anton, Megan Lane and Caravelle and Jacqueline Brooks and D Niro fighting for individual points.