Eventing at the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto is under way with the first horse inspection, before the first dressage phase starts on Friday.
And the showjumping horses and riders are expected to arrive over the weekend ahead of their first test on Tuesday at Caledon Equestrian Park.
At the inaugural Pan-American Games staged in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1951, Eventing took place at the famous Cavalry School of Campo de Mayo where the host country claimed both gold medals along with individual silver. Jumping was held at the River Plate Stadium where Chile’s Capt Alberto Larraguibel on Julepe clinched double-gold in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 spectators. The passion for equestrian sport in the region hasn’t waned ever since, and both the Eventing and Jumping disciplines are expected to draw big crowds over the next 10 days.
A total of 43 horse-and-rider combinations from 13 countries will line up in eventing, with 11 nations fielding teams. And the host country will not be amongst those chasing the single available qualifying spot for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, as Canada already made the cut at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, France last summer along with Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and The Netherlands.
The Brazilian side of Marcio Carvalho Jorge, Carlos Paro, Henrique Plombo Pinheiro and Ruy Fonseca won’t be under Olympic qualification pressure either, as Brazil is automatically qualified as host nation. However they will undoubtedly want to test their strength against the remaining teams from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay, USA and Venezuela.
The eventing action will take place over the track designed by Australia’s Wayne Copping. The track crosses nearby Will O’ Wind Farm, re-named Pan-Am Cross-Country Centre at Games time. And there is no overlooking the strength of the US squad which will be targeting that single Olympic entry opportunity. Philip Dutton flew the Australian flag at three Olympic Games and four FEI World Championships before acquiring US citizenship in 2008, and the 51-year-old has enjoyed a great 2015 season so far, including a fifth-place finish at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, the third leg of the FEI Classics staged in April, with the 10-year-old Irish gelding Fernhill Fugitive who he brings to Toronto.
He is joined by 35-year-old Boyd Martin who also hails from Australia but transferred to US colours in 2009. Martin was highest-placed US rider at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy when finishing eighth, and brings the 12-year-old French-bred Pancho Villa to the Pan-Americans. Lauren Kieffer (Meadowbrook’s Scarlett) and Marilyn Little (RF Scandalous) round up the US selection.
Canada’s Colleen Loach (Qorry Blue d’Argouges), Jessica Phoenix (Pavarotti), Waylon Roberts (Bill Owen) and Kathryn Robinson (Let it Bee) will, however, be intending to stand on the top step of the podium on Sunday. And Phoenix will be chasing a back-to-back individual title. The US scooped team gold at the last Pan-Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico four years ago when, sensationally, all four riders completed on their dressage scores. But the USA had to settle for silver and bronze in the battle for the individual title as Phoenix stood firm to capitalise on the advantage she established with Pavarotti in the dressage phase.
In jumping, 58 athletes from 16 nations and a total of 10 teams will contest the medals, and the two highest-ranked eligible nations not already qualified will book their tickets to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. There are also six individual Olympic slots on offer.
With Brazil automatically qualified as host, and the USA also through after winning bronze at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2015 in Normandy it leaves the door wide open for many other keen countries including the powerful host-nation side.
It will be a home run for 44-year-old Yann Candele who lives in Caledon and has been selected with the 15-year-old Showgirl for his Pan-Am debut. And it will also be a first-time Pan-Am experience for Tiffany Foster, who will celebrate her 31st birthday in 10 days time when she will partner Tripple X. Eric Lamaze is a Pan-Am veteran, having competed in four previous editions during which he collected team silver, team bronze and individual bronze medals. The 2008 Olympic champion was nominated with three possible rides, but has finally been listed with the 10-year-old stallion Coco Bongo. Elizabeth Gingras has also been named with Zilversprings but the man who will hold centre stage when the jumping action gets under way is one of the greatest legends of the sport – Ian Millar who, at 68 years of age, will line out with Dixson.
It’s not without good reason that he has long been nick-named “Captain Canada”, leading his troops into many a successful battle and always flying his country’s flag with huge pride. The two-time FEI World Cup Jumping title-holder, whose career with the great Big Ben has earned him a special place in the heart and history of both Canadian and world sport, claimed Olympic team silver in 2008 and holds the record for most Olympic appearances of any athlete, notching up his 10th at London 2012. His successful record in the Pan-American Games goes all the way back to 1979 in San Juan, Puerto Rico where he took team silver and individual bronze riding Brother Sam. He took double-gold in Indianapolis (USA) in 1970 and individual gold in Winnipeg (CAN) in 1999 and is an 11-time National Champion.
At the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 last summer however, Candele, Foster, Millar and Lamaze had to settle for eighth place and well outside the Olympic qualification zone so they will be hoping to put that to rights next week. In the race for an Olympic slot, they are likely to face strong opposition from the Colombians who finished just two places behind them in France. Daniel Bluman, Fernando Cardenis, Rene Lopez, Andres Penalosa and Roberto Teran Tafur could be tough nuts to crack, while strong selections from Argentina and Venezuela could also present a challenge.
The Brazilians look major contenders for a podium placing with Felip Amaral, Eduardo Menezes, Marlon Modolo Zanotelli, Pedro Veniss and Rodrigo Pessoa to choose from for their four-member side. They took team silver last time around in Guadalajara, but there is no denying the effort it will take to overpower the defending champions from the USA. With Georgina Bloomberg, Kent Farrington, Lauren Hough, Todd Minikus and McLain Ward all on call-up they are likely to be the ones all the rest have to beat in the battle for gold. Farrington and Ward both stood on the top step of that 2011 podium, and from the moment jumping begins next Tuesday it promises to be a battle for the 2015 Pan-American Jumping titles.
Ahead of the first phase of the Eventing discipline tomorrow at Caledon Park, FEI Olympic and Eventing Director, Catrin Norinder, said: “the Pan-American Games are not only an important route to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for some countries, but are also a tremendous developmental opportunity for equestrian sportsmen and women across the North America and Central & South America regions. I wish them all the best of luck, and I believe we can look forward to tremendous sport over the coming days.”