Going for Gold - By Jacqueline Duke

 (Originally published in the Sept 25, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

The largest, deepest pool of equine talent ever assembled has arrived in Kentucky. And, no, it’s not the contenders for the 2010 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Some 800 horses from all corners of the globe are converging on the Kentucky Horse Park for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, making Lexington inarguably the Equine Capital of the World from Sept. 25-Oct. 10.

During the 16-day run, horse-and-rider combinations from 58 nations will participate in eight internationally recognized disciplines: dressage, three-day eventing, show jumping, reining, driving, vaulting, endurance, and paraequestrian. For equine sport aficionados, it’s like having the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, World Cup soccer finals, and PGA Championship back to back in one location.

The United States made the successful bid four years ago to host the 2010 event, the first World Games ever staged on American soil. Securing, organizing, and producing the Games has been no easy task, particularly in the wake of a worldwide recession. Ticket sales have fallen well below the projected 600,000-plus, causing organizers to abandon free shuttle service and other amenities and to charge high prices for parking. The high cost of attending the Games has drawn much criticism. Other worries abound, from potential traffic nightmares to the impression downtown Lexington will make on worldly visitors.

Whatever trepidations might exist about its staging, the 2010 Games promise an unsurpassed level of competition in a venue whose scope and horse-friendly features far exceed those ever envisioned by Horse Park founders. The Games also will let the Bluegrass show off its finest product—the Thoroughbred—on course, at breeding farms, and, toward the end of the Games, at the Keeneland fall race meet.

While the Thoroughbred has a rich and well-known legacy as a racing animal, its contributions to other equine sports are significant both in terms of blood and accomplishment. When the Kentucky Horse Park held its very first competition, the 1978 World Championships for eventing, American Bruce Davidson and the ex-racehorse Might Tango galloped home on the new cross country course to take individual gold. The emergence of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event as one of the world’s premier competitions coincided with a run of great Thoroughbred eventers starting in the 1980s. Who can forget Davidson and his wonderful gallopers JJ Babu and Dr. Peaches, who won Rolex a record three times…Kim Severson and Winsome Adante…Phillip Dutton and The Foreman. Many ex-racehorses who didn’t quite find their stride on traditional ovals have found their stakes-winning form in the galloping lanes and over the taxing, tricky obstacles at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The Thoroughbred is well represented in the three-day event at the World Equestrian Games. The charismatic ex-claimer Courageous Comet, recent winner of the Rood & Riddle Thoroughbred Sport Horse of the Year Award, and rider Becky Holder will represent the United States as individuals, as will Madiba and Karen O’Connor. Three of the four members of the U.S. three-day team are also mounted on Thoroughbreds, one of them being Bruce “Buck” Davidson Jr., on the scene 32 years after his father’s great triumph.

It’s been many years since a Thoroughbred dominated international show jumping. And with the exception of the American-bred Keen in the mid-1970s and early ’80s, dressage has always been a warmblood’s game. Nevertheless, the Thoroughbred is represented in the ancestry of a wide range of World Games competitors, including the Dutch stallion Moorlands Totilas, whom connoisseurs consider perhaps the greatest dressage horse ever. And what would the modern Quarter Horse, and hence reining horse, be without the Thoroughbred? An infusion of heart here; a dose of agility, there—the Thoroughbred has contributed to the best qualities of horses bred for nearly every discipline.

The Thoroughbred-World Equestrian Games connection also exists in the form of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, the international Thoroughbred owner/breeder who is expected to compete in the 100-mile endurance test. Chester Weber, scion of Live Oak Stud, is the national four-in-hand driving champion and a hot favorite for a medal. Tina Konyot, the national dressage champion, is the girlfriend of Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, who no doubt will be in the stands cheering her on.

Ties to the Thoroughbred make it fitting, then, that the 2010 World Equestrian Games are taking place at the Kentucky Horse Park, in the shadow of the oversized statue of Man o’ War and under the curious gazes of champion retirees Cigar and Funny Cide. We welcome the Games to Kentucky and hope the 2010 edition is just the first.

14 Comments

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Rachel

Are Poggio II (OTTB) and Woodbourn there, too?

21 Sep 2010 12:57 PM
Rachel

PS You left out the number one Olympic/Eventing TB of all time: Gem Twist

21 Sep 2010 12:59 PM
Smarty Cat

While you mention "eventing" and the reference to "galloping" 3 times in the same paragraph, this gives the incorrect impression that eventing is only galloping through cross-country courses. And nowhere in your references to "3-day event" and "3-day team" do you mention what the equine & human competitors do on the other 2 days of eventing. Our magnificent Thoroughbreds must show incredible strength, flexibility, balance & restrained obedience to do the rider's bidding in Dressage (the 1st day of eventing) & they must exhibit great agility, speed & timing to negotiate a tight course of huge jumps over 5 feet in Stadium Jumping (the 3rd & final day of eventing). Eventing horses are amazingly fit, talented & fearless, and I will be cheering loudest for our retired Thoroughbred racehorses when I attend the WEG. Thank you for this article and bringing the upcoming WEG and its importance to KY to the attention of the Blood Horse readership.  

21 Sep 2010 3:38 PM
Jackie

Gem Twist was not an eventer but a show jumper who earned two Olympic medals in 1988. He was a Thoroughbred but not an ex-racehorse.

21 Sep 2010 4:06 PM
txhorsefan

Thank you for this article focusing the spotlight on the upcoming WEG and the Thoroughbreds who will be competing in many areas.  The Kentucky Horse Park is hallowed ground to me and I'd love to see all these equine athletes in action over the next several weeks, but it's not a trip I can make at this time.  I do hope that many people are able to get there to be a part of it and it will be held in the US again.  Thank you.

21 Sep 2010 7:26 PM
Pat, A Canadian Watching

Thx for the overview, Jacqueline. Good to know that our Roger Attfield will be there, albeit as a spectator. He, in his own rite, is a horseman of excellence. I've been to KHP in the past and plan to travel there again next summer, so I know what a tremendous venue it is at which to hold these Games. I have some American friends who will be attending to watch and have tickets to see Moorlands Totilas in action. What a privilege! I hope you will continue to file reports with BH. If not, will they be posted elsewhere? We are definitely interested here in Canada and cheering for our Canadian team. Our CBC/BOLD TV will be covering about 20 hours of live coverage, thank goodness. Have a great WEG!!!

23 Sep 2010 9:20 AM
Bellwether

EVEN THOUGH JOHN & HIS PEOPLE NEVER GOT BACK WITH BELLWETHER PRODUCTIONS LLC WE HOPE THEY DUE WELL...BUT THAT WONDERFUL HORSE PARK WILL NEVER BEE THE SAME WITH OUT "THE GREAT ONE"...JOHN HENRY!!!...LONG LIVE THE KING BABY!!!...ty...

26 Sep 2010 12:24 AM
Katie

Sorry to burst your bubble, but here goes:

* Winsome Adante is cross-bred (84.5% TB; 9.5% Arabian, and 6% Irish sport horse)

* Mandiba's dam is only 7/8 TB.

* Buck Davidson's horse, Ballynoe Castle RM, is a Belgian WB/Irish TB cross.

Also, Amy Tryon's horse, Leyland, is an American-bred TB...and he did have a brief career on the track.

26 Sep 2010 9:07 AM
Michael Martin

It is important to all breeders, owners, and trainers to recognize the contributions of thoroughbreds to the World Equestrian Games.  Even in dressage,  if you scratch the surface of the pedigree,  you will find registered thoroughbred stallions such as Furioso and Ladykiller, amongst many others, in the background of most warmbloods.  

On a related note, retraining off track thoroughbreds for these disciplines should receive more emphasis from all involved in racing.

26 Sep 2010 10:50 AM
Annalisa

Hi Jackie, Winsome Adante is mostly thoroughbred but not 100 percent. Neither is Buck Davidson's horse (Ballynoe Castle). Poggio was indeed an OTTB but is now retired and packing Amy's neice around.

26 Sep 2010 6:15 PM
Lynne

Good luck to all competitors & to the success of the Games!

27 Sep 2010 8:35 AM
farrier

I will never forget watching the diminutive TB mare "Touch of Class" and Joe Fargis canter down to the jumps that towered above her ears, in the '84 Olympics. The crowd held its breath as we watched her soar over them all, and do it round after round! Our show jumping team won the team gold and the individual gold and silver that year. She was one of the 4 team horses and also one of the individual medal winners. I still get chills thinking of her jumping there in the infield at Santa Anita. I hope the WEG will leave people with memories like mine. Those that last a lietime.

27 Sep 2010 11:30 AM
Melissa

Thanks for the overview!  While 3 out 4 of the eventing team are riding full TBs....only one is an ex-race horse and Buck is riding the only non-full TB.  His horse is an Irish cross (so there is a lot of TB blood in there).  Boyd Martin is riding the only ex-race horse on the team...one that he bought for $300 off a meat truck in Australia.  Becky is riding the other ex-race horse as an individual (Courageous Comet --an outstanding horse).  But much TB blood is flowing in many of the horses from all the countries at the WEG.   And many ex-racers do go on to great success in the sport world--especially eventing.  Your blog is just a bit incorrect in details but spot on in spirit.

27 Sep 2010 3:04 PM
Rachel

My bad on "just" show jumping, I was quite young...doesn't matter he wasn't an ex-racehorse or if ANY of the TB's are OTTB...that's the point, TB's ruled 3-day and jumping when I was a teen...

I saw at the WEG site the TB's horse's  "nationality" on the American teams...I think 2 are from Ireland, one is a "down-under" & 2 are American...(I think, don't have time to go check again)

It's great, if the Jockey Club invested just a tad of publicity for what else the TB can do (like take a page from the Quarter Horse world) then just maybe the breed could get out of the mindset it has to be "rescued".

28 Sep 2010 1:36 PM

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