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Press Release


VDL Oranta and Chris Kappler at the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium

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Four Olympic Veterans Battle for $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational Title at Raymond James Stadium

Written by: Kenneth Kraus
Client: American Invitational
Release Date: 2006-04-03

Kenneth Kraus for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International

MEDIA CONTACT: Kenneth Kraus of Phelps Media Group, Inc. at (561) 753-3389 or at

WEB SITE: Phelps Media Group, Inc. International Press Releases and Photos are available for download at

PHOTO CREDIT: VDL Oranta and Chris Kappler at the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium. Photo by Jennifer Wood/ This photograph may be used free of charge only in relation to this PMG press release.

Four Olympic Veterans Battle for $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational Title at Raymond James Stadium

Tampa, FL – April 3, 2006 – A gorgeous Tampa evening greeted the throngs of show jumping fans that turned out for the thirty-fourth edition of America’s greatest test of show jumping, the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium. The star studded line-up for the Saturday night showcase of the 2006 Winter Equestrian Festival ran the gamut of equestrian talent and experience. From the riders, both young and not so young, making their very first Invitational appearance, to fourteen Olympic veterans with years of show jumping experience on their resumes, they were all there to challenge for the top prize of $60,000, the biggest first place check offered in United States show jumping.

The Budweiser American Invitational course, always a demanding challenge for champions, saw no exception on Saturday night. Course Designer Steve Stephens drew up a track of thirteen numbered obstacles and sixteen jumping efforts that included a triple combination at 6 a-b-c, and a very tough double combination at 11a-b. Nineteen of the rails that came down on Saturday came down at the double, seventeen at the first element. Faults were accumulated throughout the course, however. As Stephens noted following the event, by the fifteenth horse on course, every jump had come down at least once.

The track proved very tough for the first four riders on the start list, and it appeared that the 2006 Invitational might go down as one of the toughest tests ever offered. But, following two scores of twenty-four, one of sixteen and a rider electing to withdraw, Olympian Jaime Guerra of Mexico and RMW Lorenz, a thirteen year-old Dutch gelding, had the Raymond James crowd holding their collective breath and then erupting as one as he blazed the trail with the first clear round of the evening. Following Guerra’s pressure packed, perfect performance, the riders appeared to settle in and the next six riders posted scores of four faults, three scores of eight, a twelve and a score of twenty.

Riding out of the twelfth spot in the field of thirty equestrian superstars, Olympic Team Gold and Individual Silver Medalist Chris Kappler produced the second clear ride of the night, much to the delight of the Tampa crowd. Kappler, one of only five two-time winners of the Invitational, went clear with his grey ten year-old Dutch bred mare, the up and coming star VDL Oranta. Kappler, once a winner with Seven Wonder and then again with his Olympic partner Royal Kaliber, both veteran horses, this time came home clear with a newcomer.

Two horses later, in their first ever American Invitational appearance, one of the most decorated and successful horse and rider combinations in show jumping history added their names to the jump-off roster. Athens Olympic Individual Gold Medalist and three-time World Cup Champion, Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil produced an impeccable performance with his seventeen year-old Selle Francais, Baloubet du Rouet.

Among the eight rides that followed Pessoa’s clean go, were a number of stellar performances from some of the best riders in the business, unfortunately blemished by just a single knockdown. A rail down at fence seven derailed Lauren Hough and Clasiko in the seventeenth spot. Immediately following Hough, Ian Millar just touched the pole at the third fence on the course, ironically the Canadian National vertical, and then was perfect for the balance of his ride. Three of the favorites went down in rapid fire succession following Millar, all falling victim to the “bogey” fence of the night at #11a. Kent Farrington and Madison, one of the hottest pairs on the 2006 tour, Olympic Gold Medalist McLain Ward and Sapphire, and Canadian Olympian Mario Deslauriers with Paradigm, all were flawless and made it to the fourth fence from the finish line, before picking up four faults.

The jump-off field was set when five time Olympian from Great Britain, Nick Skelton, riding out of the twenty-fourth spot in the order, produced the fourth fault free ride of the night on the 12 year-old Oldenburg Stallion, Arko III.

After Skelton added his name to the roster for the tiebreaker, two of the most popular riders in the Saturday night line-up picked up heartbreaking scores of four faults. Olympic veteran and nine-time AGA Rider of the Year Margie Engle again failed in her bid to win her first ever American Invitational when Hidden Creek’s Perin caught the rail at the first element of the triple combination. Following Engle, defending champion, Olympic Gold Medalist Beezie Madden and her Olympic partner Authentic, missed a chance to become only the third back to back winners in the thirty-four year history of the event when they became one of seven duos to roll the rail at fence seven.

The final rider to go in round one, Olympian Norman Dello Joio, the 2004 winner of the Invitational, disappointed his large and enthusiastic fan club on hand as he failed to advance when Glasgow became the nineteenth horse of thirty to succumb to first element of the double at #11a.

The shortened course of eight fences for the timed tiebreaker started over the 5’3” high, and 6’6” wide triple bar. Then a straight ahead gallop to the Sea World planks, set at 5’ tall, was followed by a left hand rollback to the second and third elements of the original triple combination, a wide oxer to a 5’4” tall vertical. From there it was a right hand rollback to the Animal Planet oxer, a gallop and a left hand turn to the Viaduct in the opposite direction from the first round. The jump-off wrapped up with a long gallop across the length of the stadium course to the 5’1” Japanese gate, and finally, a left hand swing over the signature Budweiser oxer.

Jaime Guerra led the way back for the battle of the Olympians in the speed phase. Guerra picked an efficient pace, but his tight turn back to #6b didn’t afford quite enough room for RMW Lorenz to stretch out over the oxer, costing him four faults. He crossed the finish line in 45.37 seconds.

With the hometown crowd squarely on his side, the only United States representative in the jump-off, two time winner Chris Kappler challenged next with VDL Oranta. Kappler trimmed Guerra’s time by 2.47 seconds and more importantly left all the timber intact with his young mare. He broke the beams in 42.90 seconds to take over the top spot on the leader board.

Kappler’s lead was short lived, however. He and his rookie mare were overtaken by the experience, the sheer power, and the lightning speed of one of the most successful show jumping pairs in the history of the sport, Pessoa and Baloubet du Rouet. In addition to their Individual Gold Medal performance at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 2004, the duo also competed in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Pessoa himself has been to four Olympic Games all together. He and Baloubet paired together for the World Championships in 2002 and have been in concert for eight World Cup Finals appearances, winning three in a row from 1998 through 2000.

The two superstars gave the enthusiastic Raymond James Stadium crowd a real show to remember on Saturday night. Pessoa left out a stride from the first to second fence in the tiebreaker and then never let up until he lit up the giant stadium scoreboard with an amazing time of 40.65 seconds. That stunning performance left Nick Skelton of Great Britain and his talented stallion Arko III as the last to go, with no choice but to chase. The pair wasn’t about to go quietly, and it appeared early on Skelton was mounting a challenge to Pessoa. But when top of the viaduct wall came down and then another rail hit the floor, the Budweiser American Invitational story was written for the 2006 season.

“You never have it in the bag until the last horse crosses the finish line,” said a smiling Pessoa following his win at Tampa. “That’s why I took quite a bit of risk, because you can’t be confident with guys like Nick coming behind you. So, I did go for it, but it wasn’t for sure until he had the rail down.”

“I knew Rodrigo was fast,” said Skelton. “And, I didn’t think he would be caught, to be honest with you. But you don’t ever like to give up, so you’ve got to go out there and do your best.”

“I was really looking for number three when I made the jump-off,” laughed Kappler, referring to his two previous American Invitational wins. “But, I knew that would be tough against three incredible competitors. What a great class. She (VDL Oranta) was really, really good for me tonight. This was my biggest competition with her, and she really stepped up and did well tonight.”

Kappler detailed his ride in the tiebreaker. “She’s a slower horse. I did seven strides from one to two and Rodrigo did the six there. She slipped as I was coming through the gap headed to the Animal Planet (#14), and I think that cost me a little time. But, Rodrigo’s horse is a bold, experienced and great champion, and you have to be more than on your game to beat that pair.”

“I was confident,” said Pessoa. “He (Baloubet) has all the experience in the world and he’s done so many big classes before under these types of conditions. I was really excited about the way he performed in both rounds tonight. He didn’t perform that well in Palm Beach,” Pessoa admitted. “He was a little bit rusty, but I didn’t want to jump him too much because the season will be long. This class was what I was aiming for with him, and it worked out really well.”

“When you come for a class like this, one that’s not really part of a horse show, and you ship in and you have all this waiting around, it’s different,” Pessoa noted. “It’s very special. With the lights, the atmosphere is very special. Under those conditions a lot of things can factor in, sometimes with a bad result. My horse obviously has a lot of experience with things like that and he coped with all of that really well.”

“It’s a new horse for me,” said third place finisher Guerra. “I rode him (RMW Lorenz) in the Nations Cup at Palm Beach and then tonight is all. I rode him a few times at home, but I really didn’t know what I had tonight, so I was very, very happy.”

Course Designer Steve Stephens assessed this year’s extravaganza. “I thought it was a fantastic class. Those were four great riders that made it to the jump-off. It was truly an international jump-off, and I couldn’t be happier with the class.”

The riders weighed in on the challenging course and, in particular, the difficulties at the first part of the double combination, fence #11a. “I didn’t think the course was as big as the last couple of years, but I thought he (Stephens) had a lot of difficult questions,” Kappler said. “That combination at the end did prove to be difficult. Maybe it was the lights reflecting off of the Liverpool. And, it was also a very short two (strides), so I think horses were coming down early in anticipation of the big vertical going out.”

“#11a was a big square oxer,” explained Stephens at the post event press conference. “When you have a fence that big and square at the end of the course, and the riders are clear to that point, they start pressing a little bit. So, I think some of the faults were riders getting a little too deep or a little too long or because they were trying too hard. Those that met that fence just right got up and over.” Then Stephens added, “Don’t get me wrong, it was a very big oxer. But then again, this class deserves big oxers.”

“It was a big oxer and really square with the liverpool,” agreed Pessoa. “But it was a very good build, and I thought the whole course was nice to ride. It was not crazy big, but it was a tough test.”

“It’s a great event here in the stadium, and the ground was very good, exceptional really,” added Skelton. “The course was difficult enough and, with this kind of field and that kind of money, that’s how it should be.”

“By the fifteenth horse in the class, every jump in the arena had fallen down. To me, that shows a real balance,” Stephens said. “While #11a was a big scope test and got a lot of rails, when every fence on the course comes down including fence one, that shows me that I’ve done a pretty good job in balancing the course.”

And finally, as the evening was winding down, Pessoa was asked if he had begun to think about retirement for his seventeen year old equine superstar. “He still feels really good and he’s happy to jump,” smiled the victorious Brazilian. “His program will be quite light this year. I will concentrate on some of the big shows and then get him ready for the World Equestrian Games. He’s still got a lot of jump left.”

No doubt.

Results of $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational CSI 4* - FEI Art. 238.2.2 – Raymond James Stadium - April 1, 2006
1 15 RODRIGO PESSOA BRA BALOUBET DU ROUET 0.00 87.53 0.00 40.65 $60000
2 12 CHRIS KAPPLER USA VDL ORANTA 0.00 86.87 0.00 42.90 $44000
3 5 JAIME GUERRA MEX RMW LORENZ 0.00 87.14 4.00 45.37 $26000
4 24 NICK SKELTON GBR ARKO III 0.00 92.47 8.00 44.73 $16000
6 26 BEEZIE MADDEN USA AUTHENTIC 4.00 85.78 $10000
7 21 MCLAIN WARD USA SAPPHIRE 4.00 86.04 $8000
9 30 NORMAN DELLO JOIO USA GLASGOW 4.00 87.70 $6000
10 6 SANTIAGO LAMBRE MEX CAMPINO 4.00 87.97 $4000
11 18 IAN MILLAR CAN IN STYLE 4.00 88.92 $4000
12 17 LAUREN HOUGH USA CLASIKO 4.00 90.06 $4000

PHOTO CREDIT: VDL Oranta and Chris Kappler at the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium. Photo by Jennifer Wood/ This photograph may be used free of charge only in relation to this PMG press release.


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