William Fox-Pitt is well on his way to staging a spectacular comeback at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, currently sitting atop the leaderboard on 37.0 with Chilli Morning just 10 months after suffering a brain injury in a fall at Le Lion d’Angers. EquiRatings dug into their database and confirmed that 37.0 is William’s best dressage score at an Olympics.
The test was classic Fox-Pitt: flowing, rhythmic and accurate, and the internet practically exploded with love for William and “Chilli” after the score was announced. The #EventingFamily has cheered loudly for William during his recovery, and to see him back in action on the world stage was nothing short of inspirational.
“That was what I was dreaming of. Chilli is great on the flat, and he did very good tests at the Caen 2014 World Equestrian Games and Malmo 2013 European Championships, and I did not want to let him down,” William said.
“In November (one month after the accident), I thought Rio is still months away, but then I suddenly realized that Rio is just around the corner. I had lots of help with my rehabilitation, and I saw more experts than I ever wanted to see. For me it was perfect timing, and I am just lucky to be here.”
Chilli, a 16-year-old chestnut Brandenburg stallion owned by Christopher Stone, has a long and storied partnership with William, having won Badminton last year and helping Great Britain win a team silver medal at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. While an individual Olympic gold medal has eluded William in his career this far, he’s put himself in just the right place to strike.
Chris Burton’s lovely test with Santano II was overshadowed a bit due to being followed by William and Chilli, but their score of 37.6 has them sitting close behind in second place. The 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by the Black Run Syndicate, who won Saumur CCI3* in May, really shines in this phase.
“The cat’s out of the bag, the horse doesn’t have a good walk. Of course we can do things better. But he makes my job really easy, honestly, he is such a good horse,” Chris said. “I was nervous when I rode down for the warm-up but then I told myself, ‘Chris, you should have fun.’ After the medium trot, I heard a gasp from the crowd and I thought, ‘That’s not a bad gasp.'”
Reigning Olympic champions Michael Jung and Sam were cruising beautifully through their test, with their scores trending to take the lead, until an uncharacteristic bobble derailed their chances when the horse swapped leads in the counter canter. Their score of 40.9 has them sitting in third place currently.
“I am not quite happy. That was an expensive mistake because of a misunderstanding between the two of us. Right afterwards he was fully with me again, but it is very annoying to have something like that happening at such an important show,” Michael said. “There are two very interesting disciplines still to come, and we will see. I hope there aren’t any more of these silly mistakes.”
Is Michael feeling the pressure to defend his gold medal? “There is always pressure because I want to win,” he said. “You dream of gold and want to do your best. We are not doing this just for fun but for winning. It did not quite work out today.”
While it was not Germany’s best day in the sandbox — Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo scored well over their usual average score to sit in fourth place on 41.6 — the reigning Olympic champions are still sitting in gold medal position after the first day on 82.5. Australia sits in silver position on 83.9, with Great Britain in bronze position on 84.2.
Team USA sits in seventh place on 94.3 on the leaderboard after an up-and-down first day. The morning started out very strong, with Boyd Martin and the Blackfoot Mystery Syndicate’s Blackfoot Mystery besting their previous best four-star score by five points to sit in 17th on 47.7. (You can see photos and quotes from the morning session in our lunchtime report.)
While Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen came into Rio with a very strong chance to clinch an individual medal, today was not their best day in the sandbox. A series of mistakes — from a near break to the walk in the trot half pass to a missed flying change — has them sitting in 10th place on 46.6, which is nearly 10 marks off their average.
“This is usually this horse’s time to shine in the dressage, and he was a little disappointing. He started out really well, and I don’t know what really happened, but he really sucked behind my leg where he constantly wants to walk or stop. I squeezed every point out of him that I could,” Clark said
“He warmed up beautifully … It felt good until he tried to walk, and then he wouldn’t click back in there. There were a couple of mistakes, but you can always make that back up, but he just stayed in that frame of mind. He wouldn’t get out of it.”
The Canadian team sits in ninth on 101.4, with Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee leading the way in 21st place on 49.5. The 15-year-old black Westphalian gelding Kathryn owns had some really lovely moments but definitely seemed to struggle a bit in the heat; they did their test just after the lunch break during the hottest part of the day.
“He was quite lazy and a little bit flat because of the heat. I usually have to work him quite a bit before dressage, but today I didn’t really do much (in warm-up),” Kathryn said. “If I cook him I won’t have anything when I go in, and he can get sore in the back. I had to ride with a bit of hope. I was happy. He did everything I asked.”
Jessica Phoenix and A Little Romance were the very first pair out this morning, scoring a personal best of 52.0 to sit in 25th place for Canada. You can also see quotes and photos of Jessica and “Blue Eyes” in our lunchtime report.
While it was a dramatic day in the sandbox, it was equally eventful outside of the field of play when a stray bullet sliced through the roof of the media center tent and landed on the floor below. While several members of the media and team officials were standing nearby when the bullet came through the roof, no one was injured.
An investigation is currently underway as to the origin of the bullet. Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada confirmed in a security briefing later in the day that “this area was not a target. It was a stray bullet. It did not have to do with the Games.” We will continue to bring you more on the story as the investigation unfolds, and you can read our original report here.
Keep checking back to this report for more photos from the day. We have much more to bring you from Rio, include Maggie’s detailed analysis on the dressage powerhouses coming up tomorrow on day two, plus a full cross country preview with commentary from the riders. Click here to catch up on all of EN’s Olympic coverage so far. Go Eventing!