Report Released: Jessica Phoenix Won Canadian Olympic Team Spot in Appeal

Jessica Phoenix and A Little Romance. Photo by Jenni Autry. Jessica Phoenix and A Little Romance. Photo by Jenni Autry.

We now have a detailed behind-the-scenes look at Canada’s muddled Olympic selection process, which initially gave Kathryn Robinson a slot on the team and relegated Jessica Phoenix to a reserve slot prior to the public team announcement on July 14.

Jessica subsequently lodged and won an appeal with the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), which ultimately saw arbitrator Robert Armstrong place Jessica on the Canadian Olympic team with A Little Romance and bump Kathryn to the traveling reserve slot.

The SDRCC report is 35 pages long and can be accessed in full at this link. Read on for a full summary.

The Canadian Selection Panel originally chose the following horses and riders for the Olympic team on June 24: Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master, Colleen Loach and Qorry Blue D’Argouges, Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High, and Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee. The panel named Jessica Phoenix and A Little Romance, Jessica Phoenix and Bentley’s Best, and Waylon Roberts and Kelecyn Cognac as reserves.

Much of the report focuses on events surrounding Bromont, the final competition before Canadian team selection. Jessica had competed Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best in the CCI3* at Jersey Fresh three weeks earlier and decided to withdraw them before cross country in the CIC3* at Bromont. While Equine Canada, which was recently re-branded Equestrian Canada, targeted six events in 2016 for Olympic selection, none of them were considered mandatory.

The report goes on to say that a confrontation took place between Jessica and Clayton Fredericks, Canadian team coach and a member of the Selection Panel, at Bromont after she withdrew.

“He was very agitated. He told her, ‘you were in the driver’s seat for this selection and now you have completely ruined your chances, not just on Bentley’s Best and Pavarotti but on the other two mares as well,'” the report says. “Ms. Phoenix testified that Mr. Fredericks said ‘he could no longer help but was going to spend his time preparing the people who wanted to do this.'”

Don Good, who owns Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best, also testified during the arbitration. The report states that “Mr. Fredericks accused Ms. Phoenix and Mr. Good of hiding something from Mr. Fredericks regarding Pavarotti’s soundness. As this discussion continued Mr. Good said that Mr. Fredericks threatened him by stating that if Jessica did not run both horses at Bromont, they would not be considered for the Olympics.”

Clayton denied having said these things during his cross-examination at the arbitration and also addressed the situation in his witness statement. “The withdrawals from competition of Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti at Carolina International CIC3*, Rolex Kentucky CCI4* and Bromont CIC3* and Jessica Phoenix and Bentley’s Best at Bromont CIC3* were not part of a team decision and went against the advice of myself as team coach,” Clayton said.

“In each instance the withdrawals were communicated to me by Jessica Phoenix on the day of cross country close to competition time. This pattern of withdrawals has raised concerns regarding Jessica’s level of competitiveness as an athlete and her readiness to be competitive at the Olympic Games.”

Dr. Jill Copenhagen, veterinarian for the Canadian Eventing Team, filed a witness statement addressing Pavarotti’s soundness: “He has a chronic active tendonitis affecting the right front (superficial digital flexor tendon). My clinical impression is that the horse has had low grade tendonitis throughout the spring season. He has been carefully managed which has allowed him to get to this point. There is a strong possibility that the fibers will tear more fully at some point during his athletic career,” she said.

“Historically, he has been able to remain sound when he has entered competitions whilst having tendonitis present on either the left or right front. In my opinion, the nature of the injury increases the risk to the horses’ soundness for the Rio games. As I explained to Jessie, he is a higher soundness risk than either (A Little Romance or Bentley’s Best). I cannot predict the outcome, but I do have reservations about his soundness following an Olympic effort at speed.”

Dr. Copenhagen said in cross-examination that she was “comfortable with (A Little Romance’s) chances of coming through Rio with an acceptable level of soundness at the second inspection.”

Dr. Anne Baskett also gave a statement on Pavarotti and A Little Romance: “While I wholeheartedly feel that both Jessie and Pavarotti’s owner have acted in the best interest of the horse and his ability to compete in the future, this does leave us with questions as to whether he can perform and stay sound at a demanding level of competition at this time,” she said.

“With respect to A Little Romance, although she was not completely sound after Bromont, it was my feeling that her (left front) irregularity and positive flexion tests on both front distal limbs were consistent with previous exams after competition. Both Dr. Copenhagen and myself felt that her issues have been managed successfully in the past and are therefore comfortable with her chances of coming through Rio with an acceptable level of soundness at the second inspection.”

The report also includes a witness statement from Graeme Thom, former chef d’equipe of the Canadian Eventing Team, who analyzed the competition results of Jessica and Kathryn.

“The Olympics rewards medals in eventing for both individuals and the overall team. Neither of the three horses I have discussed (Pavarotti, A Little Romance, Let It Bee) is going to win an individual medal at the Olympics. The next question then becomes which combination will contribute the most to our team’s overall placing. Yes, I would rank Jessica’s CCI results ahead of Kathryn’s, primarily due to the highly valuable cross country phase, and in respect of A Little Romance, the show jumping phase as well.”

Arbitrator Robert Armstrong then goes on to analyze his findings: “I am fully aware, that all things being equal, an arbitrator should be reluctant to interfere in a case such as this. Ordinarily considerable deference is owed to an expert tribunal or panel if the decision passes a reasonableness test. The fact that the arbitrator would have made a different selection is not enough to set aside the selection made by the Selection Panel.

“Unfortunately this is not an ordinary case. The intervention of Mr. Fredericks in respect of the decision by Ms. Phoenix and Mr. Good not to run Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best at Bromont takes this case out of the ordinary.

“I accept that Mr. Fredericks earnestly believed that both horses needed another run at cross-country before the Selection Panel would meet. However, he became a man with a mission on this issue and my assessment, unfortunately, is that he lost it. He told both Mr. Good and Ms. Phoenix that Ms. Phoenix’s four horses would not be considered for the Rio Games for failure to run in Bromont — an event that was clearly not mandatory.”

The arbitrator then looked at average results for both Jessica and Kathryn, ultimately determining that Jessica should take the slot on the Olympic team due to better overall scores. “As between A Little Romance and Pavarotti, it appears to be a close call,” he said. “However, I cannot choose them both. In my view the evidence of the veterinarians gives the nod to A Little Romance.”

The arbitration proceedings were held on July 6 in Toronto, with the official Canadian team announcement naming Jessica and A Little Romance to the squad coming on July 14.

This summary just scratches the surface of the report. You can read all 35 pages in full at this link.