Rio de Janeiro – August 9, 2016 – It was a roller coaster weekend for the U.S. Eventing Team at the 2016 Olympic Games. Hopes were high with a strong team heading into the competition, but mediocre dressage scores left fans wondering if the U.S. would reach the podium. Then, two eliminations during the cross country phase dashed hopes for a team medal, and the tide looked even bleaker. But two athletes continued to fight on, and after two rounds of show jumping, Phillip Dutton fought his way onto the podium for a bronze medal finish aboard Mighty Nice.
“It is a great achievement,” smiled Dutton. “Obviously it was a disappointing day yesterday for our team. A lot of people in America, not just the riders, worked hard to get here, so it’s pretty gutting. We just had to get up and do our best today. Fortunately for everybody it turned out. Especially for everyone that has believed in Mighty Nice because he is a special horse. He’s had a few injuries here and there and he hasn’t quite been able to get to this international stage in a really good place yet, so I am pleased with the horse.”
Heading into the final day of competition, Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin had both added 3.2 time penalties to their dressage scores after cross country, and were ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. Athletes had to jump in the team jumping final to qualify for the individual final — the final goal for both Dutton and Martin.
Martin and the 12-year-old Thoroughbred Blackfoot Mystery, owned by the Blackfoot Mystery Syndicate, LLC, were up first, but had two rails down on course. Despite the additional 8-faults, they still qualified for the individual final ranked in seventh place.
Dutton was next in the ring with Mighty Nice, the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by the HND Group. In an effort to leave all the fences intact, the pair crossed the finish line just over the time allowed, picking up one time fault. Dutton and Mighty Nice advanced to the individual final in fourth place, within shouting distance of the podium.
After a grueling cross country phase, Blackfoot Mystery was not quite feeling up to the challenge of a second show jumping round, and lowered the height of three fences. Martin finished on a total of 70.9 penalties in 16th place.
“It’s disappointing, but I have to say, this horse tried so hard this weekend,” expressed Martin. “He just had nothing left in the last round. He’ll get stronger and I think it’s still an impressive result. He really gave 110% yesterday, so he’s not quite as fresh as he usually is, but he still guts it out there today.”
A few rounds later it was Dutton’s, or as Martin coined him, “the Messiah of event riding,” turn to return to the ring. Dutton and Mighty Nice were not as lucky the second time a round, lowering the height of a single fence, but even with the 4-faults tacked on, Dutton remained in fourth place.
Luck was on the Dutton’s side though when Australia’s Christopher Burton took his turn with Santano II, lowering the height of two fences and subsequently bolstering Dutton to the bronze medal position.
The individual bronze medal finish marked the first individual medal for the six-time Olympian, who won two team medals when he competed with Australia. It also marks the biggest career finish for Mighty Nice, a very special horse for Dutton, who was formerly owned by Bruce Duchossois, who passed away in 2014.
“It’s been a great weekend for the horse,” noted Dutton. “He got a little knocked around yesterday, so I was just grateful to get here. It’s been a great achievement for him. Bruce would be really proud of him. I was happy with fourth and now I am quite ecstatic with third!”
Dutton has competed on many great horses, but Mighty Nice, or “Happy,” as he is more affectionately known, is very special.
“I’ve had better gallopers in my time, but I don’t think I’ve had a horse with a bigger heart,” he said. “Happy just keeps trying. If he’s not feeling so good or he is tired he just wants to do it. It’s pretty cool. He’s starting to understand it. He’s really maturing as a horse. I think he really genuinely loves the sport.”
The 2016 Olympic Games will continue on Wednesday with the first part of the Dressage competition – the Team Grand Prix. Action will get underway at 9:00 a.m. EDT. Live results can be found at https://www.rio2016.com/en, or follow the USET Foundation on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/USETFoundation.