On July 11th, The Honourable Robert P. Armstrong, Q.C., arbitrator for the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) concluded after weighing all the evidence in an appeal launched by Jessica Phoenix and the owners of her horses, that she and A Little Romance would replace Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee on the Canadian Eventing Team for the Rio Olympics.

The appeal was initiated following a decision by the selection committee of Equine Canada (EC) on June 24, 2016, when they chose the Team for Rio de Janeiro:

Rebecca Howard – Riddlemaster
Colleen Loach – Qorry Blue D’Argouges
Selena O’Hanlon – Foxwood High
Kathryn Robinson – Let It Bee

and alternates:
Jessica Phoenix – A Little Romance
Jessica Phoenix – Bentley’s Best
Waylon Roberts – Kelecyn Cognac

Phoenix, of Cannington, ON, along with fellow claimants Don Good, owner of Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best, and Anita and Don Leschied, owners of A Little Romance, questioned her exclusion from the team despite meeting all selection requirements. They further submitted that Kathryn Robinson’s results were not as good as Phoenix’s (see chart). An intervention form was filed on behalf of Robinson, who sent an e-mail stating her position but indicated that she did not wish to participate in the arbitration, which took place in Toronto on July 6, 2016. Evidence reviewed included documents, live witnesses, witness statements and cross-examinations.

Selection Criteria

While the selection criteria was frustratingly unavailable to the public prior to team selection, Phoenix et al did not take issue with the criteria itself, but challenged its application.

According to the criteria, the selection panel’s duty is to the rider/horse combinations that will achieve the best possible result at the 2016 Olympic Games, taking into account:

  • Competition considerations
  • Objective considerations
  • Discretionary considerations
  • General factors

EC recommended five targeted competitions (The Fork, Jersey Fresh, Pine Top, Rolex and Bromont) for prospective team members during 2016, but no particular competition was deemed mandatory.

Soundness Concerns

Some discussions involved soundness issues relating to Jessica’s horses. Dr. Jill Copenhagen (team vet) and Dr. Anne Baskett agreed that A Little Romance was “not completely sound” following Bromont but would likely finish Rio “with an acceptable level of soundness at the second inspection.” The testimony of both, however, mainly focussed on Pavarotti. Dr. Copenhagen expressed concerns about Pavarotti’s chronic tendonitis, saying, “I do have reservations about his soundness following an Olympic effort at speed.”

This opinion was challenged by Dr. Usha Knabe, Pavarotti’s vet, who stated, “I performed both a clinical and ultrasound examination as recently as July 4th, 2016, after Pavarotti had successfully completed a jumping competition on July 1st, 2016. His tendons palpated normally, as has been the case all season…”

Clayton Fredericks, the coach of the Eventing Team and a member of the selection committee, added that he also had “concerns regarding the fitness levels of Jessica’s horses, in particular Pavarotti and their level of fitness while competing has not demonstrated the level required to compete successfully at the Olympics.” However, Fredericks had not reviewed any of the veterinarian reports with respect to Pavarotti or A Little Romance between May 15, 2016 (Jersey Fresh) and the meeting of the selection panel on June 22, 2016.

Battle at Bromont

Phoenix discussed her pre-Olympic plan with Fredericks in February of this year, when it was made clear that none of the targeted competitions were mandatory. She competed with Pavarotti at The Fork and Jersey Fresh. She did not run Pavarotti at Pine Top because of a sore back and a couple of other relatively minor injuries, and did not do Rolex because she rode at Jersey Fresh instead, as was the plan. She and Good discussed whether to compete Pavarotti at Bromont, but were concerned it was too soon after Jersey Fresh, deciding prior to the cross-country it was in the best interests of the horse not to run him.

Phoenix testified that Fredericks confronted her at the barn in Bromont, telling her she had completely ruined her chances on all her horses, and that he was “going to spend his time preparing the people who wanted to do this.” He had also tried to get a commitment from Good prior to the start of the event that he insist that Phoenix would run both Pavarotti and Bentley’s Best in the cross-country. Good could not guarantee that outcome, and Fredericks accused the pair of hiding soundness issues from him, also indicating that if Phoenix did not run both horses at Bromont, they would not be considered for the Olympics ‒ something that he has denied saying.

The Competitive Factor

Fredericks was also critical of Phoenix’s track record. “The withdrawals from competition of Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti at Carolina International CIC3***, Rolex Kentucky CC14**** 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,” said Fredericks. “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.”

By The Numbers

Graeme Thom, former chef d’equipe for the CET and chair of the Eventing High Performance Committee, provided a Witness Statement which read, “Looking only objectively at the CCI results, Jessica bests Kathryn’s scores on all of her horses. That Kathryn completed Badminton is very impressive and normally this type of an outing would trump any 3-star result. However, Kathryn’s time penalties were so numerous (53.2) that her 4-star result is not impressive enough to stand on its own.”
He went on to compare their cross-country record, saying, “Pavarotti has never had a cross-country jump penalty with Jessica riding him. Let it Bee has had a better 2016 than last year … it was done at some pretty cautious paces so I would suggest that Pavarotti wins out in that phase. A Little Romance (despite a rider fall at Rolex CCI 4-star last year) has an impressive clear jumping record in cross-country over the period. In addition, this horse has proven the quickest of the three, so therefore passes Let it Bee.”

He concluded, “Neither of the three horses I have discussed 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.”

Not Your Ordinary Case

The arbitrator explained his decision in favour of Phoenix, admitting that this was “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. Similarly, in respect of Mr. Frederick’s conversation with Ms. Phoenix, I prefer her evidence.

“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 went on to say that EC did not demonstrate that the selection decision to exclude Phoenix and her horses was made in accordance with the nomination criteria, failing to “carry out a thorough analysis of the available data which would have favoured Ms. Phoenix’s selection to the team with one or more of her horses. I therefore conclude that the Respondent has failed to discharge its onus.”

To read the entire document, click here.