Friday, July 22, 2005

Tevis: And the Winner Is??




This year's Tevis Cup field is wide open as riders vie for the coveted Tevis and Haggin Cups Saturday

By: Todd Mordhorst, Journal Sports Editor
Friday, July 22, 2005 9:20 AM PDT

Jeremy Reynolds, last year's Tevis and Haggin Cup winner, poses with his horse CV Eli after winning the Haggin Cup last year. Reynolds returns to defend the Tevis Cup after sharing it with Becky Spencer in a tie for first place. Photo by Ben Furtado/Auburn Journal
Around 250 riders will line up with their horses for the 51st annual Western States Endurance Ride Saturday at Robie Park, near Truckee.

They'll be competing against each other for the coveted Tevis Cup, which goes to the first finisher, and for the Haggin Cup, which goes to the finisher in the top 10 whose mount is judged to be the most fit.

But mostly, the competitors will

be battling the 100 miles of rugged trail and a heat that will no doubt be

unrelenting in the deep canyons Saturday afternoon.

While there are plenty of riders with great credentials and hundreds of great-looking horses, there isn't a clear favorite for Saturday's ride.

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"I never go to win," said Debbie Lyon of San Luis Obispo, who's finished six times. "I'm going to wait and see what kind of day the horse is having. If he's having a really good day and things go right, I wouldn't mind slipping into the bottom of the top 10. That would be really nice, but the goal is to finish with a sound, happy horse."

Many participants at Wednesday's pre-ride barbecue echoed Lyon's sentiments regarding the heat. Riders from this area have had several weeks to adjust to the unusually warm weather.

They may not have a home trail advantage, but it seems that California riders have had a distinct home state advantage in recent Western States Endurance Ride history.

Last year, 19 of the top 20 finishers in the 100-mile ride hailed from California, the lone exception being Ali Kahlfan Abdulla Hamdan Al Jahouri from the United Arab Emirates.

Los Gatos resident Jeremy Reynolds tied for the Tevis Cup last year and took home the Haggin Cup as well. Ride organizers assured there will be no ties this year, or in the future, changing the rules after last year, which was the third tie in the history of the event.

Reynolds is back this year to defend his titles, along with his wife, Heather Reynolds, the 2003 Tevis winner.

Auburn's Becky Spencer, who tied with Reynolds last year, is not entered in this year's ride, but third place finisher Lila Abdul-Rahim is back with her horse, Clancey. Fourth place finisher Gabrielle Mann is also returning with her horse St. Patrick.

Auburn's Hal Hall, a three-time Tevis Cup winner and three-time Haggin Cup winner, will be riding Bogus Thunder after sitting out last year's Tevis ride. Ann Hall, Hal's wife, rode Bogus Thunder to a sixth-place finish last year.

Potato Richardson and Cathy Rohm Richardson, of Greenwood, are back in the Tevis field. Cathy placed ninth last year and she's back on SMR Fifi d'Or for this year's ride.

There are several husband and wife duos in this year's field, including Robert and Melissa Ribley, of Grass Valley. The Ribleys plan on riding together on Saturday.

"I think our horses travel better together," said Melissa, who finished Tevis as a junior rider in 1981 and has since worked as a veterinarian at the event numerous times. "Horses are kind of herd animals and they're used to being in their environment with their stable mates, so I think they'll do well together.

"We're looking forward to the challenge. I think it will be an extra challenge because of the heat, but we enjoy taking on the challenges."

Marcia Smith, a veterinarian from Loomis, was planning on riding a young mare this year, but her horse came up lame recently and she was forced out of the ride. But Smith, who has three Tevis Cups and one Haggin Cup on her resume, knows what it takes to do well at Tevis.

"It will be an interesting race because it's so hot this year," Smith said. "I think tactics will be key. I would probably go fast early, before it gets hot, and then go slower in the middle of the day in the canyons, when I'm afraid it's going to be exceptionally hot. And then I'd plan to go faster at night when it cools off again."

There are several international riders that could be factors in the race for the hardware. Last year, Ali Khalfkan Abdulla Hamdan Al Jahouri, from the United Arab Emirates, rode to an impressive fifth place despite suffering a broken arm along the way.

This year, Ali Al Muhairi, Abdullah Khamis Ali Saeed and Jaber Bittar will represent the UAE. Jacky Laurent, from Tahiti, adds a Caribbean flavor to the field. Peter and Penny Toft, of Australia will also ride and Peter is hoping for continued success after placing fourth in 2003.

"I'm interested in how Peter Toft will do. He's here from Australia with Murdoc (his horse)," Smith said. "They were here two years ago and finished in the top 10 and they're back here together."

Considering the scope of the field and the countless factors involved, predicting a Tevis Cup winner is a crapshoot. There has not been a repeat winner since Chris Knoch in 1994.

Cool resident Michel Bloch held a sizeable lead in last year's race at Michigan Bluff, but his mount came up lame at Foresthill and he was forced to withdraw. Bloch is back on the same horse, Monsieur Joseph, hoping for better fortune this year.

Chuck Mather, of Colfax, served as the Tevis Cup ride committee chairman, helping prepare for this year's event. He's also fit in time for training with his horse Dance on Hallani. The two have finished 12th, sixth and 10th in recent years and Mather is looking forward to Saturday's ride, despite the prospect of a very warm day.

"I guess we'll find out if he's a heat horse," Mather said.

One of the intriguing aspects of the Tevis Cup is the unpredictable nature of the event. As the ride unfolds Saturday, there are always surprises.

"I suspect it's going to be a typical Tevis year in that the early frontrunners might not be the first finishers," Smith said. "The tactics are going to be more important than ever this year."

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