Brazilian wins Invitational

Published April 2, 2006

TAMPA - To a deafening roar of cheers and whistles from the crowd, Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa defeated 29 competitors from the United States and five other countries Saturday night to become the champion of the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational.

It was the 33-year-old Pessoa's first time competing in the event. He won with his 2004 Athens Olympic individual gold-medal winning partner, the French-bred stallion Baloubet De Rouet. At age 17, he is the oldest horse to win the Invitational.

"It was really exciting, he performed really well," Pessoa said. "The atmosphere (in the stadium) is special, things can go wrong." But Baloubet's experience worked to his advantage, he said. "This horse understands, he coped really well." For the win, Baloubet received a cooler and Pessoa went home with $60,000.

Only four riders, including Pessoa made it through the course without a fault.

Chris Kappler of Pittstown, N.J., won second with his new mount, the 10-year-old Dutch-bred mare VDL Oranta, and $44,000.

Kappler said he was pleased with Oranta's performance. "She's a slower horse," he said. She slipped before taking one of the jumps "and I think that cost me some time."

Third place and a prize of $26,000 went to Jaime Guerra riding for Mexico aboard 13-year-old Dutch-bred RMW Lorenz. Guerra said it was only his second competition with the horse.

Fourth place and $16,000 went to Britain's Nick Skelton, also in his first Invitational.

The course was deceptively straightforward. Every one of its 16 obstacles was knocked down, but none came down as often as a Liverpool or water jump that was the first of a two-jump combination. It defied Olympians as well as first-time Invitational competitors.

"I am really pleased with the outcome," course designer Steve Stephens said. "I am pleased with the hardness and the way it rode."

Stephens said he was not surprised by the problems at the Liverpool. The fence, he said, was big and came late in the course when horses and riders were tiring. Still, he said, most of the mistakes were rider error.

"The whole course was well built," Pessoa said. "It was a tough test."

Riders Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Margie Engle and Laura Kraut, who competed Saturday, are qualified for the World Cup Final April 26-30 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

During intermission, Michael Matz, who won the American Invitational in 1994 aboard Rhum IV, was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame along with For The Moment, one of the most successful thoroughbreds on the grand prix circuit.

Matz competed in the 1976 Montreal, 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympic games, where he was on the silver-medal winning team. In 1989, he survived the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, and was named ABC-TV man of the week after helping save the lives of two children on the plane.

Matz now trains race horses at his Vintage Farm in Collegeville, Pa. One of them, Barbaro, won the $1-million Florida Derby Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Fred, as For The Moment was known in his barn, made history with show jumper Lisa Jacquin. She entered him in his first grand prix in 1983 and won. He won the American Invitational with Jacquin in 1987. He was named the AGA horse of the year in 1991 and 1994. At age 21 in 1995, he became the oldest to win a grand prix competition when he won a jumping championship in Wellington.