Blazing 7s currently sit at the bottom of the Major League team standings in lowly eighth place. But don’t be fooled into thinking they’re out of contention.
That ranking is largely a product of circumstance.
At launch, Blazing 7s had one of the strongest starting lineups on paper. The team was made up Olympians Lauren Hough (USA) and Sharn Wordley (NZL), then world #8 Darragh Kenny (IRL), proven contender Nick Dello Joio (USA) and amateur rising stars Coco Fath (USA) and Chandler Meadows (USA).
“Our original team was a good team,” said team manager Darren “Dagwood” Roberts. “A lot of good riders.”
Then through a series of largely fortunate events their roster fell off in quick succession.
Dello Joio sold his best horse, forcing him to drop out.
Both Wordley and Kenny were called up by for their Olympic teams in Tokyo and were no longer available.
Fath, a student at Cornell University, dropped out because of school.
“I mean, Sharn and Darragh making the Olympic team is unbelievable. You know, good for them,” said Roberts. “But, it was a blow for the 7s. They’re both great riders and have really good horses.”
So before the first team event even took place at Traverse City, the Blazing 7s had dropped from six riders to two.
It’s done little to dampen the team spirit, though.
“Like with anything else, you just keep going forward and do your best,” mused Roberts.
And so the rebuilding began. Up and coming grand prix rider Nicolette Hirt filled one spot on the roster, riding for the 7s in Traverse City (the team finished fourth) and at both Angelstone legs (to mixed results).
“She’s been a big help to the team when we needed her.”
The lingering question mark of the remaining three spots has hung over the team, however. In five events, the Blazing 7s have only twice fielded a permanent team. They’ve relied instead on the substitution rule, which allows short-handed teams to bring in a free agent to complete a squad. Brazil’s Rodrigo Lambre has twice stepped in (Traverse City I and II). Cara Raether Carey (USA) did so in Traverse City III.
The draw order hasn’t helped the team cause either. The Blazing 7s have twice drawn first in the order, all but eliminating any tactical advantage.
Their luck looks to be changing for the second half of the season, however.
As of this week, Raether Carey’s position on the Blazing 7s is permanent, adding depth and experience to a team that’s short on both. A seasoned U.S. team member, she was a part of the bronze medal winning U.S. team at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil and has ridden on Nations Cup teams across Europe.
“Cara is a great rider and she has really nice horses,” said Roberts, “we’re really happy to have her.”
The initial results suggest she’s just the boost they need. Raether Carey’s clear first round last week at Traverse City last week helped keep Blazing 7s in the top four for the first time since phase I. They jumped off for the bronze medal, ultimately finishing fourth.
This week at Caledon, she’ll ride alongside Hough and Meadows again, then head to Mexico with Hirt and Lambre for the next two phases of the tour stop, San Miguel de Allende and Monterrey.
“The season started off really well [for the team]. We finished fourth, just off the podium. And, it’s just been a little up and down because of what happened to some of the riders,” continued Roberts.
“But we’re only half way through the season. Onward and upward.”