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Romney horse Rafalca returns for Olympics dressage

By NICOLE WINFIELD,

Associated Press

Updated August 7, 2012

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

LONDON (AP) Rafalca, the horse co-owned by Mitt Romney's wife, returned to the Olympic spotlight Tuesday for her second round of competition in equestrian team dressage - and a fresh round of attention to the Republican presidential candidate's finances and potential running mate.

Ann Romney, who rides as part of her therapy for multiple sclerosis, was in the VIP stands at Greenwich Park Tuesday as she was when Rafalca made her Olympic debut last week.

Rafalca has inspired political jokes about Romney's ability to understand the problems of middle-class Americans while his wife participates in a sport long associated with the elite.

One of the biggest secrets in the U.S. political campaign has been whom Mitt Romney will select as his vice presidential candidate. With the Republican National Convention just weeks away, some political reporters have been charting Rafalca's progress in London to determine when Mrs. Romney might return to Washington, since her husband probably won't announce his vice presidential pick without her at his side.

Rafalca had a solid performance Tuesday, although rider Jan Ebeling said he was unhappy with the score of 69.302 percent. The score confirmed that Rafalca won't advance to the individual medal competition on Thursday.

"I wish the score would have been higher," he said. "I'm really happy with the horse."

Ebeling waved and blew a kiss to his "three amigos" as he left the arena - Ann Romney, Ebeling's wife, Amy, and Rafalca's third co-owner, Beth Meyer, all of whom clapped and gave horse and rider a standing ovation.

"They were very loud and waving," he said. "I couldn't miss them."

Ebeling welcomed the attention Rafalca's appearance at the London Games has given the sport, even though some of it has focused on the impression that dressage belongs to the wealthy 1 percent.

"If one kid picks up the sport and makes it all the way to the top, to the Olympics, I will have done my job," Ebeling said.

"In my sport there's money, but in any sport there's money. You can't say it's an elitist sport at all. I have wonderful clients who support me and want me to succeed."

In dressage - or "horse dancing" to Romney's detractors - horse and rider perform a carefully choreographed routine of movements that showcase the animal's training: prancing trots, twirling pirouettes and a move called the flying change, which looks like the horse is skipping.

Tuesday's Grand Prix Special event was a harder and longer test than last week's competition and will decide the team medal. Rafalca and the rest of the U.S. team were in fifth place in the team standings going into Tuesday's event, while Britain sought to end Germany's half-century domination of the sport.

The British may be buoyed in dressage by their first team equestrian show jumping medal in 60 years. Led by Nick Skelton, who returned to the sport after breaking his neck in a 2000 competition fall, the British team rode clear rounds in a jumpoff Monday to give the host team victory over the Netherlands. Saudi Arabia, a relative newcomer to the sport, was a surprising third.

Germany has won every Olympic team gold in dressage since the mid-1950s and Britain has never won a dressage medal, period. The 18 highest scoring individuals in the team dressage competition advance to perform a freestyle test on Thursday, with movements and music of the rider's own choosing, similar to freestyle ice skating or the floor exercise in gymnastics.

Ann Romney had praised Rafalca's consistency and elegance after her first test.

"She did not disappoint. She thrilled me to death," she said last week.

The Romneys' visit to London was clouded by the GOP candidate's gaffe upon arrival at the start of the Olympics, when he said Britain's preparations for the games were "disconcerting."

The comment rallied the British behind their games and forced Romney to backpedal.

In an indication his sin was not yet forgiven, the Guardian newspaper headlined its coverage of Rafalca's debut: "Ann Romney's Horse Fails to Win Dressage but Avoids Offending British."

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Margaret Freeman contributed.

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