Top carriage drivers in Lexington for Kentucky Cup

America's top four-in-hand equestrian is truly driven. Ambitious, successful and rich, Chester Weber knows horses and could afford just about anything with four legs that he wants.

But everything Weber's been working for since he was a teenager may depend on an 18-year-old former livery horse once saved from a Belgian slaughterhouse. In his first post-rescue career, "Jamaica," a Dutch Warmblood gelding, proved too impatient to give tourists carriage rides, but with retraining he has become one of the top horses in the world of four-in-hand competitive carriage.

Last year, ardent fans voted Jamaica as U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year.

His most important role may be yet to come. Weber competes this weekend in the Kentucky Cup, which will determine this year's national driving championship. Weber and Jamaica are looking for a record seventh win and a spot on the U.S. team for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which will be at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

"He's a fantastic horse. It's a great story," Weber said Thursday after taking the lead in the first phase of competition. "The reality is, if they are inexpensive or expensive, they have to be great."

In 2008, Weber capped a European campaign with a silver medal at the FEI World Four-in-Hand Driving Championships at Beesd, the Netherlands.

Before that, he concentrated on dominating the sport in America. At 18, he was the youngest driver ever named to the U.S. Equestrian Team; he's since racked up six consecutive national championships, a silver medal at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Spain, and twice won the German Fahrderby at Riesenbeck.

Jamaica, with the team since 2001, has been key to winning those cups and medals. And Jamaica's success has made him the darling of horse lovers everywhere.

Since winning Horse of the Year, Weber said Jamaica has become a bigger fan favorite than ever.

"The outcrying of support from the rescue organizations when he was nominated has been unbelievable. Somehow he's become bigger than life. He has his own fan base on Facebook," Weber told the USEF. "I'm lucky to be in his life."

Weber, 33, is the son of Live Oak Stud owner and Campbell's Soup heiress Charlotte Weber, who buys and sells million-dollar Thoroughbred yearlings and mares at Keeneland. Their 4,500-acre farm in Ocala, Fla., each spring hosts the Live Oak International, one of the top driving competitions in the U.S., which Chester Weber frequently wins.

To win the Kentucky Cup, the combined driving WEG test event, Weber will be taking on some of the best carriage drivers in from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, including reigning FEI World Cup Driving champion Boyd Exell, 37, of Australia.

He will go up against his friend and rival Tucker Johnson, 45, of Hobe Sound, Fla., and Oldwick, N.J. Known as the "King of Cones" for his skill in the final phase, Johnson last month finished a close third in international competition at Donaueschingen, Germany, after winning the dressage phase.

Other top American driver competing include James Fairclough and David Saunders. Fairclough and Saunders finished first and third last month in Pennsylvania at the first USEF observation trials, which will be used to help select the teams to compete at the 2010 world games.

After Thursday's dressage, Weber leads with a score of 40.06. Going into Saturday's marathon or cross-country competition, Johnson is in second place with 41.98 penalty points; Exell is in third with 47.87 penalty points.

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