The U.S. Equestrian Team scored its first major victory on the third night of riding competition last night, winning the the Prix des Nations Cup during the Washington International Horse Show at Capital Centre.

Joe Fargis, riding Maryland-bred Touch of Class, the 11-year-old bay mare he rode last summer in Los Angeles when he won an individual gold medal at the Olympics; Leslie Burr on Albany; Conrad Homfeld on Abdullah, and Melanie Smith on Calypso performed outstandingly for two rounds over a 15-obstacle course, receiving only 12 jumping faults, compared with 18.5 for second-place Great Britain and 22.5 for Canada.

Fences on the course were between four and six feet tall and included a difficult triple and double combination that led to many a fault. The U.S. team, the same group that won the Olympic gold for team riding, had eight faults in the first round and only four in the second.

Faults from the worst ride were dropped in each round. Clean second-round efforts by Fargis and Burr, together with only four by Homfeld, clinched a U.S. victory without Smith needing to ride.

"It was pretty close for a while," said Homfeld. "Things get so close, they can just crumble. It wasn't like we just killed them."

Homfeld said he and his teammates got all of their mistakes out of the way in the early going and won because "we put both rounds together. They couldn't put it together."

Until winning the $10,000 Perrier class, the U.S. team had scored only four points. It now leads the international team competition with 29 points, followed by Great Britain with 24 and Canada with 13.

Great Britain's Tim Grubb and Nick Skelton, two members of the bronze medal-winning Olympic team, and Robert Smith and John Whitaker have given the host team its toughest competition, winning the international-open jumping competition Sunday night and finishing close to the top in every other international event.

Although the U.S. team took a giant step forward with last night's victory, team members see a big hurdle ahead for the rest of the week.

"The British," Fargis said.

France broke into the national standings later in the evening when Henri Prudent guided the crowd-pleasing Crockadile, a 7-year-old Appaloosa, to victory in the $5,000 Ben O'Meara Memorial Challenge Trophy. The small gelding, going third in a nine-horse jumpoff, went clean in 31.21 seconds over a course reduced from 12 to seven obstacles.

Monroe, ridden by Katherine Burdsall, was second with a perfect 32.06. Burdsall maintained her lead in the national standings with 14 points.