The host nation took a firm grip on both the team and individual leaderboards as the Jumping Championship got underway at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA today. Mario Deslauriers steered the powerful gelding Urico into pole position in the exciting Speed event, which is both the first individual qualifier and the class that decides the rankings for tomorrow's team competition. And he had the best back-up around in the shape of fellow-American McLain Ward who steered the great mare Sapphire home just a little slower to slot into runner-up spot.
As expected, the US riders, who are strongly tipped for medals this week, came out with all guns blazing. But there were plenty of surprises throughout the day and the biggest of these was the spectacular performance of Hungary's Sandor Szasz who slotted into third place. Riding Moosbachhofs Goldwing the relatively unknown 39 year old stormed into the lead with a clear round in 71.79 seconds as the first half of the competition was coming to a close. But, with just four left to run before the lunch-break, Deslauriers and Urico raced through the timers in 71.25 seconds to re-set the target.
And that was the time they were all chasing as the remainder of the 120 starters took their turn throughout the afternoon. Conrad Homfeld's 13-fence course asked plenty of questions and the bogey fences included the double at four, a triple-bar to vertical, the open water at fence seven which claimed a large number of scalps, the unusual Kentucky Fence Line double at 10, an oxer to vertical of planks which was located just past the in-gate, and the final Rolex double. The second element of the latter fell time and again, often as a result of a complicated stride pattern created by the previous liverpool oxer, and one its many victims was Frenchman Kevin Staut whose mare, Silvana de Hus, slammed on the brakes so that he had to re-present her. As a result, the No. 1 rider on the Rolex World Rankings is lying way down in 70th position going into tomorrow's next stage of the Championship.
World No. 2, Germany's Marcus Ehning, is much further up the order in 28th spot, adding four time penalties to his score when hitting fence five, the Mountain Range vertical which was followed on a short three-stride distance by the Natural Arch. World No. 6, Ireland's Denis Lynch, had a spectacular moment here when fifth into the ring as his gelding, Lantinus, became airborne after two strides and crashed through the Natural Arch wall, completely demolishing it.
The top ten includes Venezuela's Pablo Barrios who was so fast with G&C Lagran that even with the four faults he picked up at the same fence as Ehning he still slotted into fourth place in a time of 73.42, and he is followed by Saudi Arabia's Khaled Al Eid (Presley Boy), The Netherlands' Marc Houtzager (HBC Tamino) and Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum riding Checkmate. 2008 Olympic champion Eric Lamaze is next in line with Hickstead in eighth place and only 2.39 points separate him from Deslauriers at the head of affairs.
The US team of Deslauriers, Ward, Lauren Hough (Quick Study) and Laura Kraut (Cedric) have a fence in hand going into tomorrow's first leg of the team competition with Germany's Ehning and Michaels-Beerbaum, Janne-Friederike Meyer (Cellagon Lambrasco) and Carsten-Otto Nagel (Corradina) in second and, despite Staut's dramatic round, France lie third ahead of The Netherlands in fourth, Canada in fifth and Spain in sixth place.
Former Canadian Deslauriers talked about transferring allegiance to the US last year. "I've been living here for a long time, my business has been here for 24 years and I recently got married to Lisa. Jane Clark (Urico's owner, President and CEO of USET) is very involved with the USET and she wanted to move forward - it seemed just the right time to make the change, and hopefully I have many good years ahead as an American rider" he said.
Talking about his ride around today's course Deslauriers pointed out "Conrad (Homfeld) is a great course designer and he made it nice for everybody, but sometimes difficult. There was no inside line to take, everyone had to ride the same track, he wanted us to take one out or add one in according to your own horse - he did a great job" he added.
McLain Ward was satisfied with his round too. "Sapphire has a big stride and a lot of experience....you have to jump what is presented to you...this is a good result, it's going to be a long week and it's a great start" he pointed out. "My goal was to be in the top three today but obviously I was trying to win - I tried very hard because I wanted to put us in a good position for the week" Ward added.
With a one-two in the first test of that week, Deslauriers and Ward have done just that for the host country.
FEI TV - As well as live competition coverage throughout the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™, FEI TV will make all competitions available post-event via VoD, plus an exclusive daily 30-minute VoD highlights show from the Kentucky Horse Park featuring the best of the day’s action, interviews, previews and reviews. There will also be lots of behind the scenes footage available. Check out www.feitv.org
Facts and Figures:
120 horse and rider combinations lined out in today's first Jumping qualifier
Faults from today's class are turned into points and carried into tomorrow's team competition
The bogey fences on the track were the double at fence four, the open water at fence 7, the Kentucky Fence Line double at 10 and the final Rolex double.
It is the first time for riders from the Republic of South Africa to compete in World Championship Jumping.
27 nations are fielding teams
There were 13 fences on the course designed by Conrad Holmfeld (USA)
22 riders jumped clear
The USA's Mario Deslauriers (Urico) and McLain Ward (Sapphire) finished first and second but with faults turned into points it is Deslaurier, wirh produced the quickest round of the day, who holds pole position.
The USA leads the team rankings going into tomorrow's competition with Germany in second and France in third.
Sandor Szasz (Hungary) who finished third in today's opening competition of the Jumping Championship "this is the highest level I have competed at - my horse is an 11 year old by Goldfever, I've brought him along slowly and he has developed wonderfully".
Mario Deslauriers (USA) "I knew there were a lot of good horses coming after me and when I posted a 71 second score I thought I'd be in the top five for sure. I saw Sandor jump and I knew you would really have to go to catch him".
Mario Deslauriers (USA) "After watching 30 horses I had my plan"
ALLTECH FEI WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES™ - JUMPING, FIRST QUALIFIER
Results after faults are calculated into points:
Team: 1, USA 5.69; 2, Germany 9.80; 3, France 11.32; 4, Netherlands 11.33; 5, Canada 11.93; 6, Spain 13.28; 7, Brazil 13.49; 8, Ireland 14.54; 9, Great Britain 14.80; 10, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 15.48; 11, Hungary 16.28; 12, Mexico 17.13; 13, Switzerland 17.85; 14, Australia 17.87; 15, Belgium 18.70; 16, Sweden 19.18; 17, Japan 19.26; 18, Italy 20.59; 19, Venezuela 21.24; 20, New Zealand 21.36; 21, South Africa 22.24; 22, Argentina 24.59; 23, Ukraine 25.90; 24, Poland 29.36; 25, Qatar 31.95; 26, Turkey 34.37; 27, United Arab Emirates 35.86.
Individual: 1, Urico (Mario Deslauriers) USA 0; 2, Sapphire (McLain Ward) USA 0.27; 3, Moosbachhofs Goldwing (Sandor Szasz) HUN 0.99; 4, G&C Lagran (Pablo Barrios) VEN 1.08; 5, Presley Boy (Khaled Al Eid) KSA 1.20; 6, HBC Tamino (Marc Houtzager) NED 1.74; 7, Checkmate (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 1.79; 8, Hickstead (Eric Lamaze) CAN 2.39; 9, Uleika (Karim El Zoghby) EGY 2.51; 10, Chianto (John Pearce) CAN 2.70.
Full results and startlists at www.alltechfeigames.com
Photo Caption: Mario Deslauriers and Urico won the first qualifier to help put the USA in pole position in the Jumping Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Gams™ in Kentucky, USA today. Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.
Today's leader, Mario Deslauriers (USA) - http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Mario%20Deslauriers%20SJ%20react%204-10.mp3
2nd place, McLain Ward (USA) - http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/McLain%20Ward%20SJ%20reaction%20WEG.mp3
3rd place, Sandor Szasz (HUN) in German - http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Sandor%20Szasz%20HUN%202nd%20speed%20WEG.mp3