After walking the cross-country course earlier in the week, riders agreed that the result of the Eventing Championship at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky would not be decided in the dressage arena, and they were proven right today. But no-one could have imagined just how influential Mike Etherington-Smith's 28 fence track would be. On a day of high drama and fantastic competition, and in front of a massive crowd of over 50,000 spectators, the dressage team order was dramatically altered as the British were the only ones to stand firm. However Michael Jung kept the German flag flying high with a brilliant late run from La Biosthetique Sam to hold onto individual pole position.
"The atmosphere all around the park with such huge crowds was very special for me" a jubilant Michael Jung said. "I had a lot of fun today, and so did my horse. I'd put the saddle on him and ride it all over again right now if I could!" said the excited leader.
Rocketed Up The Leaderboard
As the final jumping phase gets underway tomorrow morning Jung has a nine point advantage over Britain's William Fox-Pitt who rocketed up the leaderboard from 12th to second place when one of 12 to come home clear and inside the time today. And America's Becky Holder lies third, separated from silver medal position by only 0.5 penalties after a thrilling cross-country run with the aptly-named Courageous Comet. She cannot rest easy however because Germany's Ingrid Klimke and FRH Butts Abraxxas are just 0.4 further in arrears while New Zealand veteran, Andrew Nicholson is less than one point further adrift in fifth place with Nereo.
It’s the British who hold the whip hand now in the team competition, moving up from overnight second to head the leaderboard after the Germans lost their grip and dropped to fifth. And the extraordinary Canadians produced three stunning performances to improve from ninth to third ahead of New Zealand in fourth.
The German dressage advantage began to unravel when pathfinder Dirk Schrade's Gadget de la Cere fell at the penultimate Kentucky Covered Bridge leaving only three team-members in the frame. And despite great rounds from Jung and Klimke, the two refusals from Andreas Dibowski's Euroridings Butts Leon at the ditch at fence 7, the Walnut Hall Corner combination which created problems for seven horse-and-rider combinations throughout the day, sent them plummeting to fifth. Things also got off to a bad start for third-placed Sweden when Linda Algotsson's 20 year old gelding Stand by Me told his rider he didn't want to go any further once he got to the first water complex at fence five. And team chances were dashed when, last to go, Katrin Norling and Pandora Emm jumped too far right at the corner at the Welcoming Waters Wishing Well having already put in a stop at the previous obstacle.
Australia's Sam Griffiths and Happy Times were also eliminated here, and this put paid to Aussie chances as team-mate Paul Tapner and Inonothing had earlier retired at the Fort Boonesboro Brush Coop at 13. X-rays revealed a fracture of the horse's left hind patella (knee cap) and, with a favourable prognosis, Inonothing is resting in his own stall tonight. Italy also lost two riders, Marco Biasia (Gandalf the Grey) who made it all the way to the Horse Park Shelters at 23 before calling it a day and the anchor partnership of Juan Carlos Garcia (Iman de Golfe). Garcia was enjoying a great tour of the track until taking a fall at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace corner. His 14 year old gelding suffered a deep laceration over the left elbow but received immediate attention from on-site veterinary officials before being taken to the nearby Rood & Riddle Veterinary Hospital for further assessment and treatment. X-rays showed no major fracture, although there is a small bone chip near the elbow. Rood and Riddle veterinarians are optimistic that the horse will make a full recovery.
Meanwhile the Americans, Canadians and Kiwis all got four riders home, and the host nation soared into contention for the team title. Buck Davidson collected penalties for a stop going into the Red River Gorge with Ballynoe Castle, but when his US team-mates Philip Dutton (Woodburn) and Boyd Martin (Neville Bardos) added nothing to their dressage score and Karen O'Connor (Mandiba) collected just 0.80 time faults they were right back in the game. Even more impressively, Canada's Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch (Port Authority), Selena O'Hanlon (Colombo) and Hawley Bennett-Awad (Gin & Juice) produced flawless rounds of the course which promoted them to third behind their near neighbours. Andrew Nicholson's anchor ride with Nereo was a classy exhibition and helped haul New Zealand into contention, but it was the British who were holding court at the head of affairs.
The sensational pathfinding ride from Nicola Wilson, whose hard-pulling 13 year old gelding Opposition Buzz flew around the track with the greatest of ease, steadied everyone's nerve at the beginning of the day and was followed by another classic from Rolex Kentucky 2010 winners William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain. And although Tina Cook picked up 20 penalties with Miners Frolic who jumped so strongly into the water at fence five that she had to alter her route, the ever-reliable Mary King sealed supremacy with a fabulous tour of the track with Imperial Cavalier. But there is no room for complacency when tomorrow's final jumping test begins.
A Decent Championship Track
"When we saw the course this week we knew it was a decent Championship track but no-one could have guessed the amount of trouble it would cause" said William Fox-Pitt this evening. And Becky Holder pointed out "when I was walking the track I was aware of the cumulative effect of little mistakes, you could see they would catch up with riders further on the course."
Jung is delighted to find himself out in front, and in such distinguished company. "It is my first Championship at 4-Star level. The course is a difficult one but a beautiful one for horses. Every jump asks for a big effort from you and your horse, from the beginning to the end", the leader pointed out. Asked if he thought he could win tomorrow he said "for me already it is a dream to participate in a World Championship and now I have more than I ever dreamed. My dressage was good, cross country was good except for the first water and my horse is always a good jumper", he said. "He finished fresh today, but there is a big atmosphere in the stadium and he will have to concentrate on me when he goes in there and I hope he can do that", he added.
Meanwhile Fox-Pitt said the outcome today has put huge pressure on the British contingent - "there's so little space between the two top teams that it’s going to be terrifying tomorrow" he insisted, adding "we will be hoping our horses will be as careful as they can be". But they will need to be very careful indeed because the Americans are in bullish mood. "I'm glad the British team are feeling our breath down their necks a bit - we are hoping to do a great job tomorrow", Becky Holder said.
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:
79 horses started the Cross Country with a 76% completion rate
There were 39 clears, 12 of which were inside the time
There were 10 falls on course, four of which were horse falls, and six of which were rider falls
Becky Holder, US team member talking about her tour of the cross country track - "the Head of the Lake series of fences was fun and rhythmic and the help we got from the crowd was a lifeline as well".
William Fox-Pitt, when asked how he was feeling tonight, lying second going into the individual World Championship final tomorrow "It’s important just to enjoy the moment. In a way I don't want tomorrow to come.”
Michael Jung, individual leader going into the final day "I'll have a drink tonight and enjoy the moment and then I'll go to bed early."
Talking about his horse, Michael Jung said "I've had Sam since he was a five year old and I have ridden him all his life. He has a lot of confidence in me and he has grown into this level of the sport. He's not a horse with huge scope, but he's a horse with a big heart".
ALLTECH FEI WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES™ - EVENTING, AFTER CROSS-COUNTRY
Team: 1, Great Britain 139.40; 2, USA 143.30; 3, Canada 147.50; 4, New Zealand 150.80; 5, Germany 192.70; 6, Ireland 198.50; 7, Belgium 220.10; 8, France 227.70; 9, Japan 304.10; 10, Australia 1104.00; 11, Sweden 1112.50; 12, Italy 1145.50; 13, Brazil 1230.70; 14, Republic of South Africa 1312.80.
Individual: 1, La Biosthetique Sam (Michael Jung) Ger 33.0; 2, Cool Mountain (William Fox-Pitt) GBR 42.00; 3, Courageous Comet (Rebecca Holder) USA 42.50; 4, FRH Butts Abraxxas (Ingrid Klimke) GER 42.90; 5, Nereo (Andrew Nicholson) NZL 43.50; 6, Port Authority (Stephanie Rhodes Bosch) CAN 44.20; 7, Gazelle de la Brasserie (Karin Donckers) BEL 44.40; 8, Redesigned (Pippa Funnell) GBR 45.50; 9, Mandiba (Karen O'Connor) USA 45.60; 10, Imperial Cavalier (Mary King) GBR 46.20.
Full results and startlists at www.alltechfeigames.com