America reclaimed the individual World Championship title at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in The Horse Park at Kentucky, USA this afternoon, but it wasn't the hot favourite, Shawn Flarida, who stood tall and proud as the host nation's flag was raised. The loss of a stirrup would cost the 2002 World Champion dearly, and it was team-mate and fellow gold medallist in last Sunday's team event Tom McCutcheon who stood top of the podium.
Underlining the US domination of the sport right now, US rider Craig Schmersal took silver medal position, while defending World Champion Duane Latimer from Canada had to settle for bronze.
The atmosphere in the packed stadium was electric all afternoon as the 21 qualified riders battled it out, and Latimer took the lead when third-last to go in the penultimate group. However the man who took the FEI World Equestrian Games™ by storm in Aachen four years ago was not riding his great horse Hang Ten Surprize. It was a "catch-ride" he picked up earlier in the year, the considerably less-experienced six year old Dun Playin Tag, that put the leading score of 222.5 on the board.
Schmersal immediately bettered that however when his faithful 12 year old stallion Mister Montana Nic earned a mark of 223.0. The 38 year old rider was plenty pleased with his result - "my horse is always fighting for me, I asked him for 110% today and he delivered".
There were just three big names left to run after the final arena drag and McCutcheon got the best of the ground when first of these, racking up a great score of 228.00 to forge well ahead with Gunners Special Nite. He knew from the outset that he was putting on a great show with his American Quarter Horse stallion. "For me a pattern like that is just right, and the first stop was really strong. He was really hooked up, and for everything I wanted to do he was there for me. He just gets stronger and stronger" he said.
Far From Assured
With Italy's Stefano Massignan and his own team-mate Shawn Flarida to come however, McCutcheon was far from assured of the title and it was a tense wait as the final two took their turn. Massigan had produced fantastic performances throughout the week, but when he was penalised for cross-canter with his palomino stallion Yellow Jersey, McCutcheon could see the glint of silver.
That silver turned to gold however when it all fell apart for last-man-in Flarida. Trying to recover from a broken stirrup the man from Springboro, Ohio unintentionally touched the horn of the saddle which automatically incurs five penalties and, after a review by the judges, his chances were blown. Flarida's loss would be McCutcheon's gain.
Talking about the development of the sport of Reining since it became an FEI discipline, McCutcheon commented that riders are now more likely to prepare for the big events in a different way. "For sure it used to be that after his six year old year most horses ended up as non-professional or weekend horses, but that's changed and we now train and keep the horses a lot longer". Silver medallist Schmersal's Mister Montana Nic is something of a phenomenon as he is still so successful at the mature age of twelve and his rider said that this was due to him being paced, with shows specially chosen for him and a careful maintenance programme.
The Reining Championships were a huge hit with the crowds packed into the Alltech Arena in which enthusiastic fans were breaking the sound-barrier with their screams of support for their favourites all week long. US Chef d'Equipe, Jeff Petska, said the experience had been "a whirlwind for me, I'm very fortunate to be around these riders, it was my job to make sure they got the chance to do what they do best and it went off smoothly". What they did best this week was to take both the World Team Championship along with Individual Gold and Silver. A pretty good week all round.
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:
21 riders competed in today's final
Gold medallist, Tom McCutcheon, was a member of last Sunday's winning US team.
Defending champion, Duane Latimer of Canada, had to settle for bronze medal position.
Favourite to take the title, America's Shawn Flarida was penalised for touching the horn of his saddle after a stirrup broke.
Flarida still completed his pattern despite the loss of the stirrup.
Bronze medallist Duane Latimer "the crowd were great, screaming real hard and encouraging us all the way - it was great fun - but if I had the chance to do it all again I'd do a little better!"
Duane Latimer "You can't compare the horse I rode today with Hang Ten Surprize at Aachen - I've only had this horse since April while I had Hang Ten since he was a two year old - I'm very happy with this horse today".
Gold medallist Tom McCutcheon "the team medal was very special because it was great to be on that podium with such great guys but in the individual I'm delighted that I could do what we did today for my horse - he's been special all his life and has had many second places - I'm glad I could do this (taking first) for him today!"
ALLTECH FEI WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES™ - INDIVIDUAL REINING CHAMPIONSHIP
1 (Gold) - Gunners Special Nite (Tom McCutcheon) USA 228.0; 2 (Silver) - Mister Montana (Craig Schmersal) USA 223.0; 3 (Bronze) - Dun Playin Tag (Duane Latimer) CAN 222.5.
Full results and startlists at www.alltechfeigames.com
Audio Links: Craig Schmersal (USA silver): http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Craig%20Schmersal-USA%20rein%20SILVER%2030-9.mp3
Photo Caption: On the medal podium after the final of the Individual Reining Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky today were (centre) gold medallist Tom McCutcheon (USA), (left) silver medallist Craig Schmersal (USA) and (right) bronze medallist Duane Latimer (CAN). Photo: FEI/Dirk Caremans.