Las Vegas, NV-April 17, 2009-Defending champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum continues to dominate at the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas after adding victory in the second leg Friday to her top-place finish in the opening speed leg on Thursday.
The Rolex FEI World Cup™ Finals continue at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas through Sunday. The Finals feature World Cup Finals in the two Olympic disciplines of show jumping and dressage.
Last to go in the thrilling 13-horse jump-off the American-born German rider produced an ice-cool run with the sensational 16 year old Shutterfly, but it didn't go quite to plan for all the other leading contenders.
Switzerland's Christina Liebherr lost her second-place ranking allowing America's McLain Ward to move up from third into runner-up position, and after US rider Rich Fellars and Denmark's Thomas Velin also faulted it is The Netherland's Albert Zoer who lies third going into Sunday's finale.
With the results of the first two days' competition now recalculated into points Michaels-Beerbaum carries a zero score going into the last of the three final classes but has only a two-point advantage over ward while Zoer is a further two points behind followed closely by Fellers. There is no room for error at the top end, and the leader knows it. "I never quite understand the scoring system for the World Cup but it definitely makes for excitement right to the end!" Michaels-Beerbaum said.
A total of 13 horse and rider combinations found the key to another masterful track from course-designer Anthony D'Ambrosio who admitted however that he got more clears in the first round than he had expected. "I may have been a bit conservative tonight, because I was thinking ahead to Sunday" he explained, but Michaels-Beerbaum was not complaining.
Sweden's Helena Lundback and Madick produced the first jump-off clear before America's Richard Spooner and Cristallo shaved almost three seconds off their target time but, fourth into the timed round, Beezie Madden was even faster again for the host country with a great ride on the novice nine year old Danny Boy. Another three horses came in the ring before Zoer set off with Oki Doki who reset the parameters when breaking the beam with a thrilling run in 34.72 seconds but Ward and Sapphire raised the roof when stopping the clock on 33.77 seconds to take the lead with only two more to follow them into the ring.
Liebherr's normally electric No Mercy had been unusually calm in Thursday's class but as she turned the gelding into the second fence, an oxer, this time out the communication system broke down and they had to make a turn before taking it on a second time. When they also lowered a fence and collected time penalties their 10-fault score saw them drop down the order.
Shutterfly however was the epitomy of cool and with the greatest of ease the defending champion got a great shot to the double at the half-way stage and another great corner-cutting angle to the following vertical to keep them well in touch. A fearless gallop to the last sealed the result with clinical efficiency, the Rolex clock showing 32.77 seconds as the winning time.
Asked afterwards how many Rolex watches she has collected during qualifying rounds and her two previous final successes, she answered that, if she wasn't riding any more, she would have enough to open a watch store. Discussing her ride she said "I didn't see McLain go but Shutterfly is super-fast by nature and he was really 'on' tonight".
McLain knows that he is carrying US hopes on his capable shoulders going into the last day but he was well-pleased with his performance. "I was a bit anxious in the first round which was hard for my horse because it all about adding strides which doesn't suit her but she was brilliant in the jump-off" he said. He didn't seem quite convinced however that he could oust the leader from top position. "Today i went as fast as I could go - we just couldn't have gone any faster" while Zoer was simply happy that, after a long and difficult recovery from the badly-broken leg which kept him out of the Dutch Olympic team last summer, he was well-satisfied with his result. "All I need on Sunday is two double-clears, that's my target!" he said. But Meredith pointed out that she intends to "try to hold the form we've had so far this week right through to the end". In that case a hat-trick of Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping titles seems very much on the cards for this extraordinary partnership.
The Saturday schedule at the Thomas & Mack Center is packed with action beginning with the Las Vegas Grand Prix. This is not a leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ final, but riders will be keen to earn some of the $75,000 prizemoney on offer.
Many of the world's top dressage and jumping riders have been taking a crash-course in the art of reining over the last few days, and stars including The Netherlands' Anky Van Grunsven, Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa and America's Will Simpson have signed up for the first-ever International Reining Celebrity Challenge during which they will be paired with National Reining Horse Association professionals Rick Weaver and Ann Fonck.
Nine-time World Cup champion Van Grunsven will be hoping that the sliding stops and mind-blurring spins won't throw her off course ahead of Saturday night's feature event - the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Dressage Freestyle in which the horses and riders perform to music.
All Photo's courtsey of Kit Houghton/FEI