In a sensational start to the Jumping Championships at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy today, Ireland’s teenage star Bertram Allen won the opening speed leg with a brilliant performance from Molly Malone V. The 19-year-old, who hails from County Wexford, but who is based in Munster, Germany and is coached by German ace Marcus Ehning, set a super-fast target when 40th to go in the field of 153 starters. And despite their best efforts, the world’s leading riders simply couldn’t match the time achieved by the young Irishman and his lovely grey mare.
French rider Patrice Delaveau lined up second with Orient Express HDC, securing pole position for the host country in the team rankings going into tomorrow’s second test, while Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Conrad de Hus finished third ahead of America’s Beezie Madden on Cortes C.
The top-10 after today’s opening competition reads like a “who’s who” of the sport, with 2011 FEI European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE) filling fifth with Casall Ask, world number 9 Penelope Leprevost from France in sixth with Flora de Mariposa, and this year’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping champions, Daniel Deusser and Cornet D’Amour from Germany, slotting into seventh place.
Lying eighth individually is Canadian phenomenon and 10-time Olympian Ian Millar who, at 67 years of age, is almost 50 years older than today’s winner. The man affectionately and respectfully knows as “Captain Canada” cruised into the top-10 line-up with consummate ease riding the 11-year-old Dixon, a horse with a pedigree connected to his legendary partner Big Ben.
Lying ninth is Sweden's Peder Fredricson, team silver medallist at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, while The Netherlands' Jeroen Dubbeldam, individual champion at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, is well placed in 10th.
First clear round
Irishman Darragh Kenny produced the first clear over Frederic Cottier’s course when second into the arena with Imothep. But the 14-fence track would prove a significant test, with many horses more than impressed by the Norman theme that included a model of Mont St Michel, a herd of sheep grazing in a meadow, cartloads of fresh apples and even a bottle of French wine that adorned the space between the optional elements of the double at fence eight. This proved a pivotal point on the course, with a number of refusals and falls.
In total, 10 horse-and-rider combinations failed to make it around the track, which began with an oxer followed by a line of vertical to oxer to oxer before a bending line to a most unusual wall. Its rock-like face came as something of a surprise to many horses, as did the river-filler below the following oxer which led on to the open 3.80m open water.
The majority of riders selected the right-side faster route over the double of planks at fence eight instead of the poles to the left. Next was a vertical going away from the in-gate, and a stop and fall here for Brazil’s Doda de Miranda when AD Rahmannshof’s Bogeno ducked out to the left, drew gasps of disbelief from the crowd.
A double, vertical to oxer, at 10 was followed on a left-circle by a narrow oxer at 11 and this too took its toll when riders were attempting to make up time towards the end of the track with four seconds added for every fence on the floor. The narrow vertical at 12 then led to the final line of a double, oxer to vertical, and a final oxer.
More than 50 horses took their turn before Delaveau came closest to Allen’s time, and there were only 13 left to run when Wathelet moved into third while Madden clinched her fourth-place finish when second-last into the ring.
Allen’s ride was perfection, but there was still a lot of head-shaking at the end of the day because, although his star has been rising for quite some time, his appearance at the top of the individual order at the end of this first world championship contest was generally unexpected. Except by the Irish who have been watching this extraordinarily talented young man making his way through the sport for a number of years now.
Despite his tender years he has a lot of experience under his belt, and his form in recent months includes a brilliant victory in the Longines Grand Prix at Dublin Horse Show just a few weeks ago. And of course he’d given warning of his intent when consistently successful at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 test event earlier in the summer.
Talking about his winning ride today he said: "the mare jumped out of her skin. The plan was a good solid round, but she took everything in her stride and we were able to get a great round in, so I'm over the moon! She has quite a bit of experience of going fast against the clock and we know each other well, so we know what we can and can't do, and we got the measure right today.”
And talking about the course he said: “the water down to the planks was the most difficult part, but in fairness the course is very good. There are five or six little things that are causing an equal amount of problem, not one fence.”
He said he thrives on pressure, and he’s had plenty of it in his young life because he’s already something of a championship specialist.
“This is the biggest stage I’ve ever performed on, and it’s a completely different level again, but I’ve had quite a bit of experience with under-age championships for ponies and juniors and I was reserve in Barcelona last year (at Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2013 Final).”
Asked if it is true that he has taken a medal at every championship in which he has competed so far he replied, “yes, I don't know how I managed that! I suppose there was a bit of luck along the way. It would be great if the luck could keep going for one more Championship!” he replied with a laugh. And could he make it into Sunday’s final-four individual medal decider? “Sure that's what I'm dreaming about,” he said, “but it's a long, long way away!"
Like every other nation fielding a team this week, Olympic qualification is a major goal, and with clears from all of Allen’s fellow team-members the Irish are lying just two places off the top five slots which will pave the way to Rio 2016 when the team medals are distributed on Thursday. But the French are feeling pretty confident in the overnight lead, even though only a single fence separates the top six nations going into tomorrow’s second challenge.
The French are closely followed by Sweden in second, the USA in third, Germany in fourth, Netherlands in fifth and Canada in sixth.
Patrice Delaveau wasn’t getting too carried away either this evening. “I think we have the lead for the team ranking, but nothing is done, we must stay focused. However this result is good for us psychologically as we move forward into the week.”
What lies ahead
Course designer, Frederic Cottier talked about the challenge he faced today and what lies ahead. "I had to create a course for 160 horse-and-rider combinations at different levels, and I didn't want the less experienced ones to lose confidence too early, so I created free turns so the best horses could make tight turns, but there was freedom for the riders to make their own decisions. But tomorrow will be very different.”
Ian Millar put the rest of the week into perspective when he said today “there's 180 or whatever horse and rider combinations here and pretty much all of them are pretty good, and they have good horses. When you look at that then it's a daunting task, and you just think this is a mountain we've gotta climb here and I believe that's what championships are all about, and that's why it brings out the very best in everybody.”
A total of 150 horse-and-rider combinations go through to tomorrow’s first round of the team final competition, which is also the second individual qualifier, and it is Portugal’s Mario Wilson Fernandes and Zurito do Belmonte who will be first into the arena.
All teams go into tomorrow’s competition, but only the top 10 will qualify for Thursday’s second round of the team final, so it’s critical from the outset when the action resumes in the D’Ornano Stadium tomorrow morning.
Result First Competition:
Individual - 1, Molly Malone V (Bertram Allen), IRL, 77.01; 2, Orient Express HDC (Patrice Delaveau), FRA, 77.18; 3, Conrad de Hus (Gregory Wathelet), BEL, 77.33; 4, Cortes C (Beezie Madden), USA, 77.34; 5, Casall Ask (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson), SWE, 77.70; 6, Flora de Miriposa (Penelope Leprevost), FRA, 77.82; 7, Cornet D’Amour (Daniel Deusser), GER, 78.41; 8, Dixson (Ian Millar), CAN, 78.84; 9, H&M Sibon (Peder Fredricson), SWE, 78.86; 10, Zenith SFN (Jeroen Dubbeldam), NED, 79.52.
Team standings: 1, France, 2.08; 2, Sweden, 3.01; 3, USA, 4.72; 4, Germany, 4.82; 5, Netherlands, 4.83; 6, Canada, 6.00; 7, Ireland 6.51; 8, Belgium, 9.53; 9, Colombia, 9.86; 10, Qatar, 11.01.
Full results and startlists at www.normandy2014.com
Facts and Figures:
- 153 horse-and-rider combinations started in today's opening speed leg of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 Jumping Championships.
- The competition took place at the Stade D'Ornano in Caen.
- Course designer was Frederic Cottier, and today's track consisted of 14 fences with 17 jumping efforts.
- Today's winner was 19-year-old Irishman Bertram Allen riding the grey mare Molly Malone V.
- 10 horse-and-rider combinations were eliminated.
- The host nation of France heads the team rankings after the opening day due to second place for Patrice Delaveau (Orient Express HDC), sixth place for Penelope Leprevost (Flora de Mariposa) and 14th position for Simon Delestre (Qlassic Bois Margot). The fourth French team member, Kevin Staut (Reveur de Hurtebise HDC), slotted into 19th place.
- 150 horse-and-rider combinations will start again in tomorrow's first round of the team final competition.
- Only the top 10 teams after tomorrow's competition will go through to Thursday's team medal deciding round, with five slots for Rio 2016 up for grabs.
Bertram Allen IRL, talking about his mare, Molly Malone: “she never seemed like she had all the scope as a young horse but she's so athletic, she's such a fighter, and we have such a great bond I never feel like there's something we can't jump. Normally because she's so careful she gets better the more days she jumps.”
Ian Millar CAN: “I was in a wonderful position today because if I got it wrong then Eric (Lamaze) would just have to slow down and finish it up and get the score for the team. I'm a great believer in synergy in a team, and this team has synergy, we've been together that many times and we know each other so well, we know each other's horses and we play off each other very well. So that puts the circumstances in place for a good result".
Daniel Deusser GER: "It was not the goal to win that class, it was to finish in the top 10, to finish with a good result today. The pressure is on now because the (German) Dressage and Eventers were good. I think this is a little bit different, because overall I don't see just three teams here that can win the medals. I think there are 10 teams at least that could win the gold medal here in our discipline. Anyway because of that it was very good to have a good start today. Everything will be decided tomorrow and the day after. It will be a different course and it will be a bit more difficult. We will see from today on."
McLain Ward USA: "Our horses are in great condition. We have the best team we've ever fielded, it's an exciting group, all really competitive but it's a very flat line between winning and eighth place, as the sport grows it becomes an even flatter line!
There were lots of places to have a fence down but this is the first day, everything is at the maximum including the stress and you have to balance out the risks and the consequences. The set-up here is good, it's small and not too spread out. Perfect for showjumping or any horse sport."
17. Eric Lamaze (CAN)
48. Joe Clee (GBR)