Americans Rich Fellers, Beezie Madden, Lucy Davis and McLain Ward All in the Top Ten of the Rankings
Las Vegas, Nevada - April 17, 2015 - Another round of high performance show jumping wowed Las Vegas tonight. Keeping it international during the opening acts, the Australian Bee Gees sang the national anthem followed by the tremendously daring acrobatic act with Timber Brown and his Aerial Sphere.
Of thirty-five total rounds, only six made it to the jump-off. Americans dominated with four of six returning, yet the anthem that played for the victory gallop was Switzerland's, as Steve Guerdat rode his way closer to an FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final Championship.
As illustrated by the number of rails that fell, as well as three competitors that retired and one that was eliminated, the course was certainly a test of horse and rider. In an arena of this unique shape and size, the track is particularly important - every step and turn leads to an upcoming related distance or large obstacle. The nemesis on tonight's track was the triple combination at the end of the course, 12a-b-c. Off a somewhat blind turn, many riders choose to ride the track in six strides, which made the line of three a true test of scope that caused quite a few faults. Those who chose to ride in five strides sometimes had too much horse and had the final vertical element down.
Lucy Davis, one of the four American riders that went clean tonight, explained how the tricky track effected her first round ride on Barron. "I actually planned, when I walked the course, to do six strides. And then after watching people struggle with the six, my trainer Markus (Beerbaum) and I decided to switch to five, as my horse has a really big stride and a lot of scope. So I had to trust the five, and he handled it perfectly."
Second to go was first to ride fault free, Geir Gulliksen of Norway aboard Edesa S Banjan. Eighteen rounds later, Davis and Barron made it two, followed directly by fellow countryman Beezie Madden on Simon. One round later, McLain Ward was clean on Rothchild. Although competing individually here, these three were teammates, along with Kent Farrington, and Bronze Medalists at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™.
Not for eight more rounds did another pair go clean, Steve Guerdat and the twelve-year-old Selle Francais mare, Albfuehren's Paille, making it five to return with four left to go. Second to last were favorites Flexible and Rich Fellers who didn't disappoint as they sailed around clean.
In a thrilling jump-off, Gulliksen had four faults in a conservative 40.06. Davis went for broke, seeking to gain as many World Cup points as possible. She had the speed, finishing in 32.53, but a heartbreak rail at the final obstacle left the door open for the remaining riders. Simon slipped slightly part way through the round, yet Madden adjusted well and still rode clean and fast in 33.31. Ward had a surprising refusal followed by a couple of rails, finishing sixth. Guerdat took advantage of his mare's large step, leaving out strides and stopping the clock clean in 32.87. Even after having a rail at the first jump, Fellers flew around the course in 32.80, finishing fourth for the night.
The top three - Guerdat, Madden and Davis - moved up in the rankings going into Sunday's final rounds. Since scoring for the LONGINES FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final is cumulative, other competitors who placed well in the first two rounds will return on Sunday in good standing. This includes Fellers, who is currently tied for the lead with Guerdat, both going into Sunday with a score of zero.
This is not Guerdat's first time in this position. He's missed being crowned champion for the last three years in a row.
When asked if he was having flashbacks to previous years, the current leader remarked, "In 2012, I was third or fourth, and then going into the Final, I ended up jumping off with Rich. Then the next year, I was sixth or seventh going into the Final, and I ended up jumping off with Beezie. And I lost both times. Then last year I was leading going into the Final, and I messed it up again. So it's about time I finish it up. Now I'm just focusing on Sunday, staying calm, and we'll see what happens."
Bertram Allen, who was the fastest four fault ride tonight, sits third with one penalty point. Madden is tied for fifth with six penalty points, Davis and Ward are sitting eighth, each with seven penalty points.
Entertainment is a Las Vegas trademark and Saturday will be no different. Opening for the Canadian Pacific Grand Prix of Las Vegas at 7:00pm will be Kristen Hertzenberg, singing the national anthem, followed by a Native American tribute. After the fabulous show jumping will be the saddle switch extravaganza called the 'Duel in the Desert' where three show jumpers, the very three that topped the class tonight, Guerdat, Madden and Davis, will team up with three National Reining Cow Horse riders. In a saddle and discipline switch, each show jumper will cut a cow and do a short fence work run and each reiner will ride a modified jumper course. Fun for all involved.
The LONGINES FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final III continues on Sunday, April 19th at noon when after two rounds, and a jump-off if there's a tie, the world will have their 2015 Champion.