Leipzig, Germany—May 1
When the first rail fell, it was almost a thrill. “A jump-off!” the sold-out crowd at the Leipziger Messe thought.
When the second hit the dirt, the crowd gasped, and German supporters bolted toward the confirmed winner, Christian Ahlmann, waiting in the holding ring.
The third rail down was almost incomprehensible, but it was true. Germany’s Marco Kutscher and Cash, who’d led the Rolex FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final from Day 1, had dropped to fourth place, opening the door for their fellow German pair, Ahlmann and Taloubet Z 2, to win the title.
Kutscher’s 12 faults in the last round of three days of jumping also boosted Canada’s Eric Lamaze (Hickstead) to second and Dutchman Jeroen Dubbeldam (BMC van Grunsven Simon) to third.
U.S. rider Beezie Madden had one of just two double-clean performances of the day on Coral Reef Via Volo, which vaulted her from 15th at the beginning of the day to tied for fourth in the end.
There’s a saying that you can’t win a World Cup Final, you can just lose one. That’s because all a rider can do is place well in the speed leg, then jump clean round after clean round and hope any riders ahead of them have mistakes. And that’s just what Ahlmann did.
He placed third in the speed leg, then second in the grand prix format leg on Friday to put him into a tie for the lead with Kutscher.
Kutscher gained the edge in Round 1 of today’s two tough courses when Ahlmann and Taloubet dropped a rail. All Kutscher had to do was jump clean to gain the title. But it was not to be. Kutscher and Cash’s 12 faults left them tied with Madden for fourth.
McLain Ward was poised to be in the top five with Antares F, having jumped a clean first round. And it looked as if he was well on his way to a second clear, with Antares jumping out of his skin, when the toe of a hind hoof clipped the back rail of the last oxer, toppling it from the cups. The 4 faults dropped Ward to 10th in the end; without it, he would have been tied for second with Lamaze.
A Big Test
“I’m unbelievably happy. Taloubet did an amazing job all week,” Ahlmann said of the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (Galoubet A—Krista, Polydor).
Ahlmann is a protégé of German master Ludger Beerbaum and has contributed to many German team victories, but individual glory has escaped him until now. A quiet and modest man, he was described by U.S. chef d’equipe George Morris as “a horseman’s horseman.”
Ahlmann took over the ride on Taloubet, a product of the Zangersheide breeding farm, in October of 2009. He’s relatively new at the top level of the sport.
“He’s a horse with a lot of quality and scope. I started him in smaller classes, and he moved up to bigger classes quite quickly,” Ahlmann said. “We’ve had a few ups and downs; he’s not always been the most consistent. But in the last few months, he’s been jumping really well. This was his first time in a championship, jumping big over three days, and he was good. Now I know he can do that.
“The only fault he had was one that was my fault, in the last line of the first round today. In the second round, I tried to do better. Marco had really bad luck today, so I had a chance to win.”
Gerco Schroeder also had some bad luck, with 8 and 4 faults in the two rounds today dropping him from third to a tie for sixth. New Zealand rider Katie McVean has had a thrilling week, lurking in the top five of the standings. She was fourth coming into today, and 4 faults in Round 1 combined with 5 in Round 2 to put her into a tie for sixth.
Maybe, Just Maybe
Lamaze and Hickstead had their only rail of the competition in Round 2 today when Hickstead just barely grazed the top rail of a vertical built with very light white planks. They’d started off a bit slow in the speed leg, placing 17th, but a win in the second leg put them in contention. The reigning Olympic champion and individual bronze medalist from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Games, Lamaze was thrilled to add second at the World Cup Final to Hickstead’s resume.
“The horse deserves this,” he said. “He’s had a fantastic career, and to add this result means a lot. I winter in Florida, so he doesn’t to jump indoors all year, so I’m very happy to be where I am. Every day, he got better and better. It just shows how great an animal he is, to do this well without much preparation.”
When Dubbeldam arrived at the show this morning, he was in a tie for 11th place.
“I kind of thought that anything was still possible, but I kept that thought quiet to myself,” he said. “I wouldn’t have told anyone I believed I might do this well, but I did believe it. I knew if I had a double clear today, I might jump a few places up.”
Dubbeldam and BMC van Grunsven Simon placed seventh in the speed leg but then had 8 faults in the second leg.
“My first rail was unlucky, and then I wanted to be the fastest four-faulter, so I rushed, and I got my second rail from going too fast. That second 4 faults was very expensive, but I knew how super my horse was jumping, and I thought I could be double clear today,” said Dubbeldam.
And double clear they were—the only other double clear aside from Madden’s.
The U.S. riders shone in Round 1 of the final leg. Frank Rothenburger set a demanding track, combining big and wide oxers with verticals that toppled at the slightest rub. The last line was particularly challenging, with a large oxer out of the corner followed by a forward four strides to a one-stride of verticals. The vertical were extremely airy, with just two rails, and set over liverpools that were covered in green carpet.
Margie Engle and Indigo, coming into the final day tied for 17th, were the first to go clear, and Madden promptly followed her lead with her own clear. Richard Spooner and Cristallo had just one rail, while Ward also jumped clear.
Engle was glad to be back in sync with Indigo after their faults yesterday.
“He was great today, just a little wild!” she said. “He tried really hard for me. That last line was very technical, but it rode easier than it walked. I thought the one-stride would be long, but it got short for me. There were a lot of delicate fences out there.”
In Round 2, Indigo just rolled the front rail of an oxer out late in the course. Engle finished in 12th.
Spooner had another rail in Round 2, at the A element of the triple combination. He and Cristallo ended up in 13th overall.