Caen, France—Sept. 6
Australian driver Boyd Exell came into the marathon at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games concerned that the course was too easy. He also was worried about the unusual gravel footing at each hazard, so he swapped out his normal carriage wheels for the ones he uses during indoor competition.
But at day’s end, the course was hard enough to shuffle the standings, and Exell, the current world champion and FEI World Cup champion, went to the top ahead of U.S. driver Chester Weber and Theo Timmerman of the Netherlands.
Germany’s Christoph Sandmann had the best marathon score of the day ahead of his teammate Georg von Stein, which boosted Germany into the silver medal position behind the Netherlands. Exell finished third after a costly holdup at the sixth hazard. But his score of 90.32 combined with his dressage score of 35.51 was good enough for first.
“The horses were good,” said Exell. “They were strong, they were fresh, and they were pulling me into the obstacles. To come in third in the marathon with a 15-second mistake is still very good. The horses must have been very quick elsewhere.”
Exell was also pleased with the stability of his carriage on the new wheels. “I didn’t go on two wheels at all,” he said. “It’s spectacular for the public when we do, but it’s too much on the edge. My carriage felt very secure. [The carriage company] van den Heuvel sent them out for me and fitted them. They were 50 kilograms heavier. It gives you more stability. It is a little harder for the horses to pull, but less chance to flip over.”
Werner Ulrich of Switzerland wasn’t so lucky and did have his carriage flip at the water hazard at 8, but he was able to get it righted without any damage to his team. He was, however, eliminated for the mistake.
Exell still felt the track was too easy regardless of other drivers’ difficulties. “I mean it was enough of a test, but if you look at the marathon scores, the winning scores are a 90.” he said “A world championship score should be 110, which means that it is a longer track, longer times in the obstacles. That gives you more time to catch up with your competitors.”
Weber disagreed. “It was challenging out there,” he said. “It was sort of like everything you could imagine was asked of you from the most technical to really racing. I had a little bit of trouble in the last obstacle with my right leader. I made the decision to give him 10 seconds rest before that, and I think that it just sort of took him off the bit a little bit, which was a mistake.”
Weber is only 2.77 points behind Exell, so he’s definitely still in contention for individual gold. “It is sometimes nice to be behind hunting,” he said. “I feel good about our cones record, and let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
New four-in-hand drivers Misdee Wrigley-Miller and Allison “Lisa” Stroud put in admirable marathon trips to put the U.S. team in fourth place.
“That was great!” said Stroud, who’s driven pony four-in-hands for years but just began driving horses. “I have only been driving this team since January, and this is my seventh attempt at a marathon with them. They apparently love the World Equestrian Games, some a little too enthusiastically at the beginning, but then they settled into their job, and were very fun to drive today. I was very excited to be here.”
Stroud slotted into 23rd after the marathon, falling just a few places from 19th after dressage.
“The course was really nice, the hazards drove really well, the footing, which you would not have expected, was super,” she said. “The horses and carriages rolled well on it without too much slide. The horses seemed to be really comfortable on it.
“We did practice on something that was similar,” she continued. “We tightened the turntable brake. We didn’t use special wheels. I don’t think I go as fast as Boyd, so my wheels were fine. That’s why he is the current world champion. My horses went really well, and if I wasn’t in love with them before, I am now. They were just incredible.”
Wrigley-Miller, who drove pairs until this year, was equally jazzed about her trip around the marathon course.
“It was amazing!” she said. “I mean, the crowd, the atmosphere, the hazards drove so beautifully. I am a little embarrassed that at my first hazard I didn’t even get to the first gate OK, but I think the horses were looking at the crowd, and then they backed off. Once we got settled and in the rhythm, we were on. I think to myself that eight months ago I had never even tried this. I am still having that ‘pinch me’ moment, I really am. It is just an incredible experience. I am having the time of my life.”
Wrigley-Miller’s two-day score put her in 39th place.
“I think hazard 6 drove a lot tighter than how I thought it was going to drive,” she admitted. “When I came down that hill I was having a little bit of a ‘woohoo’ moment and then I had to take the turn and got a little stuck. Lesson to self: no ‘woohoo’ moments in the marathon. ‘Woohoo at the end.’ You have to keep driving.”
Cones will begin at 8 a.m. CET and will be driven in reverse order of standing.
Check out all the Chronicle’s driving coverage here, and follow along with all the news from all the sports at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.