Lyon, France—April 21
It was a clonk that echoed through the arena. The crowd sucked in their breath and raised their eyebrows. Cornet d’Amour swished his tail. And Daniel Deusser snapped out of the nervous fog he’d been in.
Deusser had it all to lose, and he’d just gotten really lucky at the first fence when Cornet d’Amour rubbed it hard but left it in the cups.
“I knew I couldn’t make a mistake. I had to be clear,” he said. “You could see I was thinking about that at the first fence! But then I got my concentration back, and my horse tried so hard today.”
That hard rub out of the way, Deusser and the fantastic gray gelding, who jumps in classic small pony form over the biggest jumps with a flip of his tail, went on to complete their second clear round of the day, clinching the win in the Longines FEI World Cup Final.
Lots of professional riders take a big win in stride, waving professionally from the podium without much emotion. But Deusser looked truly thrilled to be standing atop that little stage with the iconic World Cup trophy in his hands.
And even though his fellow German Ludger Beerbaum, who placed second behind Deusser, quipped, “Better dead than second,” he also paid an emotional tribute to Deusser’s achievement.
“Well done, Daniel. To go in there knowing that you can’t have a fence down and then performing like that is impressive,” said Beerbaum. “I must say, even talking about it, my hair stands on end. I have no problem being second to him today. Congratulations to him.”
But where there are winners, there are those with sadder stories, and unfortunately Steve Guerdat’s was the saddest of the day. He’s been second twice in the last two years—losing in 2012 in a jump-off against Rich Fellers and then again in 2013 jumping off against Beezie Madden. He came into the final day of the World Cup Final in the lead by 2 points over Deusser, poised to finally pull off the win.
But in the first round of today’s two-round format, Nino des Buissonets came down hard on the back rail of an oxer late in the course. Deusser had jumped clean, so Guerdat dropped to a tie for second with Beerbaum.
And then in Round 2, another rail rolled out of the cups, taking with it Guerdat’s hopes for World Cup glory. He finished in fifth place and looked stricken as he walked out of the ring. Guerdat’s mistakes helped Great Britain’s Scott Brash move up to third in his first appearance in a World Cup Final.
The top four—Deusser, Beerbaum, Brash and Marcus Ehning—all jumped two clean rounds today, but clean rounds weren’t the norm. In fact, of all the other competitors, there were only four other clean rounds total posted over the two courses.
The defending champions, Americans Beezie Madden and Simon, lurked behind the German leaders as the day started, sitting tied for third with Beerbaum. But a rail in each round took her out of top-three contention.
“He felt very good, actually. I think I got a little bit unlucky; we had that light rub [in Round 1], and it fell down,” she said. “And then [in the second] round I’d opted to do five strides to the liverpool, which I think was right, but he took over a bit at the end. But the rest felt great.”
U.S. rider McLain Ward had one of the clear rounds, but he ended up with 4 faults in Round 2. He and Rothchild moved up from 11th to ninth with those performances on the final day.
“He felt great; this was probably the biggest test of his career,” Ward said of Rothchild. “He’s spent a number of years being second horse for me, and in the last year and a half, he had to step up and fill the role, and I think he’s definitely surprised many people. He’s a little unconventional and does things his own way, but he has great character and great quality, and it makes him able to hang on in the end.”
Charlie Jayne came into the last day in a tie for 12th, and 8 faults in Round 1 kept him from moving up much. But a lovely go over the second course and just 1 time fault moved him up to 10th place. “Honestly every day he got better and better. We ended with a clear round over the biggest fences on the last day with just 1 time fault, and really, he felt fantastic,” Jayne said.
“The first round I went relatively early enough that I only got to see two go, and I opted for the five to the first double, and no one cleared B doing the five. It’s something you would have known going later [in the line-up], but he came back in the second round and felt super,” he continued. “The courses today were meaty. The jumps have been big all week, but they were wider today, and he tightened the time up from Saturday. The lines were coming up quicker, the distances were a little bit more difficult and technical. It was the final day, and you could feel it.”
Katie Dinan got the crowd on their feet when she turned in a clear round over the first course, and she moved up from 20th to 11th in between the rounds. But then two rails in Round 2 put them 15th in the end.
Leslie Howard, who won the World Cup in 1986, was competing in her first Final in 11 years; dhe had to wait for Jane Clark’s Tic Tac to come into her life until she made a return to the event. Tic Tac is 11, and this was the biggest competition he’s done, and it’s clear Howard has other championships in mind for him.
They had two rails in each round today to drop to 16th from 10th.
“He’s never done anything like this, a championship where you have to come back and show at the 1.60-meter level three days in a row,” she said. “In the last round, although he had two rails, I felt like he jumped really well and jumped with a lot of enthusiasm. It was just him not being used to the jumps being so big! It’s a simplistic answer, but it’s the truth. For sure it took its toll.
“It’s a great marker to let you know what you need to do better, and that’s a plus knowing what you need to do better next time. It’s a starting point, and now I know what we need to do more, which is just getting to more championships!” Howard said. “I was thrilled with him all week, and he’s a super horse, and I’m very happy.”
Lucy Davis and Charlie Jacobs rounded out the U.S. effort in 17th and 20th. Davis had 4 faults in Round 1 and then a clean round in Round 2, while Jacobs had rounds with 4 and 13 faults.