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April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: U.S. Gets Lucky In World Cup Final

Katherine Burdsall's win in the 1987 FEI World Cup Final was the last U.S. victory in the class until Rich Fellers' win in 2012. Photo by John Strassburger

As the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Lyon, France gets underway tomorrow, we thought it would be fun to look back at the heyday of U.S. results at the World Cup Final and at another French World Cup Final. The United States dominated the FEI Volvo World Cup Final in the 1980s, taking home the trophy in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987.

 The 1987 edition, won by Katharine Burdsall and The Natural, was held in Paris, France, April 8-12, and was the last American win until Rich Fellers and Flexible broke the 25-year drought in 2012. Beezie Madden followed up with a win in 2013 on Simon. This article about Burdsall’s win ran in the April 24, 1987 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

 For a while it looked as if the screaming, stomping, handkerchief-waving Paris fans would have the victory they so desperately wanted at the ninth FEI Volvo World Cup Final. Their favorite, Phillippe Rozier, had gained the lead by winning the second leg of the April 8-12 event at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy by barely going clean on Malesan Jiva in the first round of the third and final leg.

Rozier’s relief had been obvious when he completed Sunday’s first round and he had only to negotiate 11 more fences before he would become the first Frenchman to win the World Cup Final. The 24-year-old Frenchman had underscored the gravity of the situation on Friday night after his win. “Because it’s home here in Paris, it is very, very important for the French riders and the French public,” he said.

But Katharine Burdsall and The Natural, winners of the first leg and second in the second leg, were not to be denied. They dropped their only rail of the competition in the first round on Sunday by not being quite careful enough at the 11th fence, one of two 5’6” verticals following a triple combination that required an incredible gymnastic effort.

Actually, Burdsall’s mistake put her in a better position. Her faultless trip in the second round left her only 1 fault behind Rozier, who couldn’t afford a mistake. But he blundered at the first element of the triple, and Burdsall became the eighth North American to win the World Cup Final.

The shallow or flat cups and light rails that seemed to be favoring the French horses throughout the show (the courses were designed by Frenchman Phillippe Gayot) proved Rozier’s undoing. “I came in too fast to make the oxers,” said Rozier, and Jiva barely touched the top rail of the vertical with his hind feet.

Burdsall, 28, who led by 3.5 faults when positive points from placings were converted into faults after the second leg, always seemed comfortable with being in front. Her quiet, almost shy demeanor belies the inner strength and confidence she obviously possesses.

“I was afraid The Natural was tired in the first round, but he usually comes back stronger in the second round—and he did,” Burdsall said. “I stood outside the in-gate and the only fence I could see was the one that fell. I was just relieved.

“Now I don’t have to worry about making any more car payments. What a relief,” she added, referring to the new Volvo station wagon that goes with the World Cup.

By placing third with 8 faults, Lisa Lacquin and For The Moment, the hottest pair in the United States for the last six months, proved they are for real. The 12-year-old Thoroughbred had done almost all his winning outdoors and wasn’t generally considered a good indoor horse because of his running and jumping style.

But they were second in the President’s Cup at Washington last fall (behind Burdsall and The Natural) and For The Moment was superb in Paris. The bay gelding might even have won with some luck. Jacquin was the first rider in the ring for the first leg but still led for almost three-quarters of the class. And For The Moment barely touched the 5’8” vertical that was the second element of the in-and-out of Sunday’s first round.

Clearly Gayot’s courses favored small, light horses like The Natural, Jiva and For The Moment. His exacting distance problems, light poles and shallow cups on big fences required careful and gymnastic horses and perfect timing. The only big horse to do well was Ian Millar’s Big Ben, who despite being 18.0 hands had the scope and the gymnastic ability to end up fifth.

Frank Chapot, U.S. chef d’equipe, summed up the results. “We’ve learned that France is much different than most places. A lot of our people weren’t lucky,” he said, referring to the many rails pulled by Katie Monohan Prudent, Rodney Jenkins and Leslie Lenehan. “That’s the way it goes in show jumping. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Said Lenehan, the defending champion who was 20th, on the fact that only three of the 14 Americans were in the top 10 and six didn’t finish the event: “We were lucky (to win) this time.”

April In Paris

Though the level of competition was exceptional, the organization of the Paris Horse Show was rough around the edges. Events didn’t take place when scheduled, there were transportation problems, and communication was difficult for foreigners because few officials spoke anything but French.

However, the biggest mess was the footing. The dirt had been left outside, uncovered, for several days, and the weather in Paris has been more like London this spring. When they put the dirt down in the modernistic POPB’s arena on Wednesday, it was like riding on the mud flats in the south of France. When the foreigners refused to ride, the French dutifully tried. But even they had to admit it was impossible to trot, let alone jump.

The riders refused to jump, canceling Wednesday’s warm-up classes, even when show president Jacinte Giscard d’Estaing told them to jump or go home.

Fortunately, technical delegate Robert Jolicouer came to the rescue, making expensive arrangements to dry out the dirt with lime, sand, shavings and heaters. It worked, and by Thursday night’s first leg the footing was good, if a bit hard.

The footing was the first thing that irked Paul Schockemohle, who as the three-time European Champion is a major draw for European shows. Schockemohle, 42, was the riders’ spokesman, and just when the dirt controversy had died down, his horse Lino cut his lip on a nail in his stall. Because Lino had to be locally anaesthetized to be stitched, Schockemohle assumed he could not compete. But the jury ruled the declaration deadline had passed and therefore he couldn’t change horses.

However, Schockemohle claimed the jury hadn’t made a decision by early Thursday evening, so he caused a commotion before the awards for the preceding class. Then the warm-up ring steward accused him of jumping too high while warming Lino up for the first leg, which wasn’t true.

All this would have nothing more than the usual flaps of a big horse show if the organizers hadn’t issued a press release accusing Schockemohle of, among other things, “violently assaulting” World Cup director Max Ammann, which wasn’t true either. Livid, Schockemohle took over the press conference for the winners of the second leg to tell his story.

On Sunday the organizers issued another statement that said everyone had gotten together and apologized and now wishes “in the overall interest of the sport to put these matters behind them.”

The French Charge

Burdsall and Jacquin quickly emerged as the only two Americans capable of stopping the swelling French tide. The only other American to stay in contention was John McConnell, 28, from Golden, Colo., who ended up eighth. His mount, So Dark, a 10-year-old Thoroughbred, is another light-boned, careful horse to whom the courses were well suited.

This was McConnell’s first World Cup, which he ended with an excellent clean round. His successful debut was in contrast to Burdsall’s and Jacquin’s debuts. Jacquin was 26th in 1984 and 36th in ’85 on a very green For the Moment, while Burdsall was 45th in ’85 on Potluck.

Burdsall, when asked to compare her two World Cup appearances, said, “1985 was a completely different situation. I had a green horse who wasn’t up to it. This time I have a wonderful horse.”

The Natural took the lead after the first leg, a “speed class” in which each knockdown was converted to a five-second penalty. The term “speed class” was a misnomer, though, because the course wasn’t much smaller than Gayot’s subsequent creations—only three of 43 went clean.

Except for Burdsall, Jacquin, and McConnell, it was a less than promising start for the United States. Rodney Jenkins on Playback was 14th with two rails down; Anne Kursinki was 19th on Kino d’Andelu with three down; Katie Monahan Prudent was 22nd on Special Envoy with three down; Beezie Patton and Medrano were 24th with one down but a slow time; and George Lindemann was 28th on Sans Pardon with two down.

Then it got really bad. Lisa Tarnapol on Revlon Adam and Susie Hutchison on Livius each had five rails down; Leslie Lenehan and McLain lost all chance with a stop and five rails; Debbie Dolan and VIP also dropped five; Hap Hansen and Juniperus had two refusals, a fall and a rail; and Olympic champions Touch of Class and Joe Fargis were 40th with three rails, a refusal and a fall.

Meanwhile, the French, having qualified an unprecedented six riders, began to charge in earnest on Friday, a two-round grand prix. They qualified three horses for the six-horse second round, all of which went clean to force a jump-off.

The Natural went first, hanging up a clean round in 35.00 seconds. Then France’s Piquignet La Fayette and Michel Robert pulled a vertical in 36.00. Hugo Simon on his relatively green Windzer also went clean, but in 35.28, and then the fans screamed as Rozier and Jiva, a 12-year-old Anglo-Arab, entered the ring.

Almost unbelievably, the din was even louder when they went clean in 34.66. Countryman Pierre Durand on Jappeloup de Luze, the only previous French pair to have placed in the World Cup, tried to be faster but demolished the in-and-out. That made the class Jacquin’s to win, but For the Moment’s speed didn’t work on the course’s tight distances and two rails fell.

The wave of French nationalism reached its crest on Saturday (an off day for the World Cup horses) when Hubert Bourdy on Milou de Subligny recorded the only clean round in the jump-off to win the Grand Prix PMU, in which Herve Godignon was fourth on Moet & Chandon La Belletiere.

However, Hugo Simon, the only European ever to win the World Cup, had been emerging as another threat to French hopes. The 45-year-old Austrian lost his whole stable in a dispute with his principal owner last fall, but he got Windzer, a 9-year-old Hanoverian, back from a cousin in California during the winter.

Windzer had an unremarkable career in California, but Simon immediately started placing in European World Cup qualifiers, including winning at Dortmund (West Germany) in March.

Simon had a theory on why Windzer had bloomed under him. “I think because he is a European horse he wanted to be jumped by a European rider,” he said.

He also took great pains to explain how inexperienced Windzer was, but that he had done his best to prepare the gray gelding for the Cup. Exactly what did that mean? “This is the first show where I have tried to win with him,” he said with a smile.

But the 1979 champion was not to repeat. Showing signs of fatigue, Windzer found Sunday’s first round too much. He pulled the second fence, an oxer, with his hind legs, the first two elements of the testing triple combination, and the 11th vertical that The Natural had down.

The 16 faults knocked Windzer out of it, but Simon, a small man with a smiling face and an obvious air of professionalism, used all of his considerable talents to get Windzer around clean in the second round and finish ninth. It was the eight time Simon has been in the top 10 in the Final, and unmatched record of consistency.

Simon had barely qualified for the final in the European League, unlike Burdsall and Jacquin, who won the USA-East and USA-West leagues. Burdsall has had a remarkable year since owner Paul Greenwood bought The Natural for the celebrated priced of $1 million in late 1985. They were on the gold-medal team at the World Championships last summer and won the World Cup qualifiers at Southampton, Devon and Washington.

However, Burdsall had had a rocky spring with The Natural. Not wanting to wear him out, she didn’t start showing him until the first Tampa, Fla., show in March. He had 4 faults in the first round of the grand prix, then was cut short when he got new shoes. Due to missed schooling, The Natural went poorly in the $50,000 grand prix a week later and didn’t qualify for the Michelob American Invitational on March 28.

He arrived in Paris almost a week before the final and couldn’t jump because of the footing. “I was a little tentative when I got here. You try to be as positive as you be, but…” said Burdsall. “I have a lot of faith in his at big competitions. He seems to know when it counts.”

Jacquin, too, has a lot of reason to have faith in For the Moment. They had won three grand prix events this spring while The Natural was idling, including the Invitational. But how he would perform indoors was still a question. It isn’t any longer.

And, unlike The Natural, For the Moment was one of the best bargains in jumping. Jacquin got him while working for Leslie Lenehan five years ago. He belonged to an employee of Lenehan’s, who badly wanted to by him herself but couldn’t afford him at the time. Still Lenehan said it took a month to convince Jacquin to buy him for $20,000.

Lenehan was amazingly philosophical about not repeating as champion, mostly because she hadn’t ridden McLain since The President’s Cup in October. Owner Debbie Dolan had been showing McLain again so she wouldn’t have to rely on the temperamental mare Siriska.

McLain grabbed himself during his rough round in the first leg, so Lenehan rode Siriska in the second leg. But by Sunday’s third leg, McLain and Lenehan were getting together, recording only 4 faults in the first round. But he tired in the second and had 16 faults.

“I told people before it started I didn’t think I’d do much. Like any athlete, if you don’t program them, they don’t do well,” said Lenehan. “But I was honestly very pleased with him. When I came out of the ring (after the second round) I gave him a big hug even though he had four rails because he was really trying.”

Follow along with how the U.S. riders at this year's Longines FEI World Cup Final are doing—the Chronicle's Kat Netzler and Molly Sorge are in Lyon, France to bring you all the news, photos and stories you need! Check back at www.chronofhorse.com April 18-21.

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