Lexington, Ky., Oct. 4
George Morris held a U.S. team meeting yesterday, and in it, he advised his riders to walk the speed leg course Conrad Homfeld set for today, consider their horses, and make a plan to win.
That they did. Mario Deslauriers and McLain Ward followed the instructions perfectly, as they claimed first and second in the speed leg, putting the U.S. team into first for the day. Deslauriers went at just about the halfway point of the class, and set the standard with a blazingly fast round on Urico, putting a time of 71.25 seconds on the scoreboard. It was a mark no one could match.
“After I watched 30 horses or so, I had my plan. I know my horse is very quick. He’s quite deceptive; when you see him go, he doesn’t look so fast. But to catch him, you have to go fast!” Deslauriers said.
“Urico’s a good galloper, I took not so many chances, but I used his rhythm well. A great speed round is when everything works out smoothly and in the rhythm. I was lucky enough it happened today so I’m very happy about that.”
Ward went about as fast as he could on Sapphire as one of the last ones to go today, but came up just half a second short. Ward joked as he came out the in-gate, telling Deslauriers, “I was thinking on my way to the last jump that I’d slow down and let you win,” Ward said.
But in the press conference, he was a bit more reflective. “I was trying very hard to win,” he said. “But Mario’s horse is fast, and Mario’s a fast rider.
“Sapphire has a very big stride and a lot of experience. She’s very predictable, so I was able to have a real plan. I left strides out in a lot of places. But that black double [at 10AB] was quite spooky all day, and it felt like Sapphire overjumped it a bit, so I went wide to the oxer after that to give her some time to settle.”
“At the wall he cut hard right, which he does, so he took me to a dead distance at the water [and we had a foot in it],” Hough said. “Then he was going quite well, and I really felt the last one was cheap, honestly. He went so high then he just barely cut down on it. Certainly one down would have been a better score, but I think I’m fast enough hopefully they won’t have to count on my score today.” She’s in 41st with Quick Study.
Kraut was also quick, but also had two rails. She’s in 49th with Cedric. “It’s a bit disappointing. I started my warm-up and about four carriages came by at once and that completely undid him,” Kraut said.
“One of the main qualities I love about him is he’s like a Thoroughbred, but the bad quality about him is once he’s lit up, he’s hard to settle back down. The mistake at fence 3 was odd—normally he would never jump into a fence like that. I’ve jumped about 50 rounds where he never would have had that. But his brain was gone. Basically I was trying to do damage control the whole way around.”
Pablo Was The Fastest
Pablo Barrios, a Venezuelan rider who’s based in Wellington, Fla., and therefore very familiar to U.S. fans, is sitting in fourth after the speed leg. He had the fastest time of the day, but he pulled a rail and the 4 seconds added dropped him to fourth with G&G Lagran. “For me, this [speed leg] is the class for the horse, going fast. He’s been doing well in the grand prix, but he’s always been a speed horse. He’s very fast, and when we have one down, he’s always the faster four-faulter. I was very confident,” Barrios said.
“I don’t know what happened at Fence 5. When you walk the course you know which fences you can have down, but that wasn’t in my count. I think he jumped a little over his shoulders. He does that more on the right lead than on the left. And I may take a little better care of that lead. This is my third championship, but the first time we’ve come with a team. This is exciting!”
Who Was That?
If anyone stole Deslauriers and Ward’s thunder today, it was Hungarian rider Sandor Szasz. Most of the fans watching in the stadium had never heard of Szasz, but they’ll go home remembering his sheer joy at placing third today. Going 45th in the order, Szasz flew around the course on Moosbachhof’s Goldwing, a compact and feisty dark bay stallion who flattens his ears and gallops with verve.
Szasz stopped the timers clean in 73.24 seconds, and started patting and congratulating his horse, who is by Ludger Beerbaum’s former Olympic horse, Goldfever. Szasz competes mostly in Germamy, but at smaller shows, and has never jumped courses of this size and caliber before.
“The beginning of the course was very technical, so I didn’t go so fast, but my horse has a lot of speed, so by the end of the course, we felt very comfortable and were able to go quite fast,” Szasz said.
The German team is in second, and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum was their best score today—she’s in seventh with Checkmate. She chose to bring Checkmate rather than three-time World Cup champion Shutterfly because at the 2006 WEG, Shutterfly didn’t handle the change of riders in the individual final very well.
“I must say, I don’t feel like I took a crazy risk today,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “I rode the tempo I know with Checkmate. It was an ideal round. I was a couple seconds behind the leader, which means he was really on it today. If I can keep steady results and the horse going steady I know I’ll be right there at the end. He’s a funny character, he’s a playful horse, and I think he’s lots of fun.”
Canada didn’t have a great day. They’re in fifth. Eric Lamaze and Hickstead, the reigning Olympic individual gold medalists, were their best score, in eight with a fast time but a rail. Lamaze is still visibly limping from the broken foot he suffered this summer. “I feel the foot, but it didn’t bother me at all doing it,” he said. “I feel it more walking than before I went. Even when it’s good it’s not perfect. I just have to concentrate a little on leaning more on one side than the other.”
But he said the superstar Hickstead feels great. “Someday you have a little rub and they stay up, and today they fell down. He felt very good warming up. He likes the stadium, likes the footing. He had one rub, so it came down. They all have rubs,” he said.
Tomorrow is Round 1 of the Nations Cup. All the riders who jumped today go again, and then the second round of the Nations Cup is on Wednesday evening. It will decide the team medals. Each rider was assigned a point value according to their placing in the speed leg. The totals of those points are assigned to each team, and then faults from the Nations Cup are added to them.
The U.S. team is currently in first, with 5.69 faults. Germany is in second, with 9.80 faults, and France is third with 11.32 faults. The battle is far from over, as there’s plenty of jumping left to be done.
Catch up on this morning's competition—including more about Lauren Hough's ride.