The first leg of the Longines FEI World Cup Final looks to be an exciting one, as U.S. riders fared quite well in the draw for order of go.
Since the first class of the three-phase competition is a speed class, it’s to a rider’s advantage to go toward the end of the order and see just how fast they have to go to do well. McLain Ward drew the 40th spot and will be last to go with HH Carlos. He’ll know just what he has to do, as will Kent Farrington, who goes just before him in 39th with Blue Angel. Farrington was on a winning streak at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), so it’ll be exciting to see what he does here in Lyon, France.
Before those two go, they’ll have in mind what time British phenom Scott Brash on Ursula XII has posted, since he goes in the 38th spot. The defending U.S. World Cup Final title-holder, Beezie Madden, drew 31st in the order, so she’ll know just how much to risk with Simon.
“Simon did three weeks at WEF, including the Nations Cup, and he was placed every time. I’ve been concentrating on keeping him fresh and keeping him in the groove,” Madden said. “He’s the right kind of horse for this kind of competition. He has a lot of blood—my main challenge will be keeping him controlled after the speed leg; he’s a naturally fast horse anyway. His strength is that he is so consistent.”
And what about the pressure as defending champion? “There is a little more pressure returning as title-holder, but it is such an honor to have won the title in the first place, and if I can keep it for another year it would be fantastic! It’s always great to compete for your country, and I will be happy if any of the U.S. riders win!”
Saer Coulter has a great spot in the order—36th with Springtime. Katie Dinan drew the 23rd spot with Nougat du Vallet, while 1986 World Cup Final winner Leslie Howard is back with Tic Tac and goes 25th in the order.
Ashlee Bond Clarke—hot off her AIG $1 Million Grand Prix (Calif.) win with Chela LS—jumps in the 18th spot in the order with that chestnut mare, just after hometown French favorite Kevin Staut aboard Silvana, who has added incentive to win in front of his home crowd. Jenni Martin-McAllister, competing in her first World Cup Final, jumps 12th on Casseur de Prix, while Lucy Davis goes 10th on her Barron and Charlie Jayne drew 13th on Chill R Z. The first of the U.S. riders to jump is another World Cup Final first-timer, Charlie Jacobs on Flaming Star—he goes fourth.
The U.S. riders have their work cut out for them, as there are some top riders and horses with World Cup Final fever. The 2012 Olympic individual gold medalists, Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets, are here (they were also second in the 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final in 's-Hertogenbosch [the Netherlands]). They go 20th in the order of the speed leg. Three-time World Cup Final winner Marcus Ehning has brought Cornado NRW (a son of Cornet Obolensky) to Lyon and goes 34th.
German legend Ludger Beerbaum is on the list with Chaman, and they won the warm-up competition in Lyon. The 2011 Rolex FEI World Cup Final winner, Christian Ahlmann, brought Aragon Z to Lyon for a bid at another title.
All eyes will also be on Qatar’s Hamad Ali Mohamed A Al Attiya, at 18 years of age the youngest competior at the 2014 Final. Al Attiya will ride Ultimo in the speed leg, but for the other two days of competition, he’ll swing a leg over Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s former ride Bella Donna.
He has been training with former Swiss star Markus Fuchs since last summer and pointed out that “until last year I was jumping up to 1.40-meter in amateur classes, but I wanted to be on top so we got Bella Donna four or five months ago. It took some time for us to get used to one another, but now I’m really starting to get to know her better—she is amazing, and I think we are a perfect match! She jumps 1.60-meter like it is 1.30-meter!” he said.
Want to watch it all? Check out FEI TV. Note: it's not free, there's a subscription fee. But remember, you might want to watch the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games later this year, too!
How Does The World Cup Scoring Work?
The riders compete in the first leg, a speed class run over a 1.50-meter course. The World Cup Final rules read: “It is not intended that this course should have the character of a Table C "Speed and Handiness,” but rather a type Table A course with bigger fences. The sole purpose for using Table C scoring is to give a skilful athlete with an unlucky knockdown an opportunity to obtain a reasonable placing.”
Many riders have won the Final without winning the speed leg, but if they’re well down the rankings in the speed leg, it’s hard to battle back up to the top. Riders aim for a top-five placing in the first leg if they’re eager to win.
The second leg, which will be on April 19, is a Table A jump-off class set at 1.50 to 1.60 meters. It’s run like a typical grand prix, with all the riders jumping clear over the first round returning for the jump-off.
After the first two legs of competition, the scoring gets interesting. The riders are assigned points depending on their placings in each class. For each leg, the winner gets 1 more point than the number of starters in that leg. Second place gets 2 points less than that, and each placing down the line gets 1 less.
The scoring system then gets creative, with the points being converted to faults. The scoring adds up the points for each rider from Rounds 1 and 2, and the rider with the highest points is assigned 0 faults. For all other riders the number of penalties will be assigned by giving them half the difference of their World Cup points and that of the leading rider. So, if the leading rider had 64 points and Beezie Madden has 42, the leading rider will have 0 faults going into the final day, while Madden would have 11 faults.
After a rest day, the riders and horses return for the final day, in which they jump two rounds. These rounds are over 1.50 to 1.60-meter courses, and “approximately equal in the number of obstacles and length of the course, with the second round having an increased level of difficulty,” according to the FEI rules.
Any faults in these two rounds are added to the rider’s total, and the rider with the least amount of faults at the end of the day wins! In rare instances, there have been ties for first place, which are broken with a jump-off. Rich Fellers’ historic 2012 Rolex FEI World Cup Final win with Flexible ended in a jump-off against Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets. Ties further down the placing remain as ties.
Follow all the Longines FEI World Cup Final action with the Chronicle's Kat Netzler and Molly Sorge. We'll also be reporting on the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup Final.