April 26—Gothenburg, Sweden
Ever since winning the individual gold medal at the London Olympic Games,  Steve Guerdat has had one thing on his mind: topping the Rolex FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final .
And by winning today’s second leg of the championship, he’s getting closer to that goal. He and Nino de Buissonnets finished on top for Switzerland after a 15-horse jump off, but he still has more ground to make up to win the competition. A double clear for Luciana Diniz put that Portuguese rider in third for the day, and on the top of the championship standings. Beezie Madden’s second in those rankings after ticking a single rail in the jump-off on Simon, and France’s Kevin Staut is right behind her in third.
Guerdat, who rides for Switzerland and was second at the World Cup last year , didn’t have the best preparation this time around. He decided to rest the notoriously quirky Selles Français (Kannan—Hermine du Prelet, Narcos), campaigning the less seasoned Nasa in the World Cup qualifiers. But his plan nearly fell apart. He barely qualified for the Final, finishing 18th (the last qualifying placing) in the Western European League. On top of that, Nino revived an alarming habit.
“I saved [Nino] a little too much, just playing around in small classes in Bordeaux [France], 's-Hertogenbosch [the Netherlands],” he said. “We did a little show in Lanaken [Belgium], and unfortunately he showed his strong character. He wasn’t listening at all. He started stopping again, and there was panic in the house.”
Guerdat quickly arranged to show him at the Saut Hermes Paris [France] two weeks ago, which didn’t go well. Guerdat started riding him twice a day to gain more confidence, and the horse started to improve.
“He wasn’t quite perfect yesterday, but today he jumped really good. Unfortunately it may be just one day too late,” he admitted.
Guerdat snagged his win with an impossibly fast jump-off. He nailed an inside turn, and most who attempted it lost steam. Marc Houtzager came closest on Sterrehof’s Tamino, still finishing 2.5 seconds slower than Guerdat.
“My feeling was he was flying, and my horse was fast too!” said Houtzager, who rides for the Netherlands. "In the end, it’s OK with me!”
U.S. Riders In The Hunt
Madden said she was “kicking herself” after her jump-off round. She went for a Hail Mary distance to the last fence, and Simon caught the back rail behind. “The horse was fantastic, and I’m still in a good spot,” she said.
Madden lay first in the standings heading into today’s course , but her ninth place in the second leg dropped her to second overall. Just 1 point separates her from Diniz, who took over the overall lead. “I’m in a good spot,” Madden said. “In some ways it might be better than being first. I can try and catch up and be on the real offense. It’s going to be pressure, but hopefully I can handle it.”
Fellow U.S. rider McLain Ward was the fastest 4-faulter today for eighth, and he would have been second had Super Trooper de Ness not pulled a front rail in the jump-off. He’s in a three-way tie for sixth, just 5 points off the lead, heading into the final day of competition.
Ward brought both Super Trooper de Ness, a greener mount, and Antares F to Sweden for the World Cup Final, but he's used Super Trooper for the first two legs. “My game plan when I came in, with whatever horse I used, was to do the best I could each day and be where I am in the end,” said Ward, Brewster, N.Y. “It’s not like the years where I had experience of knowing Sapphire so well and saying 'This is how we’re going to do it.' ”
Reed Kessler  and Cylana are also in the hunt, finishing 12th today with a rail in the jump-off to move up to overall 10th. “Today’s course was not a lot of options in terms of numbers; it was just about being very careful,” she said. “Yesterday showed me how far the warm-up was from the ring. Today I had much more time. That rail yesterday was my mistake.”
The rest of the U.S. contingent didn’t have a strong day.
Charlie Jayne (Chill R Z) and Kent Farrington (Uceko) picked up a pair of rails apiece to drop to 18th and 23th overall respectively, and Katie Dinan’s three rails on Nougat du Vallet dropped that pair to overall 22nd.
Karl Cook was contemplative of his two rails on Jonkeer Z that dropped him to 25th in the standings. “For us it’s a tough time, because he’s a really big slow horse, and we’re in a very small ring with short distances,” he said. “You could see yesterday he’s not the most keen on turning. You have to be much more precise about how the ride goes because you don’t have room for error.”
Christine McCrea and Romantovich Take One had three rails to fall to 28th, and last year’s winners , Rich Fellers and Flexible, ticked a single rail to sit 29th, tied with Lucy Davis and Nemo 119. Ashlee Bond and Wistful had two down to sit 33rd.
The World Cup horses will enjoy a day off tomorrow as the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup campaigners vie for the title in the freestyle. On Sunday, show jumping will take over again, with two final rounds of competition.
-Marc Houtzager’s mount, Sterrehof’s Tamino, has a distinctive white scar on his neck,  the result of a too-tight cribbing strap as a young horse.
-Latvian Kristaps Neretnieks leapfrogged from 37th up to a three-way tie for 20th after a double-clear go today aboard Conte Bellini.
-The Gothenburg Horse Show had a sold out crowd today, with 12,000 spectators in attendance.
Check the official website for today’s results  and overall standings . For more from Gothenburg, check out all of the Chronicle's coverage of the World Cup show jumping , Reed Kessler’s blog  for the Chronicle and the Chronicle’s coverage of the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup Final . And don’t forget about the Chronicle’s coverage of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.