Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

This Could Be The Year For A U.S. Rider To Win The Rolex FEI World Cup Final Again

John Madden evaluates the field.



John Madden evaluates the field.

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My biggest prediction is that this could possibly be the last FEI World Cup Finals held in Las Vegas, Nev., for the foreseeable future. Las Vegas has been hit hard by the economic downturn, so it would be great if people could go out and really support the competition this year. I hope ticket sales are great this year and that I can be proven wrong.

Regardless of what I say about any of these riders, they’re all top class and the best in the world. It’s hard to qualify for a World Cup Final and they’ve all excelled to acheive that.

In my opinion, the only U.S. rider right now who’s due for a really big win is McLain Ward. It doesn’t mean that Todd Minikus or Kent Farrington or Christine McCrea or someone else couldn’t win it, but logic would say he’s ready for it.

Those top four from the East Coast League are really our most solid ones, and I think any one of those riders could go in with the expectation of being in the top 10 without being unrealistic at all. That bodes really well for us. The difficulty of it is that I just named four Americans in the top 10, and there are only six more spots for the rest of the world, so obviously, they’re not all going to be in the top 10. That’s what makes the sport interesting.

In addition to what Rich Fellers did by placing second in the Final at Gothenburg, Sweden, last year, I think this could be a real positive West Coast entry this year. It’s an exciting thing for the West Coast and the United States.

Even our young riders, like Hillary Dobbs, have some good international experience. It’s not a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears kids going into it this year. I see this as a year when one of these outsiders is going to cash in their chips and do a little better than we anticipate. Some are going to do as well as they expect—some are going to do worse. But we’re going in with all people and horses who belong there. I think it’s a year we’ll be in the thick of it.

The World Cup Final is something special. For individual medals, the Olympic Games and the World Championships both come down to one day of jumping. But at the World Cup Final, there are three days of jumping that all count heavily. The rider who wins it has accomplished a feat of not only momentary brilliance, but also true consistency.

It’s a real rollercoaster for the riders. You knock one down and all of a sudden you’ve dropped in the standings quite a bit. You think to yourself, “How am I going to catch up? Now I really have to jump clear rounds and try and get back in the thick of it.” You have to remind yourself that it’s just as hard for everyone else to jump clean rounds. The standings can change very quickly—it’s a dynamic competition.

The scoring for the World Cup Final is complicated, and it’s easy to get intimidated by it. But I think it works really well. In each of the first two legs, riders get assigned a certain number of points based on their placings in Leg 1 and Leg 2. Before Leg 3, the points are converted to penalties—the rider with the highest cumulative points over legs 1 and 2 starts on a score of 0. Penalty points for the rest of the field are calculated depending on the difference between their point total and that of the leader. Over the two rounds of Leg 3, any rails or time faults are added to those penalty points.

There’s a fierce battle in the first two legs, and those results put you in striking distance of the top. But in the two rounds of the third leg, rails are really costly. It’s hard to jump two clear rounds over those two difficult courses. It’s really easy to pick up 12 faults over two rounds, and that can drop you from first to 15th in a heartbeat.

It’s complicated math getting to Day 3, but from then on it’s really easy to follow. A rail adds 4 to a rider’s score. Even if you don’t really understand the first few days’ scoring, it’s pretty simple by Day 3.

Each rider will have his or her own goals for the week in Las Vegas. There are only a couple who can have realistic expectations of winning, so why does everyone go? A lot go looking for a personal best. A younger rider or a rider on a younger horse will go looking for experience. Everyone has to do their first championship and get it out of the way, and it’s a huge learning experience for both a rider and a horse.

Sometimes a rider just wants to stay in the thick of things and be in the mix. And there’s quite a bit of prize money in each of the legs, so there are opportunities to make the trip worth your while even if you don’t win in the end. Everybody has his own goal.

John Madden, as told to Molly Sorge

As of press time, three leagues had not completed their qualifications—U.S. East Coast, U.S. West Coast and Canada—so some changes may occur.


1. McLAIN WARD: age 33, Brewster, N.Y.
SAPPHIRE: ch. m., 14, Belgian Warmblood by Darco—Idjaz, Hedjaz, owned by Blue Chip Bloodstock & McLain Ward.

With two Olympic team gold medals and a World Equestrian Games team silver to their credit, a big individual title is the only thing missing from Sapphire’s resume with Ward. The big chestnut mare came out incredibly strong at the beginning of 2009 in Wellington, Fla., winning the $150,000 CN Open Grand Prix on March 1, the $200,000 CN World Cup Grand Prix CSI-W on March 7 and the $400,000 FTI Finale Grand Prix on March 21. Sapphire also won the $100,000 Gerald R. Ford CSI-W at the Washington International Horse Show (D.C.) last fall.

How Riders Get To The Final

World Cup-qualifying classes (CSI-Ws) are held at designated shows throughout the world. Geographical areas are divided into various leagues, such as Western Europe, U.S. East Coast, U.S. West Coast, Canada, South America, South Africa, etc. Riders earn points for placing in those classes, and at the conclusion of the qualifying period, the top-ranked riders from each league qualify for the Final. The number of participants who qualify for the Final from each league is dependent on that league’s performance in past Finals.

For instance, the Western European League qualifies 18 riders, the U.S. East Coast seven, and the U.S. West Coast three. Various other leagues will be represented by between one and three riders. The United States was granted two wild card spaces, as host country. The following riders are listed in the respective leagues in which they are qualified, in the order of their placings in the league.

McLain has a really good chance to win this year. He and Sapphire have won three major grand prix classes in Florida, and Sapphire has never looked so good—she’s jumping unbelievably. He’ll manage her well and have her ready for Las Vegas. I think McLain is really gunning for this event. He’s done well in the World Cup Finals before, but now all the pieces are in place. His biggest disadvantage is that he doesn’t have the practice indoors that the Europeans have, but this is the first time in a long time that I think that’s turning into a non-issue for him, because of his experience and the horse’s experience. He has the perfect storm brewing and this is his big chance to win. I think he has a really good chance to do it. He’s not only prepared well and his horse is going great, but it’s kind of his time. He’s due a big one.

2. KENT FARRINGTON: age 28, Fairfield, Conn.
UP CHIQUI: ch. g., 12, Belgian Warmblood by Quidam de Revel—Quendelien Vogelzang, Chin-Chin, owned by Boone, Dobbs & Farrington.

Up Chiqui made his World Cup Final debut last year in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he and Farrington tied for eighth. One of the winningest horses in the country, the diminutive chestnut won the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W, the $60,000 Holiday & Horses CSI-W (Fla.), and the $50,000 Hagyard Equine Medical Institute CSI-W (Ky.) as well as placing third in the $100,000 Green Cove Springs CSI-W (Fla.) for World Cup points.

Kent and Up Chiqui haven’t been on perfect form so far this season, but a lot of times adversity is a good thing. Kent’s a pretty confident guy, so rattling that a little bit might make him reevaluate things a little bit. I think that he’ll be working a little harder. I’ve always thought Up Chiqui could be a real contender at a World Cup Final, and it’s a good time for the horse and for Kent. I don’t look at him as being as much of a favorite as McLain, but he could win the whole thing if he has a good week. They’d have to be on perfect form to do that well, so rattling him up a bit might sharpen him up so they can be a real contender. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the whole thing, but I would be surprised if he was out of the top 10.

3. TODD MINIKUS: age 43, Loxahatchee, Fla.
PAVAROTTI: ch. g., 12, Dutch Warmblood by Lancelot—Kiaralda, Renville, owned by Todd Minikus Ltd.

Pavarotti and Minikus were second at the $75,00 Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W and the $100,000 Budweiser World Cup of Syracuse CSI-W (N.Y.) and third at the $100,000 Gerald R. Ford CSI-W (D.C.).

Todd has been having a great circuit in Florida—things are going his way. Pavarotti is a little bit quirky, but I think Todd knows those quirks very well. I think he’s got a solid shot at doing well. Todd is the kind of guy who can pull it off. If he gets through the beginning and is in good position, I think he could have a good week. Going in and going well the first day is tough with a quirky horse, but Todd is about as good a rider as there is in the speed round. He’s got to start off well and not make any mistakes. And that’s really hard. I don’t see him coming from behind as the courses get bigger and more difficult. I see him getting a good start and hanging on to it.

4. CHRISTINE McCREA: age 31, East Windsor, Conn.
VEGAS: b. s., 15, Dutch Warmblood by Voltaire—Dulisinax, owned by Windsor Show Stables & Candy Tribble.

McCrea competed in her first World Cup Final in 2007 in Las Vegas, where she placed 24th on Promised Land. With the aptly named Vegas, McCrea won the $100,000 Budweiser World Cup of Syracuse CSI-W and was fifth in both the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W and the $95,080 CN CSI-W (Ont.).

Chrissie has become really steady over the last couple of years. She could be a contender. It’s hard to pick her as a favorite to win it because she doesn’t have the same seasoning and mileage that the top few favorites do. She has the ability, and if she has a great week, it could happen for her. Sometimes Vegas can be a little bit irregular, but the beauty of this sport is getting the horses on form at the right time. Horses like Vegas, Pavarotti and Up Chiqui aren’t peaking too early. It’s all about seeing what will happen when you turn the screws. I would say that they’ve all put themselves into launching position at least.

5. DARRAGH KERINS (IRE): age 34, Ridgefield, Conn.
NIGHT TRAIN: ch. g., 10, Zangersheide by S. Calvaro Z—Hermione Rouge, Papillon Rouge, owned by Double H Farm.

Kerins and Night Train placed third in both the $200,000 WEF 9 CSI-W (Fla.) and the $60,000 Holiday & Horses CSI-W (Fla.) to put the Irish rider solidly in the middle of the U.S. East Coast standings and headed for Kerins’ first World Cup Final.

Night Train keeps surprising me with what he can do, but I’d be real surprised if he can put a whole major championship week together. He has some limitations, especially in the combinations, but he’s a really hard trier, and Darragh’s a very aggressive rider who gets the job done. The problem for this combination is that when you have a three-day competition, the course designer gets to ask all the tests. Darragh is really great at helping that horse answer most of the tests, but over three rounds, when the course designer really gets to be able to challenge every aspect of jumping, I think the limitations of this horse might come out. A lot will depend on how and when the course designer asks those tests. If the tests that are particularly hard for this horse come up early, it could be a long week for Darragh. But if they come later, when this pair is going well, it could be a different story.

6T. HILLARY DOBBS: age 21, Sussex, N.J.
QUINCY B: b. g., 13, Holsteiner by Quidam de Revel—Zera, Lagos, owned by Hillary Dobbs & The Dobbs Group.

Dobbs scored a big win in the $50,000 Hampton Classic CSI-W (N.Y.) on Corlett, then rode Quincy B to third at the $150,000 WEF 5 CSI-W (Fla.) and sixth at the $100,000 Wachovia Securities American Gold Cup (Ohio). This will be her first World Cup Final.

Last year, Hillary had an unbelievable winter circuit and a great rest of the year. She’s shown us that she can win in any company. It looks to me like she’s still doing well, but reality has set in just a little bit.  I think that the hardest thing for her now is that she’s not on that high—she’s on that potholed road with ups and downs. She’s starting the long, uphill climb of going from an upstart success to getting the consistency and solid foundation that someone needs to be a real steady competitor. I think she’s doing excellently for her age and experience, but I would predict that this World Cup Final will be more of a part of her education and another step toward a really successful career. That’s not to say she couldn’t do some good things—she could come out and win the first leg. But I’d say she’d finish mid-pack.

age 45, Cazenovia, N.Y.
DANNY BOY: b. g., 9, Belgian Warmblood by Clinton—Solitaire van het Costersveld, Alexis Z, owned by Abigail Wexner.

Madden, the 2008 individual Olympic bronze medalist on the veteran Authentic, will be using the World Cup Final to introduce a new mount to the international scene. She and Onlight placed second at the $50,000 Hagyard Equine Medical Institute CSI-W (Ky.) and sixth at the $100,000 Green Cove Springs CSI-W (Fla.) to qualify. Danny Boy was seventh in the $150,000 WEF 5 CSI-W (Fla.) and ninth in the $75,000 WEF 7 Grand Prix (Fla.).

Danny Boy is only 9 and this is his first real year in grand prix classes. He’s a really nice horse, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience indoors or mileage in really big classes. He’s been fantastic in Florida. Beezie made a conscious decision not to bring Authentic or Judgement out early this year—she’s juicing their batteries up. A big reason she did that was to challenge herself. If you’ve got horses like that on standby, you tend to fall back on them. So, she put those two horses out of reach so that she could focus on the younger horses, and they’ve really risen to the occasion very well. I think she’s looking at the World Cup Final just like she did at the Florida circuit—as a time when she’ll have to ask the questions of the newer string. Danny Boy will be asked some hard questions, and your prediction is as good as mine as to how he’ll answer.

8. LAUREN HOUGH: age 32, Wellington, Fla.
QUICK STUDY: b. g., 10, Selle Français by Quick Star—Sirene de Plantro, What A Joy, owned by Laurie Davies & Meredith Mateo.

Hough is a World Cup Final veteran, having placed 15th in 2008 on Quick Study and competed in the 2007, ’05 and ’02 Finals. Quick Study was second in the $95,080 CN CSI-W at the Royal Winter Fair (Ont.) and sixth in the $150,000 WEF 5 CSI-W (Fla.).

If you want to talk about hot riders, talk about Lauren. She hasn’t been able to do anything wrong in Florida this year. She’s a really good rider, and I’d say she’s the dark horse favorite from the U.S. contingent. If you look at things career-wise, she’s due for a big win. She’s not a kid anymore; she’s a veteran of these things. Quick Study is a very good horse who’s just coming of age. On paper, if you were just to look at her results, you’d say she’d be a fair contender, but based on the roll she’s been on, things could just go her way that week and she could do very well.

9T. MICHELLE SPADONE: age 25, Califon, N.J.
MELISIMO: b. m., 15, Belgian Warmblood by Achill-Libero H—Hertogin, Jasper 33, owned by Morgan Hill Partners.

Spadone made the break into international ranks by helping the U.S. team win the Nations Cup at the Buenos Aries CSIO (Argentina) last fall. With Melisimo, she placed second in the $150,000 WEF 5 CSI-W (Fla.), fourth in the $100,000 Green Cove Springs CSI-W (Fla.) and sixth at the $50,000 Hagyard Equine Medical Institute CSI-W (Ky.). This will be her World Cup Final debut.

Michelle has been an underappreciated rider for her talent and ability. She has a great relationship with Melisimo, and the horse can jump anything. I think she and her horse are going to be short on experience, but I think she’ll be able to leave the World Cup Final with some great moments. I doubt she’ll be at the top of the heap at the end, but I can see her having rounds that she can really build on. I don’t see her floundering around at all. I have a feeling little problems are going to keep her out of the top, not big ones.

9T. BRIANNE GOUTAL: age 20, New York City, N.Y.
RALVESTHER: b. m., 11, Dutch Warmbood by Calvaro Z—Esther, Zevenster, owned by Cloverleaf Farm.

Goutal rode Onira to 21st in the 2008 FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, her first Final. Onira also put her World Cup points on the board, by placing second in the $50,000 Hampton Classic CSI-W (N.Y.), sixth in the $100,000 Gerald R. Ford CSI-W (D.C.) and eighth in the $100,000 Budweiser World Cup of Syracuse CSI-W (N.Y.).


Brianne is a young rider, but she’s growing up quick. She doesn’t have her best horse, Onira, this spring so I think she’s done a great job to get qualified to get there. She has to realize that a lot of your career is treading water. She’s doing a good job of treading water with this horse. He’s not a contender to be near the front in the World Cup Final, but just getting there and being in the mix is what you have to do sometimes. A lot of times, you don’t win the thing, but you get there and do well enough to keep plugging away. You just have to keep yourself in a position so that when you can really strike, you’re ready for it. This is an important step in her career—she’s making the transition to learning this and accepting it and doing it. What’s noteworthy is that she’s done it this year without her best horse. That’s a big thing and it’s a good thing for us to see as Americans, that we have a young rider being able to function that way. We’ve seen a lot of one-shot wonders, and this is making the effort to go further.


age 24, Hidden Hills, Calif.
CADETT 7: ch. g., 12, Holsteiner by Cor de la Bryere—Ginella I, Capitol I, owned by Little Valley Farms.

Bond made a big splash in early 2009, winning back-to-back CSI-W classes at the HITS Thermal Desert Circuit (Calif.)—the $50,000 Desert Circuit VI CSI-W and the $50,000 Desert Circuit IV CSI-W. Those wins, combined with a fifth place at the $50,000 Purina Mills CSI-W (Calif.) and the $50,000 Oaks Blenheim Fall CSI-W (Calif.), put her atop the West Coast league standings and packing her bags for her first World Cup Final.

Ashlee is really coming up and doing well—she’s an aggressive and talented rider. But at a championship, there’s too much potential for little mistakes here and there to really hurt you. While she has all the tools, I don’t think she has the mileage to come through all the way. She and her horse are capable of what’s going to be asked of them, so I think she should be looking at this as a week where she just does the best she can and learns.

2. HARLEY BROWN (AUS): age 45, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
CASSIATO: gr. g., 11, Holsteiner by Concerto II—Calinkas, Landgraf I, owned by the Oak Park Group LLC.

Brown, an Aussie based in California, rode Cassiato to win the $75,000 Anderson Family Grand Prix CSI-W (Calif.) and was second in the $50,000 Desert Circuit IV CSI-W (Calif.), third in the $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix CSI-W, the $50,000 L.A. International Grand Prix CSI-W (Calif.) and the $50,000 L.A. National Grand Prix CSI-W.

Cassiato is a quality horse and Harley is a good rider. They’ve done well on the West Coast, but they are short on high-level international experience. They should have a good week, but they probably don’t have the finishing touches that come with experience at the top international level.

3T. RICHARD SPOONER: age 38, Agua Dulce, Calif.
CRISTALLO: b. g., 11, Holsteiner by Caretino—Cambrina, Cicero, owned by Show Jumping Syndication Int’l.
ACE: b. s., 11, Holsteiner by Acobat II—Umina, Fernando, owned by S&C LLC Corp.

Spooner is a veteran of seven World Cup Finals, with his best finish being 12th in Milan (Italy) in 2004 aboard Hilton Flight. Cristallo is Spooner’s most seasoned mount, having finished sixth in the $1,323,342 Global Champions Tour Final (Brazil). Ace has developed into quite a contender for Spooner, finishing second in the $50,000 Strongid C 2X CSI-W (Calif.), third in the Las Vegas CSI-W (Nev.), and fourth in the $50,000 Desert Circuit IV CSI-W (Calif.).

The horse that’s done the most for Richard in the last two years is Cristallo, but that horse hasn’t been quite up to form this year. It looks like he’s in the trenches with Ace. Don’t get me wrong—Ace is a very nice horse and a good entry, but he’s not Cristallo. If Cristallo gets revved up and peaks in Las Vegas, I think Richard could do quite well. Richard is very good, and he wouldn’t be going there if he didn’t think he could pull something off. That brings up another aspect of this, though, which is there’s a big difference between being confident going into a championship and going into it hoping to pull something off. It’s a lot easier to do well if you’re just aching for the start of the competition versus wishing there were just a little more time to prepare.

3T. MANDY PORTER: age 42, Encinitas, Calif.
SAN DIEGO: b. g., 11, owned by Danielle Korsh.

With Porter’s 2008 World Cup Final veteran, Summer, on the injured list, Porter had to turn to San Diego. The former junior jumper jumped into the spotlight, winning the $50,000 Strongid C 2X CSI-W (Calif.) and placing second in the $50,000 Grand Prix of Showpark CSI-W (Calif.) and fourth in the $50,000 Oaks Blenheim Fall CSI-W (Calif.).

Mandy’s one of those unsung riders. She’s not one of the names that comes right to your mind, but she’s been knocking around a long time and she’s a good rider. She has a lot of ability and a lot of mileage. That said, I’m not sure that the combination of her and San Diego is really seasoned enough to be competitive at a major championship.


1. KEEAN WHITE: age 26, Rockwood, Ont.
CELENA Z: b. m., 9, Zangersheide by Cumano—Sympatica, Major Reza, owned by Angelstone Farm & Lindsay Schiessi.

White will make his World Cup Final debut on Celena, a talented mare. They took second at the Palgrave CSI-W (Ont.) and third at the $61,139 Bromont CSI-W (Que.) as well as sixth at the $60,000 Holiday & Horses CSI-W (Fla.).

Keean is qualified to be there and he’s a great guy, but his style and basic equitation are limiting for him. He has some work to do to get from being a good national competitor to being a top international rider at championships, though he certainly has the potential for that. I’d say that this is part of the journey for him. This is a very nice horse, but she’s not as seasoned as could be. I think he’s going to look at this as a building year for himself and his horse.

2. IAN MILLAR: age 62, Perth, Ont.
IN STYLE: b. g., 14, Holsteiner by Acord II—Diana, Lord, owned by Susan Grange & Lothlorien Farm.
REDEFIN: gr. g., 11, Dutch Warmblood by Larino—Cerise, Zeus, owned by Susan Grange & Lothlorien Farm.

The lynchpin of the Canadian team, which earned silver at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, Millar has competed in 12 World Cup Finals, winning in 1988 and ’89 on the legendary Big Ben. In Style, his 2008 Olympic mount, won the Palgrave CSI-W (Ont.) and placed fourth at the $150,000 WEF 5 CSI-W (Fla.), while Redefin was fourth at the $100,000 Budweiser World Cup of Syracuse CSI-W (N.Y.).

Ian never ceases to amaze me. He won the World Cup Final twice 20 years ago, he’s 62, and I’d say he’s riding as well as he’s ever ridden in his life. He has all the tools, but it’s hard for me to love In Style as a favorite because I just credit so much of the success to Ian. He’s magical with all horses and with that horse especially. It’s a good horse, but it’s not a horse you can say stacks up with the Shutterflys and Sapphires of the world. Even with Ian’s ability, that’s going to get exposed at some point during the week. I can see him having a good finish, but winning is a wild hope. I’d say top 10 would be a good result for In Style.

3. JILL HENSELWOOD: age 47, Oxford Mills, Ont.
SPECIAL ED: b. g., 13, Oldenburg by Argentinus—Rappe, Grannus, owned by Juniper Farms Ltd.
BLACK ICE: dk. b./br. g., 15, Dutch Warmblood by Indoctro—Joline, Wolfgang, owned by Juniper Farms Ltd.

Henselwood competed at the 2005, ’06 and ’07 World Cup Finals as well as on the silver-medal team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong with Special Ed. On Black Ice, she placed third in the $50,000 Strongid C 2X CSI-W (Calif.), fourth in the $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix CSI-W (Calif.) and eighth at both the $100,000 Gerald R. Ford CSI-W (D.C.) and the $75,000 Grand Prix de Penn National CSI-W (Pa.).

Jill’s record is inconsistent. I think she has a hard time with the inconsistency because she puts so much pressure on herself and she tries so hard. She has a great heart. But historically, she’s been up and down. Until you can see her with a vast amount of consistent results with those horses, it’s hard to put her in the top group.


MEREDITH MICHAELS-BEERBAUM (GER): age 39, Thedinghausen, Germany.
SHUTTERFLY: dk. b./br. g., 16, German-bred Hanoverian by Silvio—Famm, Forrest xx, owned by Octavia Farms LLC & Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.

Michaels-Beerbaum and the incomparable Shutterfly have won the World Cup Final twice—in 2005 in Las Vegas and in 2008 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Despite the fact that they were automatically qualified for 2009, Michaels-Beerbaum showed Shutterfly to win the Stuttgart CSI-W (Germany) and place third at the Geneva CSI-W (Switzerland), finishing eighth in the highly competitive Western European League.

I’m picking McLain as the favorite to win, but I’ll say Meredith will be second. Shutterfly is just a great horse and Meredith is a championship rider. No one should bet against them.


1. GERCO SCHRÖDER (NED): age 31, Tubbergen, the Netherlands.
EUROCOMMERCE MILANO: ch. m., 15, Dutch Warmblood by Indorado—Iloma, Beaujolais, owned by Eurocommerce Promotion.
EUROCOMMERCE PENNSYLVANIA: b. s., 12, Bayern by Gambrinus—Goldfee, Pilot, owned by Eurocommerce Promotions.

Gerco Schröder rode Eurocommerce Milano in the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas in 2007, where they were 15th, and in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in 2006, where they were eighth. He also was part of the gold-medal Dutch team at the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany) on Eurocommerce Berlin. Eurocommerce Pennsylvania placed second in the CSI-W class at Leipzig (Germany) and seventh at London Olympia (England). Milano won the CSI-W at Helsinki (Finland) and was fourth at Bordeaux (France).

Gerco is one of my favorite riders. He’s very talented and he’s got the experience and mileage. With Pennsylvania, I think he might fall a bit short. When the course designer asks all the tests, I think he might be short on the relationship with the horse to be a real contender. I’d say he’d be in the top 15.

2. DANIEL ETTER (SUI): age 34, Müntschemier, Switzerland.
PEU A PEU 4: b. g., 13, Westphalian by Polydor—Ferrara, Fruhlingsball, owned by Esther Steiner.

This is Etter’s World Cup Final debut. He and Peu A Peu (French for “bit by bit”) won the final Western European qualifier in ’s-Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands) on March 22. They placed second in the Mechelen CSI-W (Belgium), third in the Oslo CSI-W (Norway) and 10th in the Vernoa CSI-W (Italy). They also represented Switzerland in the 2008 Samsung Super League Nations Cup Final (Spain).

Daniel’s a great guy and a great competitor. He’s hot right now, having won the last European World Cup qualifier. He’s been a real journeyman rider. It’s always good coming into a big competition off a big success, so this could be his chance to break through. Based on his resume, you wouldn’t necessarily expect a top finish, but what’s interesting about this sport is momentum makes a big difference. They don’t have the same amount of seasoning as the top contenders, but Daniel will be hoping it’s time to break through.
3. EDWINA ALEXANDER (AUS): age 35, Valkenswaard, the Netherlands.
ISOVLAS ITOT DU CHATEAU: ch. s., 13, Selle Français by Le Tot de Semilly—Sophie de Chateau.
ISOVLAS LATE NIGHT: b. m., 9, Westphalian by Lancer III—Dinca, Dinard, owned by BG Hof Herding.

A native of Australia, Alexander lives in the Netherlands with Jan Tops. She was fourth individually at the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany) on her wonderful mare Pialotta, then represented Australia at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong on Itot du Chateau. To qualify for the Final, Alexander rode Itot du Chateau to win the CSI-W at London Olympia (England) and place seventh and eighth at Verona (Italy) and Geneva (Switzerland). The young Late Night placed sixth in the CSI-W at Zurich (Switzerland).

Chateau is a fantastic horse; I’d think that’s the one they’d bring. If Edwina brings Late Night, she’ll have her challenges just by definition with a younger horse. Late Night is a nice horse, a hot horse, but she doesn’t have the mileage. Edwina certainly has a great record in championships, and she and Jan Tops are a good, seasoned team. Jan and Edwina wouldn’t come with a horse that wasn’t ready to be competitive. When Chateau is on form, Edwina can win any one of the legs—they could be a real threat to be in the top five.

4. MARCUS EHNING (GER): age 34, Borken, Germany.
LECONTE 6: dk. b./br. g., 13, Holsteiner by Lasino—Gloria VII, Contender, owned by Scapa Pty. Ltd.
PLOT BLUE: b. s., 12, Dutch Warmblood by Mr. Blue—Ilotte, Pilot, owned by Kathrin Somogyi.
SANDRO BOY: dk. b./br. s., 16, Oldenburg by Sandro—Wiodora, Grannus-Granit, owned by Josef Estendorfer.

Ehning knows how to win a World Cup Final—he did it in 2003 in Las Vegas aboard Anka 191 and in 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Sandro Boy. He took over the ride on Plot Blue in July 2008 and rode him to third in the Zurich CSI-W (Switzerland) and fourth in the Geneva CSI-W (Switzerland). Sandro Boy claimed seventh in the Leipzig CSI-W (Germany).

Marcus is a great rider. He was on a streak for a couple of years, but he’s gone through some challenges recently. That’s the way our sport works. He knows how to have his horse peaking, he knows how to compete in a championship, he’s won the World Cup Final twice, and he’s done it on horses people probably wouldn’t have picked. But he doesn’t have the same championship mileage and rock-solid foundation with Leconte that the top bets do with their horses, and that’s a disadvantage. So, he’s kind of an outside pick. He wouldn’t be the odds-maker’s favorite, but he can certainly rise to the occasion.

age 32, Echten, the Netherlands.
OKIDOKI: b. g., 13, Dutch Warmblood by Jodokus—Kentucky, Topas, owned by Albert Zoer.

Albert Zoer and Okidoki were part of the gold-medal Dutch team at the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany) and looked to be strong contenders for an individual Olympic medal in 2008. But just hours after winning the prestigious Grand Prix of Aachen (Germany) on Sam, Zoer broke his leg while schooling a young horse the month before the Olympic Games and missed them. Okidoki won the CSI-W at Bordeaux (France), was fourth at Leipzig (Germany), seventh at Gothenburg (Sweden), and eighth at London Olympia (England).

Albert has had an up-and-down time of it with his broken leg. If Okidoki is on form—and I think he’s coming on form well—they can’t ever be counted out. They can win the speed phase easily; Albert is a very fast rider. Then, they can certainly jump all the jumps. The only disadvantage he has—in comparison with Meredith and McLain—is that he doesn’t have the consistency of preparation coming in. As far as having an explosive horse and a rider that’s capable, I’d say he’s exactly in the same boat as them. I’d not be shocked at all with a win from Albert; it’s just a matter of whether the timing is right.

6. STEVE GUERDAT (SUI): age 26, Herrliberg, Switzerland.
JALISCA SOLIER: b. m., 12, by Alligator Fontaine—Dune Solier, Jalisco B, owned by Yves G. Piaget.
TRESOR: b. s., 13, Belgian Warmblood by Papillon Rouge—Navarette, Laudanum, owned by Yves G. Piaget.

Guerdat started rebuilding a string of top jumpers in 2006 after losing the ride on Jan Tops’ horses. He’d been fifth in the 2005 World Cup Final in Las Vegas on Pialotta. Taking third at the 2007 Final aboard Tresor—again in Las Vegas—marked his return to the top of the sport. Tresor tied for seventh in the 2008 Final (Sweden) and was sixth in the last CSI-W, ’s-Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands) this spring. Jalisca Solier started the World Cup-qualifying season brilliantly, placing second at CSI-W classes in Geneva (Switzerland), Stuttgart (Germany) and Verona (Italy), but hasn’t competed since December.

Steve will know whether to bring Jalisca Solier or Tresor—both those horses can be excellent, and he won’t make a mistake choosing which one to ride. Steve’s been kicking around for a while. His father, Phillipe Guerdat, was a great rider himself, and Steve has stepped out from under his shadow and has made his own career now. He can win any day, any time. He doesn’t come to mind immediately as a favorite to win, but he should. He’s got good horses, good preparation and good experience. He has all the raw material to do well.

age 35, Kobnhaven, Denmark.
GODSEND DU REVERDY: ch. s., 15, Selle Français by Quidam de Revel—Venue de la Lande, Grand Veneur, owned by Charlotte Velin & Eric Lecler.
GRIM ST. CLAIR: ch. s., 15, Selle Français by Laudanum—Herbe d’Auzay, Indicible, owned by SARL Quidam.

This will be Velin’s first World Cup Final appearance since 2004, when he was 10th in Milan (Italy) on Equest Carnute, who also competed in the 2002 and ’03 Finals. Godsend du Reverdy placed second in the Gothenburg (Sweden) CSI-W, while Grim St. Clair took second in the Oslo (Norway) CSI-W and fifth in the CSI-W at Leipzig (Germany). Velin plans to ride Grim St. Clair in Las Vegas.

Thomas is a careful guy, and I think he’ll really try to size up his chances and aim for consistency. I think he’d need a lot to go wrong for the heavy hitters, and the pack would really have to come back to him to be better than in the 10th to 15th range.

8. RODRIGO PESSOA (BRA): age 36, Brussels, Belgium.
RUFUS: b. g., 11, Dutch Warmblood by Landaris—Imevina, owned by Double H Farm.

Pessoa—who won the World Cup Final in 1998, ’99 and 2000 on the legendary Baloubet du Rouet—had to sit out the beginning of the World Cup-qualifying period. He’d been suspended by the FEI after a doping infraction from the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. Free to compete again in early January, he wasted no time, winning the $100,000 Green Cove Springs CSI-W (Fla.) on Jan. 17 on Let’s Fly, then flying to the Zurich CSI-W (Switzerland) to ride Rufus to eighth in the CSI-W there. He ensured his qualification by winning the $150,000 WEF 5 CSI-W (Fla.) on Rufus on Feb. 7.


Rufus has been doing well in Florida. The horse has definitely improved in the last year to become a much more consistent contender. He has the ability to do very well, and Rodrigo obviously has all the mileage and experience. But I think that if Rodrigo were making winning the World Cup Final his priority this year, he would have spent the whole winter at the indoor shows in Europe to hone the skills, instead of coming to Florida. While there’s been huge improvement in the horse, they’re not at a razor’s edge of preparedness.

9. RUTHERFORD LATHAM (ESP): age 54, Lizieux-Deauville, France.
GUARANA CHAMPEIX: b. s., 15, Selle Français by Rivage du Poncel—Pariade de Pierre, Jalisco B, owned by Cria Caballar  S.A.

This will be Latham’s second World Cup Final appearance—he placed 15th in the 2008 Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Guarana Champeix. He won the CSI-W in Oslo (Norway) and placed fourth at both Vigo (Spain) and Stuttgart (Germany).

Rutherford had a great year last year. He’s got a lot of experience and mileage, but he hasn’t won any really big things. And this isn’t going to be the year that he does. They’re a very good combination and they have the ability to win a leg of it, but putting all three legs together will be a challenge for them. I think they’ll end up mid-pack.

10. LUDO PHILIPPAERTS (BEL): age 45, Gruitrode, Belgium.
CAVALOR’S WINNINGMOOD: gr. s., 10, Belgian Warmblood by Darco—N. Unellie, Cassini, owned by Dorperheide Stoeterij.

Philippaerts is no stranger to World Cup Finals, having competed in 2002, ’03, ’04 and ’05 on Parco, placing seventh in 2003 in Las Vegas. This year, he’ll bring another gray Darco offspring to Vegas. Winningmood won the CSI-W at Mechelen (Belgium), was fifth at Verona (Italy) and ninth at Gothenburg (Sweden). Fittingly, Winningmood’s win at Mechelen—Philippaerts’ hometown show—came a week after Philippaerts formally retired Parco.

Ludo is a great competitor, just unbelievable. He’s one of the fastest riders in the world. He’s had great horses in Darco and Parco, but I’m not sure how ready Winningmood might be for this championship. I think it’ll take every bit of talent and experience Ludo has to finish high up in Vegas. Ludo will have the horse as well prepared as it can be, but I think he’d consider a finish in the top 25 percent of the field as a success this time around.

11. LARS NIEBERG (GER): age 45, Wittengen, Germany.
LUCIE 55: b. m., 16, Hanoverian by Landadel—Grandel, Gralstitter, owned by Katarina Geller-Herr.

Nieberg and Lucie were third at the 2005 World Cup Final in Las Vegas. To book their ticket this year, they placed sixth in CSI-Ws at Vigo (Spain), Leipzig (Germany) and Geneva (Switzerland).

It’s nice to see Lars’ name back in here. He’s a seasoned veteran. That horse is very good in tight, small rings, which the ring in Las Vegas is. Las Vegas should favor him and this horse, but even with that advantage, he’ll be very happy with a top-10 finish.

12. HELENA LUNDBÄCK (SWE): age 33, Norrköping, Sweden.
MADICK: dk. b./br. m., 13, Swedish Warmblood by Cortez—Phagelia, Ceylon, owned by Annette Karlsson.

Lundbäck is an international veteran for Sweden, having competed in the 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games and placing fourth individually at the 2002 World Equestrian Games (Spain). She was 11th at the 2008 World Cup Final on Madick, who was third at CSI-Ws at Vigo (Spain), London Olympia (England) and Helsinki (Finland).

Helena is for sure one of the more experienced riders, and Madick is a very good horse. She can win, but her toughest thing is consistency. She’s done very good things, but what’s kept her from the final icing on the cake—a big win—is that she always has a little mistake somewhere. All the ability, potential and experience is there, but she makes little errors and lapses. It wouldn’t be surprising if she’s in the top five at the end of the week, but she’d have to pull it all together.

13. MIKAEL FORSTEN (FIN): age 39, Guttecoven, Finland.
ISAAC DU JONQUET: ch. g., 13, Belgian Warmblood by Laeken—Darling, Joammia, owned by Noora Pentti.

Forsten is a veteran of three European Championships and the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany), and placed 29th at the 2008 World Cup Final. He and Isaac du Jonquet placed second in the Zurich CSI-W (Switzerland) and fifth at both the Bordeaux CSI-W (France) and London Olympia CSI-W (England).

Mikael is quite a good rider, but he’s not one of the names that immediately comes to mind because he hasn’t had much experience at the biggest international competitions. He’s had some success, but he’s not one of the stalwarts of the international scene—championships and Olympic Games and those kinds of things. He might have all the right tools and he might have some successful moments, but that lack of experience at the top level will probably keep him out of the top finishers.

14. LUDGER BEERBAUM (GER): age 46, Riesenbeck, Germany.
COUPE DE COEUR 2: gr. s., 11, Holsteiner by Calido I—Lincoln mare, owned by Madeleine Winter-Schulze.

Beerbaum, the anchor of the German team for many years, won the World Cup Final in 1994 and 10 times between 1992 and 2002 finished in the top 10. Beerbaum has represented Germany in six Olympic Games, but his Games in 2008 on All Inclusive NRW didn’t go well. All Inclusive NRW has since been sold, so Beerbaum will ride the less experienced Coupe de Coeur in Las Vegas.

Ludger is a great rider with a great resume, but when you start thinking about it, he hasn’t had any really big wins in the recent past. He had a dismal Olympic Games, and I think he should be quite hungry to prove himself again. He doesn’t have his Olympic horse, and I’m not making any predictions about him. We’ll just have to see how the champion reacts when he’s a bit of an underdog.

age 26, Saffron Walden, Great Britain.
ROBIN HOOD W: b. g., 11, Dutch Warmblood by Animo—Melisimo, owned by Ben Maher.

Maher was the young star of the 2008 Olympic team for Great Britain aboard the mare Rolette. Rolette was sold to the United States for Irish rider Shane Sweetnam late last year, so Robin Hood has stepped up to star. They placed third in the Budweiser World Cup CSI-W in Syracuse, N.Y., then were fourth at London Olympia (England).

Robin Hood is an excellent horse, but they’ve had mixed results on the Florida circuit. They’re going to be a little bit of a victim of travel, since Ben is going to take the horse home to England and then back to the United States again. That’s a little disadvantage. The horse is a spectacular jumper but a little bit too inconsistent for a championship. Ben is a very talented rider—he was a kid nobody knew a while ago, but now he’s in that category of people who aren’t so much new and inexperienced anymore. His partnership with that horse is probably somewhat too green for them to rise to the top. They’ll be looking for a top-15 finish.

16. MICHAEL WHITAKER (GBR): age 49, Nottingham, Great Britain.
PORTOFINO: b. m., 15, Dutch Warmblood by Habsburg—Betstrchta, owned by Gillespie Equestrian.

Whitaker and Portofino qualified for Las Vegas at the last minute, placing third in the last CSI-W at ’s-Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands) on March 22. Portofino is a veteran of World Cup Finals, having placed second in 2005 in Las Vegas, sixth in 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and ninth in 2008 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Portofino was also on the British team with Whitaker at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong and the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany).

Michael is one of the greatest riders of our time. Anybody who will be in Vegas to watch has to pay attention to him. I’ll take him as one of my dark horse favorites who might upset the apple cart. He qualified at the last minute, but historically, lower-placed qualifiers have done well. If Portofino is in bloom, Michael can easily win or be in the top five. If Portofino isn’t in top form, Michael will know it early in the week and he’ll be enjoying Las Vegas. She’s that kind of horse—she’s on or off. And you can’t force that; it all depends on if the horse travels well, wants to perform and is in form. 

age 33, Riesenbeck, Germany.
CORNET OBOLENSKY: g. s., 10, Belgian Warmblood by Clinton—Rabanna van Costersveld, Heartbreaker, owned by Valentyn Nychyporenko & B&S Sportpferde GmbH.

Kutscher, who works for and trains with German legend Ludger Beerbaum, rode Cornet Obolensky on the German team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, but the young stallion had problems there. Cornet Obolensky was second in the CSI-W at Bordeaux (France), while Kutscher won the CSI-W at Vigo (Spain) on Cash. He was eighth in the 2007 Final in Las Vegas aboard Cash but plans to ride Cornet Obolensky this year.

Marco had a disappointing Olympic Games with Cornet Obolensky, and I’m sure Marco doesn’t like that and will be looking to prove himself again. Marco has certainly been a somewhat unsung rider for a long time. I have a tremendous respect for him as a person and a horseman. I don’t know that I see that horse keeping up with the leaders of the pack, but I can see them being excellent and consistent all week and ending up in the top five or 10. Cornet Obolensky is a very good horse and there’s been a lot of hype about him in Europe for the last year, but he’s still unproven at the highest level. I think they have hopes that he’s going to be a good horse for Germany for the future, but time will tell.

18. GEIR GULLIKSEN (NOR): age 49, Lierskogen, Norway.
L’ESPOIR 7: ch. g., 13, Zangershiede by Landwind II—Feinschnitt I mare, owned by Geir Gulliksen & ATTG Sportpferde GmbH.

Gulliksen was on the ill-fated Norwegian team at the 2008 Olympic Games. They claimed team bronze but were later disqualified due to a positive medication test by team member Tony Andre Hansen. Gulliksen is a veteran, having placed 19th in the 2006 World Cup Final on Cattani and represented Norway at the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germay). He and L’Espoir placed sixth at the Oslo CSI-W (Norway) and seventh at both Stuttgart (Germany) and Helsinki (Switzerland) CSI-Ws.

Geir is a great guy, and he will always try to win. He gets everything out of the horse, but I don’t think L’Espoir is of the caliber to win a World Cup Final. Geir is a great competitor—he’s always dangerous to win any class, but the overall consistency of the horse can’t hold up through a championship to be a real top contender.

19. CHRISTINA LIEBHERR (SUI): age 30, Bulle, Switzerland.
LB NO MERCY: b. g., 14, Dutch Warmblood by Libero H—Jeantal, Dillenburg, owned by Hans Liebherr.

Liebherr is a veteran of the Swiss team and was on the team that placed fourth at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong aboard LB No Mercy. She placed fifth in the CSI-W at Vigo (Spain) and seventh at Zurich (Switzerland).

age 35, Munich, Germany.
ACANTUS GK: b. s., 11, Bayern by Acorado—Waldrose P, Cantus, owned by Max Kühner.

Kühner rode Acantus GK to sixth in the CSI-Ws at London Olympia (England) and Helsinki (Finland) and eighth in the CSI-W at Stuttgart (Germany). This will be the first World Cup Final for Kühner, who is an amateur rider. He works in a manufacturing company and rides at night and on the weekends.


LARKANARO: b. g., 9, Hanoverian by Landclassic—Glückswespe, Glückspilz, owned by Vladimir Beletskiy.
RAGAZZA 36: b. m., 13, Danish Warmblood by Rambo—Lucy Byhoj, Atlantic, owned by Gutsverwaltung Breitenburg

BALOUFINO: ch. s., 10, Oldenburg by Baloubet du Rouet—Corfina, Continue, owned by Todor Gergov.
RUE BLANCHE DU GIBET: dk. b./br. m., 10, by Rabino Gabbana G—Daboia, G Ramiro Z, owned by Charles Bettendorf.
STRITZEL: b. s., 10, Hanoverian by Stakkato—Colambo, owned by Todor Gergov.

CONCEPT: gr. g., 11, Holsteiner by Concerto II—Indira XIII, Capitol II, owned by Sabanci Sevil.
CARO ASS: dk. b./br. s., 11, Holsteiner by Caretino—Alaska II, Landgraf I, owned by Sabanci Sevil.
PINOT GRIGIO: b. g., 12, by Pit 10—Alice, Aarstein, owned by Sabanci Sevil.
SIEC JANICO: b. g., 12, owned by Sabanci Sevil.


YURI ITAPUA: ch. s., 11, Brazilian-bred, owned by Mario Sergio Carlos.

Alves-Teixeira is a veteran for Brazil, with three Olympic Games, two World Equestrian Games, and a team gold from the 1999 Pan American Games to his credit. He and Yuri Climber won the South American League Final, and he was in the top six of three CSI-Ws on Yuri Itapua.


PARADOX: b. g., 12, Belgian-bred, owned by Haruo Mashiyama.


ANNA TRENT (NZL): age 23, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
MUSKETEER NZPH: ch. g., 10, Selle Français by Cabdulla du Pillard—Indian Summer, Silent Hunter, owned by Anna Trent & New Zealand Performances Horses.

Trent rides for the breeding operation New Zealand Performance Horses. She and Muskateer won the CSI-W classes at Watemata and Taupo in New Zealand.


ASHKUR ALLAH OBELIX: b. g., 13, Dutch Warmblood by Burggraaf—Jelzerina, Nimmerdor, owned by H. Bin Moteb Al Saud.

PICOBELLO WODIENA: b. m., 10, by Major de la Cour—Wodiena, Alme, owned by UAE Equestrian & Racing Federation.


age 31, Huixquilucan, Mexico.
CHINOBAMPO LAVITA: b. m., 13, Holsteiner by Coriano—Harlekin II, Cassini, owned by Alberto Halbinger Michan.

Michan and Lavita are the anchors of the Mexican team, having competed at the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany) and the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. They’ve completed two World Cup Finals, in 2006 and 2007, placing 27th and 25th.

age 44.
FRIDA: b. m., 11, Danish Warmblood by Come Back II—Lemli, Limelight, owned by Enrique Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and Frida represented Mexico at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. They were third in the CSI-W at Balvanera (Mexico) and second at the Monterrey CSI-W (Mexico). Gonzalez has also shown Frida at Spruce Meadows (Canada) and Valkenswaard (the Netherlands).

As told to Molly Sorge




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