Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 3
There were scarcely any words to describe German rider Michael Jung’s individual gold-medal performance with La Biosthetique-Sam FBW. He finished just as he started the weekend—in first place on a 33.0.
But William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, who finished 9 points behind Jung for silver, said it best: “It was Michael Jung: 1, and the rest: nowhere.”
Unfortunately, nowhere was an apt description of the U.S. performance today. Becky Holder, who'd finished cross-country in third place, withdrew Courageous Comet at the jog. Boyd Martin ended up as the highest-placed U.S. individual in 10th place with Neville Bardos.
Jung and “Sam” laid down an incredible round in show jumping today at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. They had two rails in hand over Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain, but they didn’t need them. They didn’t even touch a fence.
“This horse came to me as a 5-year-old, so I’ve trained him to do everything, and I’ve been with him almost daily,” said Jung of the 10-year-old Baden-Wurttemburg gelding. “That’s why he trusts me, and we’re very good working together. I can’t really tell right now, but the last few years we’ve grown together so much, so I really hope that we can do this again in London [at the 2012 Olympic Games].”
“We’ve got our work cut out for us in the next two years,” said Fox-Pitt of Jung and Sam’s dominance in the sport. They won the 2009 Luhmuhlen CCI**** (Germany) and topped the HSBC FEI World Cup standings this year.
The individual competition overwhelmingly favored young horses, not the more experienced veterans on the starting list, some of which were upwards of 20 years old.
Fox-Pitt also put in a clear round aboard his 10-year-old talent, Cool Mountain, though it was a much more tense performance than Jung’s seamless one. The pair won the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** here this spring, but Cool Mountain looked a bit more frazzled by the crowds this time and ticked several rails, but he got lucky.
They placed 12th in the dressage but moved up to second with a double-clear cross-country round and finished on 42.0.
Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand jumped up to an individual bronze medal aboard Nereo, another 10-year-old gelding (43.5). They began the weekend in 14th place and stood fifth after cross-country after a double-clear round.
“I was hoping to have a chance at getting an individual medal, because Nereo is a horse I have an awful lot of confidence in,” said Nicholson. “He’s very consistent in all three phases.”
Nicholson also campaigns Nereo’s older full brother, Armada, at the four-star level. They’re Spanish-bred horses by Fines, out of Berganza.
Nicholson’s score helped New Zealand earn team bronze as well. Mark Todd and Grass Valley also contributed, as did Caroline Powell and Mac MacDonald. Clarke Johnstone and Orient Express were the team’s drop score, but New Zealand’s individual rider Jonathan Paget ended up seventh with Clifton Promise.
“I was thinking if we could get in the top four or five as a team, it would be clear that [New Zealand] is on the way back up,” said Nicholson. “So to get a medal as a team is a great bonus.”
Brits Are Back On Top
The WEG team eventing championship was many things, but it was decidedly not a dressage competition.
The dressage leaders from Germany finished fifth overall, while Canada, who’d placed ninth in the dressage, moved all the way up to a silver-medal finish (151.5). And New Zealand, who’d only been sixth in the first phase, took bronze (154.8).
Great Britain did score well in the dressage, coming second, and their cross-country and show jumping acumen put them at the top of the podium today on a total of 139.4. It was their first WEG team gold since 1994.
“We’ve been on lots of teams together now, and we give each other a pretty hard time, but we all get on so well with each other,” said Fox-Pitt. “We’re also riding fantastic horses and had luck on our side. Tina didn’t have that luck, so that put on the pressure on the rest of us, but it came out alright in the end.”
Tina Cook and Miners Frolic incurred 20 jumping penalties when they crossed their path in the first water complex on cross-country. Cook said she lost a rein when she landed from the drop.
“Obviously I was disappointed in myself. I went to grab the rein, and it wasn’t there. I tried to get it back together, and I thought I’d done enough to not cross my tracks, but I didn’t.”
But with Fox-Pitt’s score, in addition to Mary King’s with Imperial Cavalier (42.0; sixth individually on her dressage score) and Nicola Wilson’s with Opposition Buzz (51.2; 15th individually on hers), Great Britain easily secured the gold with 12 points to spare.
“It is a fantastic team, and with our age we’ve had quite a lot of experience,” said Cook. “We had a fantastic performance here, and my teammates came up with the goods.”
Great Britain’s individual rider Pippa Funnell also had a brilliant weekend with her 9-year-old up-and-comer, Redesigned, finishing fifth individually on her dressage score of 45.5.
Team Canada was the smiliest group in today’s press conference, capturing their first team medal since the World Championships were first held here at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1978.
Just as she was at Rolex Kentucky this spring, Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch finished as the top Canadian rider, in ninth place on a 48.2. She had one rail down today aboard Port Authority, but her teammates Selena O’Hanlon (Colombo, 50.8) and Hawley Bennett-Awad (Gin & Juice, 52.5) went double clear. Kyle Carter and Madison Park had the team’s drop score with two rails down today and 1 time fault.
All four riders were quick to credit coach David O’Connor for the improvements made in their national program since the 2006 WEG in Aachen, Germany, where they didn’t even field a team, and their two individual riders failed to complete the event.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that it’s a lot more together as a group,” said Bennett-Awad, who’s ridden on multiple Canadian teams over the years.
“I think in the next few years we’re going to be a country to look out for,” she said, turning to address the Brits with a smile. “So watch out!”
A Bad Day For The USA
A home turf advantage proved non-existent for the remaining U.S. riders today. They began the weekend in seventh after the dressage, but brilliant cross-country performances put them in second yesterday. Their luck didn’t last today, however.
Martin, a native Australian, was the only U.S. rider to jump double clear today to finish on his dressage score of 49.5.
“He was put on this team because of his jumping ability, so I’m pleased to have upheld our end of the bargain,” said Martin.
The next up for the United States, Phillip Dutton, had one rail down in the double combination at the end of the course and 1 time fault with a very strong Woodburn.
“The horse jumped great. He tried really hard; I just got there a little bit weak to the oxer so I had that down,” said Dutton. “I’m a little bit disappointed in myself, but I was really pleased with the way the horse went. I did [take the inside turns], but the horse gets a bit strong, so [not making the time] was something that I knew might happen in the back of my mind.”
That left a lot of pressure on Karen O’Connor and Mandiba, the last to go for the United States, to jump clear. And it looked for several jumps like it might happen. But then Mandiba had a gasp-inducing stop at fence 7, the Kentucky Fence Line gate. He did jump it on the second try, but had it down, finishing with 8 jumping faults and 4 time and dropping 10 places to 19th.
“Good grief,” Karen said afterward. “I don’t have any excuse. I don’t even really have an answer. He jumped over the triple bar [the fence before] really good, and then I took back for the five [strides to the gate] because it was riding tight, and he dropped back behind me, and he just saw it all too late.
“Phillip had an unusual rail as well,” she added. “We didn’t get beat. We lost it today.”
Lead-off rider Buck Davidson, who was expected to be the drop score anyway after having a stop and time faults on cross-country, pulled one rail aboard Ballynoe Castle RM to finish on 97.0.