As expected, the result of this year’s Rolex FEI World Cup Final came down to an intense duel between two of the greatest horses in the show jumping world today—Sapphire and Shutterfly. They both gave a tremendous display of jumping today, Apr. 19, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev., in one of the most exciting and impressive finishes of a Final.
McLain Ward and Sapphire gave it their all, not putting a foot wrong in two rounds over massive, technical courses. But so did Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on Shutterfly. And since the German pair were in the lead after winning Legs 1 and 2 of the week, they ended up on top, winning their third World Cup Final title. Ward and Sapphire finished up in second—their best World Cup finish yet.
“It was very, very close. I think this was the hardest win I’ve ever had,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “McLain left me no room for error whatsoever. This was a very big win for me, not just because it was so close, but also because it was a perfect win, winning all three days. It’s something special. And I’m riding a once-in-a-lifetime horse, the most special horse ever. On a more personal and also emotional note, I lost my father four weeks ago, so this was a big win for me and for him as well.
“Shutterfly is definitely the Maserati of horses. It’s a great honor to ride a horse like him. To have brought him up from a young horse to this is special. Now we’re like an old married couple.”
Ward, who has made winning the World Cup a goal ever since he collected his team gold medal from the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, was third in Leg 1, the speed leg, just 1.25 seconds slower than Michaels-Beerbaum. Then, he was second to her in the grand prix format Leg 2, exactly 1 second slower in the jump-off. He and Sapphire came into the last day with 2 faults, assigned using their placings from the first two days. He had to jump two clean rounds, then watch to see if Michaels-Beerbaum would make a mistake. She didn’t.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it differently,” Ward said. “I gave everything I had, and Sapphire gave everything she had, and we came up 2 seconds short. I’m very proud of what my horse and I did this week. If I were to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same way. I take my hat off to Meredith and Shutterfly—they’re the greatest pair in show jumping. She was perfect and a touch faster. It cost me the Final, but I’m proud of my horse and my team.”
Albert Zoer on Oki Doki—a freakishly elastic little horse—also jumped double-clear today to pick up third place for the Netherlands. “Oki Doki is a real fighter; he goes to the end,” Zoer said. “He does everything for me; I really love him. I just have to keep him calm because he gets very nervous with noise and crowds. But it worked and he jumped great.”
Christina Liebherr, who had been second to Michaels-Beerbaum in the speed leg but then had trouble in the jump-off of Leg 2, jumped two spectacular clean rounds today. The powerful L.B. No Mercy looks to be a tough ride, and Liebherr did a lovely, tactful job. They moved up to finish fourth in Liebherr’s first World Cup Final appearance.
U.S. rider Rich Fellers and Flexible—coming into today in fourth place—didn’t finish the weekend the way he wanted. Flexible pulled two rails in Round 1 of today and then ran into trouble in Round 2. After having an early rail, Flexible got the back rail of the middle oxer of the triple combination caught in his front legs. He couldn’t clear the last element, and stumbled through it. Fellers circled before the next fence, then had a few more down to finish with 20 jumping and 2 time faults. They ended up in 18th place.
The next highest-placed U.S. rider after Ward was Beezie Madden, in 12th with the young Danny Boy. Madden brought the 9-year-old gelding for some seasoning at the top level and was thrilled with how he rose to the occasion. Danny Boy jumped a clean round over Round 1 today, then had two rails down in Round 2.
“I don’t think he was tired. I think the last round was a definite step up from the other rounds, and I think I rode him a little to protect him, to make sure he didn’t get in trouble,” Madden said. “It was a little my fault, and a little that he’s just not experienced enough for that last round. I was so pleased with how he went. I think I have a real horse for the future. I thought the first round today was his best round of the week, so that’s a good sign that he just got better from it. He could have given up, and he didn’t.”
Richard Spooner, who rode Cristallo today to two eight-fault rounds, finished the weekend in 16th place, just ahead of fellow U.S. rider Mandy Porter on San Diego. World Cup rookie Hillary Dobbs had rounds with 16 and 4 faults today to take 19th, while Christine McCrea rode Vegas to 20th. Todd Minikus and Pavarotti jumped to a four-fault round in Round 1, but then had multiple rails and retired in Round 2 to finish 23rd.
World Cup rookie Ashlee Bond placed 26th on Cadett 7, finishing the weekend with a nice four-fault go over Round 2. “He was so good. I’m so happy,” she said. “It’s been really surreal, everything about it. I’ve just been trying to take in every moment and just live it and appreciate what an amazing horse I have at the moment and what a team we’re becoming. It’s just such an honor to be here. I love it, and I can’t wait to come back.”
Darragh Kerins, riding for the Irish but very familiar to U.S. fans on the East Coast since he’s based in Connecticut, rode Night Train to 25th place. The game little chestnut gelding had a tough time with a big triple combination in both rounds today. “The horse jumped great all week. It was always going to be a hard combination for him today. I’m happy that he got into the final day, and he jumped his heart out every day,” Kerins said. “It’s good to be in the thick of it all week. I’ll go away and think about it and come back stronger next year.”