Olympic team gold medalist Nicolas Touzaint had his superstar gray, Galan de Sauvagere, back to the peak of his considerable powers to convincingly win the FEI Eventing World Cup Final.
This outstanding horse has been in the background since winning team gold at Athens two years ago, but he was a sight to behold, galloping and jumping with zest alongside the beach at Malmö, Sweden, against a brilliant blue sea and sky, Sept. 23-24.
“I am very, very happy,” said Touzaint, his face creasing into an irrepressible grin. “The horse has had a lot of little problems, which has made it difficult to prepare him for a major competition. I took him to the World Equestrian Games, but when I saw the cross-country, I realized he wasn’t fit enough.”
The French resolutely put aside any thoughts of their depressing WEG outing, where their team finished seventh, and took this competition by the roots.
Jean-Lou Bigot, the 1993 European Champion, was second on his Saumur CCI*** (France) winner Derby de Longueval, the only horse to finish inside the optimum cross-country time of 7:05, and Arnaud Boiteau was fourth with a double clear on Expo du Moulin, who jumped magnificently, clearly none the worse for his crashing fall at the WEG.
Germany’s Andreas Dibowski interrupted Gallic domination by taking third place; he was excellent in all three phases on FRH Little Lemon. “I’m not as fast as the French, but I’ll work on it,” he joked.
Darren Chiacchia was fifth for the United States on Windfall 2, another horse making a comeback. Since their disastrous outings at Rolex Kentucky and Jersey Fresh (N.J.) this spring, Chiacchia has taken the stallion down a level to rebuild his confidence, and it clearly paid off. The horse jumped confidently, ears pricked, around an unusual track crammed with whacky, daunting obstacles.
Anna Hilton, a long-time stalwart of the Swedish team, bounced back into international reckoning after a few quiet years. The 40-plus mother of two cheerfully describes herself as “an amateur,” but she looked anything but amateurish as she steered Mr. Dalby into sixth place.
Californian Jennifer Wooten, for whom the World Cup Final has been the goal this year, should have been pleased with her 18th place on Daisy Tognazzini’s tiny little Irish mare, The Good Witch. They flew across country, with just one run-out, but whacked out four rails in the final phase.
“This is my first season in Europe and I’ve never seen anything like this before, but it’s really fun to have a horse that I can do this with,” said Wooten, who won the Galway Downs qualifier (Calif.) and recently completed the Blenheim CCI*** in England.
The aim of the World Cup Final is to field 45 to 50 world-class riders, but, with the exception of the French and Swedish entries, there were several big names missing among the 38 who contested this competition, held a month later than last year. This has prompted the FEI Eventing Committee to examine the system, and they are currently discussing whether the final should be held in the spring when riders have more choice of horses.
However, the cross-country, which had been upgraded from last year, claimed some notable scalps. The defending champion, Clayton Fredericks from Australia, led the dressage on the 9-year-old Nullarbor. He was perhaps lucky to do so, because U.S. judge Marilyn Payne went against her fellow ground jury members, David Lee (Ireland) and Alain James (France) and awarded Nullarbor 8 percent more than Galan de Sauvagere.
But Fredericks, who has enjoyed a purple patch since winning last year’s final, had predicted that the exacting cross-country might be a big ask for a young horse, and he ducked out at a brush arrowhead following a drop at fence 14.
Belgium’s Karin Donck-ers, who lay second in the World Cup rankings all season (behind the absent Phillip Dutton) and seventh in the dressage at Malmö, withdrew Gormley before the final show jumping phase. He cut himself tripping up the steps at Fence 13 and later ran out at a narrow fence.
Swedish rider Anna Hasso somehow managed to pull her horse, the unfortunately named Son Of A Bitch, over backwards at the steps, and he trod on her. There was a 30-minute hold while she was hospitalized for X-rays but not thought to have broken anything.
Finland’s Pia Pantsu, who finished third in the final last year, lay third after dressage this year, but she took an erratic line through a combination of angled houses and her horse, Ypaja Karuso, appeared to fall off the end of the second element.
Sweden’s Linda Algotsson, the World Cup winner in 2004-05, riding Stand By Me, plus U.S. riders Jonathan Holling (Lion King II) and Wooten (The Good Witch) were two of the 10 victims of Fence 5, a peculiar arrangement of narrow white seaside chairs, adorned with white cushions, on a curving line set on a mound. It came early on the course before horses had a chance to get into their stride and could be ridden on two and three strides, or three and four.
Britain’s Julie Tew (Sir Roselier), who also fell foul of the seats, summed up the course: “It’s combination after combination, with everything on acute angles and turns.”
And Hilton confirmed: “It was hard work, harder than I thought. It was difficult to get into a rhythm. My horse was gob-smacked by the crowds and the whacky fences–but that’s Malmö!”
The organizing committee had experimented with a different format for the final. This time both jumping phases were held on the same day, with the cross-country in the morning and, after a few hours’ rest and a formal horse inspection, the show jumping in the afternoon.
Riders were not entirely happy with this idea, feeling that it was a lot to ask of the horses but, as organizer Lars Christensson commented: “They seemed to jump all right.” This is another facet of the World Cup series that the FEI will be examining.
There were six clear show jumping rounds from the 24 finishers, four of whom were French–Rodolphe Scherer, who had a couple of cross-country stops on Heidi Antikatzides’ Good Enough, also jumped clear–one German (Dibowski) and one Swedish (Johan Lundin on Major Tom, eighth).
Once Bigot had jumped clear, the pressure was on Touzaint, but this man is one of the sport’s winners and, with this fabulous horse, is one of the outstanding combinations of the decade. The crowd was willing him to win, for his victory was clearly the most fitting conclusion to this competition, and he did not let them down.