And Ashlee Bond jumps to an impressive third double-clear Nations Cup performance.
It only took the U.S. team 40.72 seconds to clinch a second consecutive Meydan FEI Nations Cup win, this time in St. Gallen, Switzerland, June 4-7.
In what’s becoming a common occurrence, U.S. anchor rider Richard Spooner and Cristallo once again took on the pressure and brought home the goods in a jump-off for the title at the CSIO St. Gallen. And with a blistering round, he rocketed to the top with a time more than 12 seconds better than his rival, Marcus Ehning, after the two jump-off contenders each took down a rail.
The U.S. team (Christine McCrea/Vegas, Ashlee Bond/Cadett 7, Laura Kraut/Cedric, Spooner/Cristallo) had tied with Germany with 4 faults after the two-round competition.
Spooner went out first to take on Rolf Ludi’s track against the clock. Germany’s Ehning was to follow aboard Plot Blue.
“I always expect Marcus to go clear—that’s just a rule I have. I wanted to go faster because I had nothing to lose, and I wanted him to feel safe going after me. I really thought we were second when I clipped the fourth vertical. I was riding back up when I heard the crowd go ‘oooh.’ And I went ‘ahhh,’ ” said Spooner with a smile.
Ehning and Plot Blue, a 12-year-old KWPN stallion, had taken down the last oxer going for the safe and clear round. Although they were tied with faults, Spooner’s speedy strategy worked.
“I’m staggered,” said U.S. team Chef d’Equipe George Morris. “Back-to-back Rome and St. Gallen, with this quantity and quality—it doesn’t often happen.”
Course designer Ludi is well known for erecting tough, sporting and fair courses that put exacting pressure on riding ability. Last year it was the water jump near the end of the course that had the riders really concentrating on the last line.
This year it was the B element of the triple combination at fence 10. It was the only jump that caught the U.S. team when Christine McCrea and Vegas were one of eight pairs to fault there in the first round, becoming the drop score. Bond, Kraut and Spooner all followed with clear rounds for a zero score at the half. Germany, Switzerland and Belgium also tied for first with zeros in Round 1.
McCrea was in fine form all weekend, placing second with Vegas in the first big Table A class, setting a confident tone for the U.S. team. The pair was a last-minute substitution for Lauren Hough when Quick Study had a touch of colic before the show.
“Horse first,” said Morris, “the horse is always first with us. We don’t take any chances.”
McCrea got into trouble in the second round, however, starting at the troublesome Meydan double combination at fence 6, racking up 12 faults before Vegas balked at the bogey No. 10 and was eliminated.
The A element of the Meydan double combination stopped several top riders from advancing, and for some it set off a cavalcade of faults that included not only the eliminations of McCrea and Cian O’Connor (Complete) for Ireland, but also left Ludo Philippaerts with 16 faults when he couldn’t recover his rhythm and put the experienced Nick Skelton on the ground.
With McCrea as the drop score, that left Kraut and Cedric’s single rail down at fence 1 as the total to tie with Germany and set up the second Nations Cup jump-off of the season. (Markus Fuchs won over Sweden’s Svante Johansson in La Baule [France] with less than a second to spare.)
Morris likes to use his double-clear riders for the jump-off, so with Bond and Spooner both in perfect form, he had a choice. “I have to be honest,” said Morris, “we tossed a coin. Either one of them could have done it.”
Bond and Cadett 7 continued to reap awe in Europe with top-league double-clears in a third consecutive showing.
“Well, my horse did it,” said Bond. “I’m shocked. I feel really blessed to be able to sit on him. He’s 12 years old this week—today, I think! He’s such a trier. I couldn’t ask for a better horse.”
Kraut added, with admiration, “She’s a two-round jumping machine—we love to have her!”
The United States now leads the league standings with 22 points. Switzerland is 1 point behind, with Germany third (16.5).
The weekend started out strongly with McCrea and Vegas nudging out top riders Skelton (third), Peter Charles (fourth) and Steve Guerdat (fifth) for second place in the MS Mail Service Table A Speed Class, which was won by Germany’s Max Kühner on Coeur De Lion.
This performance set a positive tone that kept on ringing with each additional class.
Spooner and Pako grabbed second in the Radisson SAS, and Lauren Hough took third with Prezioso S in the Metzgerei Gemperli Table A just before the Nations Cup. The next morning, Hough and Prezioso S snatched the Liebherr Prize from the retiring Swiss Star Markus Fuchs with a narrow .18-second victory in the rain.
But the big-money class was the $278,238 Longines Grand Prix. Spooner, with Cristallo, and Ehning on Noltes Küchengirl were adversaries again as two of only three clear first rounds. The third proved to be the charm, though, as Billy Twomey, on the 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, J’Taime Flamenco, took the victory.
Kraut and Cedric and Hough on Quick Study both made it into the second round. Kraut had 4 faults (again, she clipped the first jump); Hough earned 1 time fault.
Kraut, who’s been the steadiest and most consistent rider on the league for the past several years, rode a textbook clear in the second round, leaving her to finish in fourth place.
Hough had a rail, finishing seventh, and was followed by Spooner in 10th when Cristallo dropped two rails. All in all, three U.S. riders in the top 10 made for a successful day and a pocketful of prize money.
Irishman Twomey was the only double-clear rider of the day, narrowly beating the Swiss favorite L.B. No Mercy and Christina Liebherr, who came in second in 2007, won it in 2008 and finished second again this year because of 1 time fault. It was a double Irish victory when Denis Lynch took home the leading rider award.
Kraut and Spooner currently lead the Longines Press Award for Elegance overall rankings.