on location with John Strassburger
The Netherlands is tied with the U.S. team at 8 faults. Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland each have 12, and Brazil has 16 faults, thanks primarily to Rodrigo Pessoa’s clear round on Baloubet De Rouet. Italy has 19; Ireland has 22, and France has 24. The other six teams are out of contention.
Peter Wylde and Fein Cera led off the U.S. effort with an uncharacteristic 12 faults, just catching the tape on the water jump (fence 7), then lowering fence 12 (orange planks) and the final fence (14).
“I’m disappointed that I put that pressure on my teammates,” said Wylde, the hero of the 2002 World Championships. “My nervousness got the better of me, but it’s a very long competition, and I hope the jitters will go away for tonight.”
U.S. chances began to look long when Sapphire landed in the water as she drifted right, toward fence 8, with McLain Ward and then came down on the back rail of the 4’10”-wide oxer at 11C.
“I took the water for granted,” said a chagrined Ward. “She was jumping great, and I was just too slow to the water. No excuses.”
Royal Kaliber and Kappler looked more fluid today than in the individual qualifier two days ago, and Kappler said he felt better with that behind him. The only worrisome moment came when Royal Kaliber took a long look at fence 10, which looks like an ancient stone bridge, complete with arches, and is very much an optical question. Three horses refused it (one dumping his rider), but the look made Royal Kaliber clear it by a mile.
Authentic also stared at fence 10 in a flawless round. Madden, who rode on the 2002 World Championship team, said she benefited from watching most of the 66 horses that preceded her. Still, “I had a set plan after walking the course and stayed with it,” she said, adding, “I felt less pressure because I had already had a good round [in the individual qualifier] and because we were finally finished waiting.”
The Germans had a few anxious moments when Christian Ahlmann and Coster lowered the 4’10” square oxer at fence 9 as the team’s first rider. Marco Kutscher and Montendo then added a zero score, but Otto Becker and Cento, despite flowing like wine around the course, just caught fence 11A with a hind foot.
Wylde called Olaf Petersen’s 640-meter course of 17 efforts “one of the hardest Nations Cup courses I’ve ever jumped.” Petersen is once again forcing horses to solve optical questions and riders to make striding decisions, but another factor is the unrelenting size of the jumps and their mental and technical difficulty.
Nine riders had no faults at all this morning; another three had 1 to 3 time faults but no jumping faults.
Fences 11ABC (an oxer-vertical-oxer triple combination, off a left-hand turn away from the in-gate) was this morning’s most influential fence, falling at least 29 times, a number inflated by several horses lowering more than one fence. Fence 14, a fishing boat for which the standards look like the bow and the stern, has fallen at least 20 times. At least 10 horses have faulted at the water jump.
Two horses broke down in the first round, the most severe of which was France’s Dileme De Cephe, winner of the FEI World Cup Final in April with Bruno Brucqsault of France. The 13-year-old gelding stumbled after landing off the oxer at fence 3 and was suddenly three-legged lame. Brucqsault jumped off him, and veterinarians and assistants rushed in to apply a splint to what was clearly a catastrophic injury in his right front ankle. A statement from Dr. Leo Jeffcott, chairman of the Veterinary Commission, said he suffered a bowed tendon.
A horse ambulance removed Dileme De Cephe from the field, as it did Argentine horse Who Knows Lilly (Frederico Sztyrle). Who Knows Lilly pulled up lame on the right turn following fence 9 but was able to walk onto the trailer without support. Jeffcott reported that Who Knows Lilly had also suffered a bowed tendon.
The windy day has provided a bit of humor this morning as the ground jury has had to resort to having a member of the jump crew hold the planks at fence 12 (called “Fragments” because “it resembles fragments of ancient Greek ceramics,” according to Peterson’s course description) in place until horses turn to fences 11ABC. Three horses have arrived at the fence 12 only to find it already on the ground (Clinton/Dirk Demeersman of Belgium, Mr. Springfield/Robert Smith of Great Britain, and Noble Z/ Danae Tsatsou of Greece). In fact, when Noble Z jumped it, there were no planks left on the jump at all.
The second round doesn’t begin until 8:30 tonight, under the lights. The U.S. riders are hoping the lights and the commotion of what’s expected to be a full stadium will give their horses an adrenaline pump. The course will be the same, although since the footing is grass, the jump crew is now moving the jumps to provide better landing and take-off spots.
The stadium was about 80-percent full by the time the third round of horses was competing, a pattern typical so far. The fans need plenty of time to get here on the buses they have to take from the parking area at the airport.