Caption: Patrice Delaveau and Orient Express HDC will fly the French flag in tomorrow's much-anticipated Top-Four Jumping Final at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy. (Dirk Caremans/FEI)
Bengtsson, Delaveau, Dubbeldam and Madden qualify for Top-Four Jumping final
By Louise Parkes
The battle for a place in the top-four Jumping final at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 produced superb sport today, and with the host nation's Patrice Delaveau making the cut, the noise, excitement and tension in the Stade D'Ornano at Caen is set to reach fever-pitch tomorrow afternoon.
The Frenchman will be joined by America's Beezie Madden, Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and The Netherlands' Jeroen Dubbeldam in the closing stages of what has been one of the most exciting world championships of all time.
There were several high-profile withdrawals before today's penultimate competition began, including Germany's Christian Ahlmann, who was lying 10th with Codex One, Canada's Yann Candele, in 22nd place with Showgirl, and America's Kent Farrington, who was holding 27th position with Voyeur.
A total of 29 horse-and-rider combinations lined out, and French course designer, Frederic Cottier, presented two superb tracks that brought the cream to the very top.
A significant role
Only eight horse-and-rider combinations jumped clear over the 12-fence first-round track, in which the triple combination at fence eight, the massive oxer at fence 10, the following vertical at 11 and final oxer at 12 all played a significant role.
There were three countries represented by three riders - Ireland, The Netherlands and France - as the day began, and the vociferous home supporters were devastated when Penelope Leprevost was eliminated for parting company with Flora di Mariposa at the open water at fence six.
Lying in seventh place as the competition began, Leprevost was looking good until her mare landed in the water, stumbled and pitched her out of the saddle to bring her world championships to a close. But the 34-year-old rider still goes home with a team silver medal in her pocket after great performances earlier in the week.
There were clears from Olympic champion Steve Guerdat from Switzerland (Nino des Buissonnets), Ireland's Darragh Kenny (Imothep), Qatar's Sheikh Ali bin Khalid Al Thani (Vienna Olympic), America's McLain Ward (Rothchild) and The Netherlands' Jeroen Dubbeldam (Zenith SFN) before the top 10 took their turn. But only three of the leading 10 managed to keep a clean sheet which led to a new-look leaderboard at the start of the second round.
Brazil's Marlon Zanotelli (AD Clouwni) and Dutchman Gerco Schroder (Glock's London) disappeared from the reckoning with eight and 12 faults apiece, but Germany's Daniel Deusser kept himself well in the game when clear with his Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2014 winning partner Cornet D'Amour. In overnight sixth, Belgium's Gregory Wathelet and Conrad de Hus disappeared from the reckoning with 15 faults, while Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa picked up five with Status, who put a foot in the water and fell foul of the 86-seconds time allowed.
Delaveau and Orient Express followed with one of their typically heart-stopping rounds during which the stallion broke into a trot when checked between the open water and the following oxer and then survived a thrilling run through the triple combination. Denmark's Soren Pedersen, lying third, plummeted down the leaderboard when leaving three fences on the floor with Tailormade Esperanza de Rebel but, second-last to go, Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson produced a fabulous clear.
Last in the first round, America's Beezie Madden and Cortes C hit the oxer after the roll-back at fence five. But as leaders going into the day, that only brought their tally to 4.16 and left them well in the chase as round two got underway.
The new course had just 10 fences, but the oxer at fence four and the triple-combination at nine weeded more of them out.
Bengtsson, Delaveau, Madden, and Deusser held the top four spots as it began, and clears from McLain Ward, now lying sixth, and from Dubbeldam in fifth piled the pressure on the leading pack.
When Deusser's grey gelding hit the vertical three from home it opened a top-four spot for the Dutchman, and when Madden and Delaveau once again kept a clean sheet they were through too. But Swedish hearts were racing when Bengtsson's stallion hit the oxer at four. He had a fence in hand as the day started, and any further mistakes would prove disastrous.
"My fault wasn't just a little touch, it was a proper fault," he said afterwards. "I'm not sure why he jumped so funny at that one. There was a lot going on in my head going down to the next oxer, I wondered if he would be in doubt again but he was fine."
Much anticipated finale
Four veterans of the sport go through to tomorrow's much anticipated finale, with three experienced super-star horses and Dubbeldam's newcomer, Zenith SFN, who has proven his world-class ability this week.
The Dutchman, who was Olympic champion in Sydney 2000 and a member of the gold medal winning Dutch team on Thursday, admitted he is somewhat surprised to find himself challenging for the individual world title on a horse that is comparatively green.
Looking ahead to tomorrow he commented tonight: "it's a big surprise for me, my horse is really inexperienced at this level. Last winter he competing at 3 and 4-Stars and then he started 5-Stars this summer". However he has faith in the 10-year-old which he has had for some time. "Although he is inexperienced he is cool and uncomplicated, and very fit. That might be an advantage for the other riders tomorrow because he hasn't jumped as much as their horses - we will see."
There is huge pressure on Delaveau, who is competing not only in front of his home crowd but also his neighbours, family and friends. "My home is just 40 kilometres from Caen," he said. "I'm very happy and my horse today was very good, he didn't touch a pole. I'm feeling relieved, as for me it was especially important today. There was pressure for my region, for my Federation and for my country."
Asked how he handled the pressure today Dubbeldam replied: "I didn't feel under any pressure at all! No I'm joking, the pressure was very high. I was in 12th position at the start so I was hoping for some faults from the other riders so I could move up. I know that's not a nice thing to do but I did it, and I jumped double-clear and it put me in!" he said, adding, "I'm really looking forward to riding all those super-star horses tomorrow. I hope we will see a lot of great horsemanship from all four riders - and may the best rider win!"
Asked how they will prepare for the final test in which they will all ride each other's horses and start on a zero score, Delaveau was first of the four to reply. "For me it's a secret and it is my secret and I don't reveal it to anyone!" he said with a laugh. Madden and Bengtsson said they will probably watch a few videos of their rivals' horses tonight but both agreed they know the oppositions' rides very well.
Dubbeldam was more stoic however. "I've been thinking every night about it, so I don't want to think about it anymore! Tonight I will have a good French steak and we will see what happens tomorrow!"
Standings after Jumping Semi-Final: 1, Orient Express HDC (Patrice Delaveau) FRA, 4.08; 2, Cortes C (Beezie Madden) USA, 4.16; 3, Casall ASK (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE, 4.34; 4, Zenith SFN (Jeroen Dubbeldam) NED, 6.25; 5, Rothchild (McLain Ward) USA, 6.56; 6, Cornet D'Amour (Daniel Deusser) GER, 8.70; 7, Molly Malone V (Bertram Allen) IRL, 9.00; 8, Vivant (Cassio Rivetti) UKR ,11.14; 9, All Star (Denis Lynch) IRL, 11.83; 10, Cornado NRW (Marcus Ehning) GER,12.14.
Facts and Figures:
29 horse-and-rider combinations lined out in today's penultimate competition in the Jumping championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014.
Leading riders that withdrew before today's competition included Germany's Christian Ahlmann who was lying 10th with Codex One, Canada's Yann Candele who was in 22nd place and America's Kent Farrington who was holding 27th position.
Today's startlist included three horse-and-rider partnerships from France, Ireland and The Netherlands, and two each from Brazil, Denmark, Sweden and Denmark.
Only 8 jumped clear in the first round.
There was one elimination when Penelope Leprevost, lying close to the leaders in seventh place with Flora de Mariposa, fell when the mare landed in the water, stumbled and pitched her out of the saddle.
21 horse-and-rider combinations returned for the second round.
9 jumped clear in round 2.
The Top-Four finalists are Patrice Delaveau (FRA), Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE), Beezie Madden (USA) and Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED).
France has taken the title once before when Eric Navet and Quito de Baussy came out on top at the first FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Stockholm, Sweden in 1990.
American finalist, Beezie Madden, was silver medallist at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Aachen, Germany.
No American or Dutch rider has ever won world championship individual gold.
If Beezie Madden takes the 2014 title she will be only the second lady rider to do so in the 61-year history of the Jumping world championship.
The last lady champion was Canada's Gail Greenough who rode Mr T to gold at Aachen in 1986.
Jeroen Dubbeldam NED, talking about the challenge of tomorrow's top-four final and the difficulty of riding strange horses: "It is a lot of jumping for the horses but they are well trained and top fit otherwise they would not have made it this far. When you come to a world championship if you don't want to ride other horses then you shouldn't have come here!"
Beezie Madden USA: "It'll be an exciting day tomorrow for sure. You have to stay level-headed and hope the horses do as well, because a lot of the excitement is that they are in the ring, and they have to be able to handle that. Some of the horses get excited by that, there's a lot of other factors out there tomorrow - a little fatigue, horses jumping the same course four times, sometimes they get a little bored."
Jeroen Dubbeldam NED: "I'm looking forward to riding all three of the other horses and it would be a nice thing if all four riders go clear tomorrow and we have an extra jump-off and become world champion riding your own horse! That would be the nicest thing!"
Frederic Cottier, Course Designer: "It's not by chance that we have these four great riders in the final. To get four outstanding riders and champions from 160 pairs - the sport spoke today. You asked about pressure, most sports are about pressure. I designed today's course in the same spirit as all the others during the week so that it was comfortable for the horses but difficult for the riders. I designed it in a way that the riders again had the freedom of choice. Respect for the horses comes first and then the sport speaks for itself. But it's just like a piece of theatre - you only get one shot! We are all looking forward to the final four, the draw will have an impact, and the fatigue of the horses, but we have talented and experienced riders - for me, my job is almost done."