Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum recorded Germany's third consecutive victory of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping season when topping the line-up at Lyon in France this afternoon following a great performance from Checkmate. And it was a very special victory for the multiple-champion who most recently helped the German team to gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA.
"My last World Cup ride was in Las Vegas in 2009 - I have been out of the indoor sport for almost two years now so this was a big day for me today, and a great day for me too!" pointed out the 40 year old rider. And her win wasn't easily achieved. She had the best of the draw when last to go in the nine-horse jump-off, but she had to chase the super-tight target time set by The Netherlands' Gerco Schroder in a competition that was filled with surprises. Not the least of these was the third-place finish for Colombia's Rene Lopez who nearly brought the house down with the excitement he created during his race against the clock with his brave mare Noblesse Des Tess.
Before the class began, course designer Frank Rothenberger talked about his track - "the oxers are wide, riders will need a scopey horse and plenty of control and I don't expect too many clear rounds - between eight and ten I think" he said. And he was pretty accurate as only nine of the 29 starters found the key.
With four fences at the maximum 1.60m and horses asked to shorten and lengthen throughout the course it was always going to be challenging and the questions began at the very first, a big oxer which was followed by the tall FEI vertical. Fence three was an oxer with water tray - "there are seven short strides to this one and it is difficult because the poles are white and there is no filler - it is the widest oxer at 1.80m" Rothenberger explained. There were five long strides from the oxer at four to the light-coloured double at five which had a very short one-stride distance inside, and horses were then asked to extend once again with three long strides to the vertical at six. The four long strides from the vertical at seven to the triple combination at eight - two big oxers followed by a vertical - proved the undoing of many. The majority of faults were accumulated at the combination which fell 12 times - the middle element hitting the floor on nine occasions. And there were plenty of further questions before the end of the track, including whether riders could control their horses on a very short four-stride distance from fence 10 to the skinny planks at 11, the final two oxers also taking their toll.
DIFFICULT TO GET
With nine French riders amongst the 39 starters it seemed the jump-off should be top-heavy with home runners but clear rounds proved difficult to get and three of the French were amongst the four retirements, while the only elimination was incurred by Finland's Mikael Forsten whose mare, Evli Nandele, dislodged him when slamming on the brakes in the middle of the double.
A total of 11 horses had jumped before Belgium's Jos Lansink recorded the first clear with the clean and careful grey stallion Calistro and then of course the fault-free rounds began to accumulate quickly. Lopez immediately followed suit and seven others joined these two in the timed round, but there was only one Frenchman amongst them - Kevin Staut who continues to wear the coveted green-and-gold Rolex armband that marks the No. 1 rider on the Rolex World Rankings.
The clever eight-obstacle jump-off track claimed its first victim when pathfinder Lansink's horse hit the white oxer, now located just three fences from home, but Lopez then set the arena alight and put it up to the rest of them when next into the ring. His first tour of the course had been exciting enough, but this time he truly threw caution to the wind as he galloped flat out all the way with Nobless des Tess. And the nine year old mare never flinched despite near-impossible questions, scorching home to set the target at 42.52 seconds.
Saturday's surprise winner of the Masters, Spain's Sergio Alvarez Moya, then set off with the fabulous Heartbreaker stallion Action-Breaker who had given an exhibition ride in the previous round, but two fences on the floor ensured they would finish down the order. Denmark's Karina Rie Truelsen was another surprise inclusion in the jump-off line-out, but she showed she well-deserved her place when producing another spectacular clear from her bay stallion Lord If de Chalusse to slot temporarily into second place and when Ireland's Denis Lynch (Abbervail Van Het Dingeshoeve) left two on the floor he presented no danger to the leaders.
Gerco Schroder certainly did however when producing a magical round from Eurocommerce New Orleans that included a superbly-judged tight turn to the FEI vertical, and with 41.88 seconds showing on the clock the Dutchman went out in front. That same vertical however drew a groan of disappointment from the crowd however when Kevin Staut's gelding, Le Prestige St Lois de Hus, left it on the floor, and when it also penalised Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Casall la Silla then only Michaels-Beerbaum stood between Schroder and those coveted maximum Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping points.
Cool as a breeze, and completely focused, the American-born rider and her high-stepping 15 year old gelding took all the risks, clinching their victory with the bravest gallop down the long run between the final two fences to break the beam just fractionally faster in 41.74 seconds.
Schroder was philosophical about having to settle for runner-up spot. "I'm happy with my second place" he said, "I knew Meredith was coming after me and you can never be sure about anything until she is done!" he pointed out. His profile has not been so high of late, but he explained that much of this last year has been spent bringing on good seven and eight year old horses. "My brother (Wim) and I have a good system for finding younger horses and bringing them along" he added. But he has also had some great results with Eurocommerce New Orleans - "he was double clear at the 3-Star in Moorsele, sixth in Dortmund and fourth in the Grand Prix at Calgary so he has been going really well" he pointed out.
For Michaels-Beerbaum, life has changed dramatically since the birth of her daughter, Brianne, last February. "She is the priority now and then my riding comes next" she explained. She said she had been disappointed with her performance in the individual competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ and joked that today's double of oxers in the triple combination were placed there by Frank Rothenberger "to give me some more practice. I was relieved when I jumped them clear in the first round and after that I felt that this could just be my day!" she added.
She talked about the challenges of parenting and how Brianne has travelled with her to every show since she was born. However this weekend her daughter stayed at home with her husband, Marcus. "She was a bit jet-lagged after Kentucky so I didn't bring her here" Meredith explained. As a result she missed her mother's first big indoor win for quite some time. But on today's form the triple Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion has plenty more to look forward to, and she now goes to Verona in Italy next weekend where her great old jumping partner, Shutterfly, will jump in a few small classes as he, too, gets back into world-class shape.
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, talking about her top horse Shutterfly "he is looking very well, I will jump him next week in Verona in a few small classes and if everything goes well I want to jump him in a World Cup before the end of the year".
Kevin Staut, talking about the tendency for his horse Le Prestige St Lois de Hus to buck during his rounds of jumping "when he doesn't buck he is less competitive - he seems to need the excitement to be motivated to jump"
Rene Lopez, talking about finishing third today "I am less surprised than most people - I had a good win two weeks ago and I have a lot of confidence in my mare".
Sylvie Robert, Lyon Show Director "we are pleased to hold this World Cup event and that our show is recognised as one of the best shows on the circuit. Ticket sales for the show have been fantastic, and I'd like to thank Rolex for their support".
For further information on today's fixture go to website www.equitalyon.com or contact Press Officer Pascal Renauldon, Email P.firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: + 33 60 875 9407.
The next leg of the series takes place at Verona, Italy next Sunday, 7 November , and for details on the Italian fixture you can check out website www.equitalyon.com or contact Press Officer Caterina Vagnozzi, Email email@example.com, Tel. +39 335 6107070.