Las Vegas, Nevada – There were many times during the 2005 FEI World Cup Finals when one had to take a reality check and pinch themselves just to be certain they weren’t at the NBA play-offs instead of an equestrian event. Anyone who loves sport, whether they have ever been interested in horses or not, would have enjoyed the pure entertainment value of this week’s competition in Las Vegas. It was like no other international equestrian event ever held and the entertainment capital of the world opened everyone’s eyes to the future entertainment possibilities horse sport can offer the public.
Emerging victorious today amidst this new standard of equi-tainment was Germany’s Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and the scopey 12 year old Hanoverian gelding Shutterfly, who logged more air-time than Michael Jordan ever did on his best day.
Beerbaum, the first woman ever ranked the number one show jumping rider in the world, earned her first World Cup victory with a total of 4 faults for the entire competition. Veteran Michael Whitaker of Great Britain on the 11 year old Dutch gelding Portofino 63 was second with 7 faults, while fellow Germans Marcus Ehning riding Gitania 8, a 13 year old Holsteiner mare and Lars Nieberg on Lucie 55, a 12 year old Hanoverian mare, tied for third. Fourth was Kimberly Frey of the United States, appearing in her first World Cup Final riding her steady 12 year old Dutch mare Marlou.
“This is definitely my biggest win as of yet, my first individual title at a championship,” said Beerbaum. “It’s a great honor to be among the fabulous names on this trophy here. It’s also a wonderful pleasure to win here in Las Vegas, it’s almost like being home since I’m from California and so many people came here to see me that haven’t seen me in many years. I could feel their enthusiasm help motivate me throughout the weekend.”
The day’s competition involved two courses not against the clock. Due to the compact size of the arena the courses challenged the competitors with tight turns, severe bends and distance decisions for the rider.
Course designer Guilherme Jorge of Brazil was very pleased with today’s results on his courses and described his design philosophy for today’s final, “The first round we could have more jumps so they were more technical and not that big. I was very happy because it was a fair test of scope and they had to find the balance. The second round had less jumps and even though I used three double combinations we could go a little bit bigger, since we’ve got the best horses we can test more scope.”
The fence causing the most problems of both rounds today was fence 7 in round A, a difficult triple combination coming after a switchback on the tight in-gate turn from fence 5 to 6 then leaving a severe bend from 6 into the triple. Jorge was not surprised with the rails down in the triple, “I knew they had the option of the 4 or the 5, that was the plan. It’s the final so the triple was big enough. I was happy to see even if they got a rail there was no trouble, no other problem.”
Beerbaum was quick to praise Shutterfly, who clearly was the horse with both the scope and technical ability to handle both courses. “Shutterfly jumped absolutely brilliantly today. He was in top form,” she said. “I was a little nervous after the first round with one fence down, although it was a really light fault. But the second round, he jumped more and more phenomenal that I got more and more confidant as the course went on because I knew he was in the best form ever and it was going to be my day.”
After round A, Beerbaum was tied at four faults with three time World Cup Champion Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, on his 16 year old stallion Baloubet Du Rouet. Pessoa, who was second to last to go in round B just before Beerbaum, had a tough finish with 8 faults dropping him to 7th place.
Beerbaum said that although she felt some nervousness today she tried to stay focused on her own riding. “I was walking down to the warm-up ring hearing the people watching the video say ‘Oh! One down for Rodrigo, Oh! Two down for Rodrigo!’ So you get a little bit of what’s going on, but I try not to think of what the other riders are doing. I tried not to think about that and it wasn’t until it was over that Michael (Whitaker) said, ‘If you had one down I would have won.’ So then I thought oh, wow, good thing!”
Second place Whitaker was pleased with his World Cup Finals performance and his horse Portofino, believing his preparation in sunny Florida may have been a benefit as opposed to Kim Frey who avoided the wide-open outdoor courses at Wellington. “I had one fence down the whole show so I’m really happy today,” said Whitaker. “I think the sunshine in Florida was really good for her. At home it’s freezing cold—I’d sooner be here. The horses that have gotten to this level have a lot of experience . . . the good ones, they jump anywhere.”
Kim Frey’s strategy for Marlou and her first World Cup was much different. After competing in her first European Super League last summer, which she found an invaluable experience, she took a strictly indoor approach to her training, “As soon as I came back she was a different horse and was great through indoors. Then I saved her during the winter, not showing at Wellington, trying to keep her in the indoor frame of mind and I got a little nervous thinking maybe I was not showing enough since I wasn’t showing at all, but I guess it paid off, she couldn’t have been better.”
Tied for third place, Ehning is very optimistic about Gitania’s future and her performance this week. “I had a super feeling with her,” he said. “All the courses were never a really big problem. I had one down in today’s first round but I think they were small faults and hopefully I can come forward. I only had this horse but for six months so I’m really happy to be in the first three in the World Cup Finals.” The other third place finisher, Lars Neiberg, felt his mare Lucie 55 didn’t particularly care for the high energy atmosphere in Las Vegas. “She’s sensitive… she’s a bit nervous from day to day,” he explained.
After Frey, the next highest placed American was Schuyler Riley, who tied for 12th place on her Dutch gelding Ilian.