US riders Kent Farrington and McLain Ward will be last two into the arena when the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final 2014 gets under way with the Table C Speed on Friday night in Lyon, France.
The draw for starting spots took place on Thursday night at Lyon’s elegant City Hall which dates all the way back to 1642, and under the 17 fabulous chandeliers adorning the historic and sumptuously-decorated reception room, it was Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts and French rider Patrice Delaveau, who pulled the names and numbers out of the hat.
For British veteran, Michael Whitaker, it was third time unlucky as he was drawn first of the 40 starters from 20 nations who are taking part in this 36th annual finale to the indoor Jumping season. However, his 2013 European silver medal-winning team-mate, World No. 1 Scott Brash, has a strong draw when going third-last.
Defending champion, the USA’s Beezie Madden, will be 31st into the arena as she bids to make it two-in-a-row with Simon while three-time FEI World Cup Jumping champion, Marcus Ehning from Germany, is drawn 34th with the stallion Cornado NRW. The final six are an interesting mixture, with Egypt’s Nassar Nayel who qualified as winner of the Norther American West Coast League running 35th with Lordan followed by Saer Coulter and Springtime from the US, and then Jamie Kermond, winner of the Australian Jumping Championship last September who topped the FEI World Cup Jumping 2014 Australian League.
Brash and the on-form mare Ursula will be tough nuts to crack when third-last to go, ahead of the speedy US partnership of Farrington and Blue Angel and, finally, Ward with HH Carlos Z.
Earlier on Thursday the warm-up competition was, appropriately, won by French master Kevin Staut and the black 12-year-old mare Oh d’Eole. “I brought this horse only for the 3-Star classes and the ranking classes, and she is a back-up in case anything might happen with my World Cup rides. But I’m delighted to win because this is the first competition of this Final in my own country and it is important for us here in France,” said Staut, who will start 14th on Friday night with Silvana HDC.
It was an interesting line-up as Ludger Beerbaum, Germany’s first FEI World Cup Jumping champion in 1993, finished second with Chaman while the USA’s Ashlee Clarke (Agrostar) and Saer Coulter (Carmena Z) slotted into third and fourth places. Qatar’s Hamad Ali Mohamed A Al Attiya, at 18 years of age the youngest competior at the 2014 Final, finished fifth and is a young man to watch out for this week. Not in the least bit intimated by the fact that he is taking on the very best in the world, and armed with the super-talented mare Bella Donna who was previously competed by Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, he has set his ambitions very high.
He has been training with former Swiss star Markus Fuchs since last summer and pointed out that “until last year I was jumping up to 1.40m in amateur classes, but I wanted to be on top so we got Bella Donna four or five months ago. It took some time for us to get used to one another but now I’m really starting to get to know her better – she is amazing and I think we are a perfect match! She jumps 1.60m like it is 1.30m!” he said. His second horse, Ultimo, will compete in the opening Speed class while Bella Donna will do all the rest.
Asked what his target is despite his lack of experience and his very first attempt to compete at this level, let alone in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final, he replied confidently “I want to win it!”
But all eyes will be on Beezie Madden however as she sets off on her mission to bring the FEI World Cup Jumping trophy back to the USA for the third year in succession and the tenth time in total. Asked what is the secret to winning the FEI World Cup Jumping Final, she said: “it takes consistency – a good horse has to have a good week and a little bit of luck and you need to finish in the top eight on the first day to be in with a chance,” she said.
Madden was only the fifth woman to win the coveted title in the history of the prestigious series. The other female champions were also from the US – Melanie Smith (1982), Leslie Burr Lenehan (now Burr-Howard) (1986) and Katharine Burdsall (1987) while the fourth rider was Californian-born Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum who was competing under the German flag when securing victories in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
Joining Madden as a previous champion in the field is Burr-Howard, who is 25th in the starting order on Tic Tac, some 28 years after her she beat the legendary Canadian partnership of Ian Millar and Big Ben to the title.
She says jumping over three days will not be a challenge to him “because he’s the right kind of horse for this kind of competition, he has a lot of blood – my main challenge will be keeping him controlled after the Speed leg, he’s a naturally fast horse anyway. His strength is that he is so consistent”.
And what about the pressure as defending champion? “There is a little more pressure returning as title-holder but it is such an honour to have won the title in the first place, and if I can keep it for another year it would be fantastic! It’s always great to compete for your country, and I will be happy if any of the US riders win!”