Khaled Al Eid from Saudi Arabia has taken the top spot on Presley Boy after the second day of jumping. © Dirk Caremans/FEI
Rodrigo Pessoa (Team 2nd/2nd)
Edwina Alexander (Team 7th/6th)
And, lying fifth overnight, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Khaled Al Eid rocketed to the top of the individual leaderboard when all those ahead of him faltered. The 41 year old Saudi rider added just a single time penalty to his tally in an otherwise flawless performance from his stallion, Presley Boy, but the 2000 Olympic bronze medallist has his tutor, Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa, breathing down his neck going into tomorrow's next Championship leg. Only a fence divides the top 13 riders heading into the third day of competition.
Perhaps not the biggest surprise of the day was the success of the strong Australian foursome who produced two of just 17 clear rounds to move up from 14th to seventh position. Belgium lies eighth, Sweden ninth and Great Britain holds tenth spot, and only the top ten teams from today's competition go through to tomorrow evening's second round team medal decider.
Conrad Homfeld set them another fascinating test today. The problems were widespread, with the narrow 1.60m vertical at four claiming plenty of victims as did the following treble. The open water at fence seven was particularly problematic. "That jump can be a heart-breaker," Homfeld said. "It was bigger today than yesterday so that may account for some of the activity, but I have no real explanation for why it created so many problems," he said.
He explained his plan for today's 13-fence course. "It is a 'narrowing down' process, devised to reduce the field by increasing the degree of difficulty - trying to do that while taking into consideration the calibre of the horses and riders we have here" Homfeld explained, and US Chef d'Equipe George Morris congratulated him on his work.
"It's very difficult to build for horses and riders at so many different levels - the quantity and the quality - Conrad did a great job and I'm proud of him," Morris said. The biggest heart-breaker of all turned out to be the line that included the oxer at 11 and the double at fence 12. A short five, or long four strides would cover the distance between the two, but inside the double was very tight and, time and again, riders fell foul of it. And often, having already struggled there, they also often faulted at the final oxer at fence 13.
It was the first element of the double at 12 that added four faults to Janne-Friederike Meyer's scoresheet, but second-line German rider Carsten-Otto Nagel steered his lovely mare Corradina to a spectacular clear. When Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum's Checkmate put a foot in the water and also lowered the final fence the Germans looked more vulnerable, but Marcus Ehning rounded up the team effort with just a single mistake from Plot Blue and, as it turned out, that was still good enough to move his country into pole position.
The Americans lost their grip when Lauren Hough (Quick Study) collected five faults, Mario Deslauriers (Urico) had two fences down, Laura Kraut (Cedric) fell victim to the middle element of the triple combination at five and McLain Ward (Sapphire) hit the oxer at fence nine. These results also seriously affected the individual leaderboard, Deslaurier's double-error sending him plummeting from first to 22nd, and Ward's single mistake relegating him from runner-up spot to ninth. Lying overnight third, Hungary's Sandor Szasz (Moosbachhofs Goldwing) dropped right down to 55th place when collecting 12 faults, and eight faults demoted fourth-placed Venezuelan Pablo Barrios (G&C Lagran) to 30th. There is a very new look to the top end of the individual scoreboard going into tomorrow's competition.
Rodrigo Pessoa, whose clear with HH Rebozo helped raise Brazil from seventh to second when added to a similarly impressive run from Alvaro Miranda and AD Ashleigh Drossel Dan, is lying individually second ahead of Belgium's Philippe Le Jeune (Vigo d'Arsouilles) in third while Germany's Carsten-Otto Nagel (Corradina) lies fourth ahead of Australia's Edwina Alexander (Cevo Itot du Chateau) in fifth. In that memorable Final Four World Championship finale at Aachen four years ago, it was Alexander who lost out in the battle for the medals - so this is a lady with a score to settle, and she is lurking dangerously at the sharp end once again.
But she is followed by reigning Olympic champion Eric Lamaze whose stallion, Hickstead, put on an exhibition of superb jumping again today. The fact that fellow-Canadian John Pearce (Chianto) is next in line helped boost Canada's position, along with the disappearance of the defending champions from the reckoning. The Netherlands team added 24 faults to their scoreline today, and that was altogether too expensive, dropping them right down from fourth to 15th place.
Olympic champions Lamaze and Hickstead entered the stadium as the final competitors for Canada, leaving all the rails in place but picking up one time fault.
"You get the feeling that you are going quickly with him, but I could not have gone any faster down that last line with him," said Lamaze of the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion. "If that's where I got the time fault, so be it. The last line was not a line that suits Hickstead - it is a not a line that suits a lot of horses. It was a hateful line to ride."
Lamaze, who is competing with a broken left foot, has an individual score of 3.39, putting him in sixth place individually among the 121 horses competing. He is immediately followed by teammate Pearce, who is in seventh with a score of 3.70.
German team member Marcus Ehning, who is lying in 26th place, was this evening asked what he thought of his chances of getting into an individual medal position and said: "I don't know yet, for now I'm focused on the team competition tomorrow and on trying, if possible, to get into the top-25 on Friday. Then we will see. There are so many good horses and good riders fighting for the medals here," he said.
Pessoa, who climbed into team and individual silver medal position today, talked about his stallion HH Rebozo whose clear round was greeted by a roar of approval from the crowd. "I have him since February, he's a 10 year old and he's Mexican-bred. This year he had good third-placings in Torino and Rome (ITA), and he was fifth in the Queen Elizabeth at Calgary (CAN). He's a very straight-forward horse and he's in good shape, but the week is very long. We've only done two rounds so far and it's a long way to the final," he said.
He talked about the Brazilian side. "The team is totally based in Europe but we don't do Nations Cups because we only have four riders. We have done our preparation separately but we got together two weeks ago for two days and it has worked out good for us. But look at the results sheet - there are seven teams with just one rail between them right now. Tonight you could be first, second or third and by tomorrow you could be seventh, eighth or ninth. We need to maintain our position, we have experienced riders and good horses - we will be giving it our best, doing our utmost," he said.
Competition resumes on Wednesday, October 6, with the afternoon session beginning at 1pm (US time). At 7pm, the top ten ranked teams, including Saudi Arabia, Australia, Belgium, Sweden and Great Britain, will compete for team medals.
Following a day of rest on Thursday, the top 30 individually ranked competitors will compete on Friday at 5.30pm in the hopes of being among the 'Final Four' that contest the World Championship title on Saturday night, October 9, at 8pm. In the ultimate test of horsemanship, the final four competitors will ride each of the four horses over the course to decide the individual medals, and the coveted title of World Champion.
A total of 27 teams contested the World Championship title.
Individual: 1, Presley Boy (Khaled Al Eid) KSA 2.20; 2, HH Rebozo (Rodrigo Pessoa) BRA 2.80; 3, Vigo D'Arsouilles (Philippe Le Jeune) BEL 3.11; 4, Corradina (Carsten-Otto Nagel) GER 3.24; 5, Cevo Itot du Chateau (Edwina Alexander) AUS 3.38; 6, Hickstead (Eric Lamaze) CAN 3.39; 7, Chianto (John Pearce) CAN 3.70; 8, Talan (Robert Smith) GBR 3.94; 9, Sapphire (McLain Ward) USA 4.27; 10, AD Ashleigh Drossel Dan (Alvaro Miranda) BRA 4.85.