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Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum Still on Top

The second phase of the FEI World Cup Jumping competition began tonight, following a spectacular laser light show and performance by the Bally’s Jubilee dancers. This class was run in a traditional jump-off format, and course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio posed some challenges for the riders. The jumps were bigger and required even more scope than the speed round. The time allowed was not a significant factor, but in the small arena there isn’t much option for veering off the track and slowing down too much. Of the 42 starters, 13 negotiated clear rounds.

By far, the two jumps providing the most difficulty were the Las Vegas vertical at nine and the plank on flat cups at 12. “Number nine came up quickly after the triple combination, and rode in a short distance toward the in-gate,” explained second place finisher McLain Ward at a press conference after the award presentation. “Planks are always tough, seemed some of the riders were riding the distance in the line after the jump before clearing it.” As the plank was the first jump in a tough four or five stride line to a double right towards the in-gate.

The 42 riders in tonight’s competition (Gerco Schroder of Netherlands and Enrique Gonzalez of Mexico did not ride) went in reverse order of last night’s standings. It was not until the 11th ride, Keean White of Canada with Celena Z, that we saw the first clear round, followed immediately by another one from Helena Lundback of Sweden on Madick. Of the 13 riders who went clear and moved on to the jump-off, five were from the US: Richard Spooner on Cristallo, Beezie Madden on Danny Boy, Hillary Dobbs on Quincy B, Rich Fellers on Flexible, and McLain Ward on Sapphire. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on Shutterfly, last night’s winner, was last to go and also went clear, as did Christina Liebherr, who was second last night.

When asked if there fewer or more clears than he expected, course designer D’Ambrosio replied, “More clears. I was hoping to get eight, maybe 10…I think maybe I was a little too conservative.” However, there is no doubt that riders will be faced with even more difficult questions on Sunday.

After the final ride in the first round, the ring crew quickly prepared for what was bound to be an exciting jump-off. There were ample opportunities to cut corners and make up time, which some of them put to full advantage.

First up in the jump-off was White, who dropped a rail on the second jump and finished in 40.83. He was followed by Lundback, who jumped a clear round in 37.20. She was only at the top of the leader board for a moment before being knocked down first by Spooner with 34.87, then Madden with 34.83. Dobbs, Forsten, and Pessoa all dropped a rail apiece, so Madden was still leading until Albert Zoer of Netherlands, who was sixth last night, jumped a clear round in 34.72.

Excitement was high when last night’s fifth place finisher, Thomas Velin, entered the arena on Grim St. Clair, but he knocked down nearly the whole fence at five and put himself out of the running. The crowd went wild when favorite Fellers, last year’s second place finisher and fourth last night, entered the arena. He took the course at a breakneck pace, but he had a rail at fence three and this, combined with his fast time of 34.42, put him in eighth place.

Ward was next up, and the stadium filled with applause once again. He and Sapphire put on a brilliant performance, taking some very tight turns to save valuable time, and finished in a seemingly impossible 33.77 with no faults, sending himself to the top of the leader board and leaving Zoer in second and Madden in third. They stayed there when Liebherr had a refusal at jump two, dropped a rail at six and had two time faults, leaving her with a disappointing 13th place finish.

Finally, Michaels-Beerbaum nearly brought down the house when she rode in on Shutterfly, and the crowed eagerly waited to see if she would repeat last night’s performance and take home yet another Rolex watch. She delivered, neatly taking the tightest possible turns and finishing a full second ahead of Ward and claiming the leader’s spot.

“I had a super turn from two to three that was very fast,” Michaels-Beerbaum said of her jump-off ride. She added, “Shutterfly is a very fast horse. He’s a racehorse type.”

Ward added, “I went as fast as I could go. There wasn’t one place I could go faster. My hat’s off to Meredith.”

In addition to the watch, Michaels-Beerbaum took home $53,965 for first place tonight, Ward received $38,581, and Zoer took $24,244. The remainder of just over $200,000 in prize money was doled out to the rest of the top 12.

The other two West Coast riders, Mandy Porter (San Diego) and Ashlee Bond (Cadett 7) each caught a single rail in the first round. Although they are not in contention for a top prize, they both qualified for Sunday’s final competition. There is no doubt that Ward is nipping at Michaels-Beerbaum’s heels, but Michaels-Beerbaum is an experienced international competitor having made her mark in Germany, the bastion of show jumping. Ranked first in the world, this California born and now German resident will cooly work to defend her title. Both Ward and Fellers are within grasp of the title and they will keep the pressure on. Stay tuned because in show jumping anything can happen!

 

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