She’s done it before, coming out on top five years ago, and now America’s Beezie Madden, one of just four women riders in the field of 37 starters, threw down the gauntlet to all the rest when galloping to victory in the opening speed competition at the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final 2018 in Paris.
The double Olympic gold medallist gave her 12-year-old stallion, Breitling LS, a spectacular ride, full of confidence, precision and determination to finish almost a second clear of runner-up Daniel Deusser from Germany.
The big surprise of the evening was the third-place finish for Beezie’s compatriot, the relatively unknown Devin Ryan who goes into the second test just three points off the lead after the opening round results were calculated into points.
But none of those at the head of the leaderboard have any room for complacency, because stalking them is three-time title-holder Marcus Ehning from Germany, who finished fourth with Cornado NRW, while one of the most talked-about partnerships ahead of these Finals, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann and Toveks Mary Lou, are close behind in fifth.
Beezie was happy with her result, having mastered the balance between speed and risk over the clever 13-fence course set by Spain’s Santiago Varela better than all the rest.
“It’s quite tense on the first day…. it’s a little bit of a juggling act, so when it all works out well it’s a big relief!
“I thought Breitling LS was fantastic. You know, I think this [class] is one of the hardest parts of the World Cup. The courses get harder, but today is strategy and trying to execute it perfectly is difficult, and it went according to plan. He was fantastic; he was right there for me every time I called on him.
“Some horses you might not take such a risk because you need the horse to be rideable and careful for the rest of the competition, but those are his strong points: he’s rideable and he’s careful. So I thought it was okay today to take a shot.”
Fellow-American and defending champion McLain Ward fell victim to a tight turn to the penultimate double where HH Azur hit the first element, which added four seconds to their time and has left them in 10th place overall. That’s a long way behind, but as Beezie points out, “at these Finals it’s just one day at a time!”
The omens are looking good for her, however. When she steered Simon to victory, in a thrilling showdown against Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat in Gothenburg in 2013, she also won on the first day. And Breitling is really on top of his game; like her previous winner Simon, she got him from Dutch Olympic champion Jeroen Dubbeldam.
Tomorrow may bring some significant changes however, and with Belgium’s Pieter Devos (Espoir), Spain’s Eduardo Alvarez Aznar (Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Mar), Colombia’s Carlos Lopez (Admara) and Sweden’s Douglas Lindelow (Zacramento) also squeezed inside the top 10, and double-champion Steve Guerdat just a single point behind McLain in 11th place, then the leaders have very little breathing room.
And as Daniel says: “We had a very, very good course because nobody went really really fast – I think all the horses are jumping good still and have enough power for tomorrow”.
Power is what tonight’s second competition will be all about.