Not even broken brakes could prevent Boyd Exell (Australia) from tightening his grip towards a third successive individual gold medal as the Polaris Ranger driving marathon test delighted the packed crowds at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon (WEG) today.
The Netherlands’ notorious marathon specialist Koos De Ronde won the day with his score of 117.28 points, helping him jump 10 places in the overall individual standings to sit fourth with just the cones test to come. But nothing could stop the relentless Exell from once again grabbing the headlines.
The Australian noticed early on that his braking system was compromised and yet still the 2010 and 2014 WEG Individual champion managed to get round the Richard Nicol-designed course in a score of 121.93, the third best of the day. That was enough to extend his overall lead to 7.00 points over second-placed Chester Webber.
“It caused a problem in hazard one, we came in hot because there is a big long gallop into gate A and we drifted too wide and they (the horses) looked to the left rather than being able to square up the turn – that was a bit disappointing hazard one, gate A, first mistake,” Exell said, with a wry smile.
“Hazards three, four and five are all up and down dips, so the reins were around my head one moment and then on the floor and then round my neck. But we fought. We didn’t give up; we kept fighting all the way.“
Home favourite Webber kept up the pressure on the all-conquering Australian with a controlled display, backed up by an intricately planned strategy designed to combat the searing heat and humidity.
“We have done a lot of studying of lactate levels and heart rates to try and get the horses ready for this,” Webber explained. “When the temperatures get hotter, the heart rates get higher and lactates grow. We trained them at home (Florida, USA) with gallop sets – you can actually train them to drop their heart rate.”
Hitting his pre-planned targets all the way round, Webber brought home his carriage in 125.51, the fifth best score of the day. The 29-year-old Belgian Edouard Simonet sits just behind him in the overall standings, after adding a confident marathon drive to his solid dressage score.
A protégée of Boyd Exell’s, Simonet is a real threat to the big two with his favoured cones test to come.
“I love the game, so let’s play tomorrow,” Simonet said.
Dutchman De Ronde’s magnificent drive saved what was otherwise a disastrous day for the men in orange. Father and son, Ijsbrand and Bram Chardon both made significant, uncharacteristic errors dropping the Dutch, winner of the team competition in 2010 and 2014, down to third in the standings. Team USA lead on 338.55 points, more than 15 points clear of Team Belgium.
“It was terrible. It’s a big disappointment for us both but eventually it will make you stronger and for now we have to keep the team together,” said Bram Chardon. The 25 year old was 18th quickest on the day with his father just two places better off.
Wanita, the horse driven by Christoph Sandmann (GER) that fell on today’s Marathon course, was winded but uninjured in the fall. The 15-year-old mare was cooled down at the site of the incident and recovered prior to being transported back to her barn. She is back in her own stable and is apparently happily eating hay!