MEREDITH AND SHUTTERFLY WIN THEIR SECOND TOP TEN FINAL
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly soared to success at the sixth IJRC Top Ten Final sponsored by Rolex in Geneva tonight with a spectacular performance on a drama-filled occasion.
The German rider was always one of the favourites to take the title, particularly following her recent run of superb form, but she was lying fourth going into the second round after a slightly cautious opening effort. The odds were well-stacked in Germany's favour however with four representatives in the line-up, while Holland was next strongest with two and Ireland, Sweden, Great Britain and Switzerland all represented by just one.
Christian Ahlmann led the way in round one with Lorenzo but was initially given a single time fault when exceeding the time allowed of 74 seconds. Holland's Albert Zoer and Lincoln hit the second-last, but when Britain's Michael Whitaker collected two time faults in what appeared to be a brisk enough tour of the track with Insul Tech Mozart des Hayettes, the Ground Jury re-considered the time limitation and extended it to 77 seconds. This dispensed with the German rider's single penalty and reduced Whitaker's to just one time fault.
The clear produced by Switzerland's Markus Fuchs and Nirmette received the firm approval of the home crowd but, for once, the Top Ten Final was to produce a significant number of first-round clears - six in all - when Holland's Gerco Schroder and Eurocommerce Monaco, Germany's Ludger Beerbaum and Gladdys, Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and MacKinley and the eventual winner all left the fences intact.
Ireland's Jessica Kuerten selected a new ride, the nine year old relatively inexperienced Jipey Dark which was previously competed by Swiss rider Christophe Barbeau, to throw down her challenge and although the French-bred gelding rose to the occasion he made a single error at the second-last first time out, while Marcus Ehning and Gitania seemed a little lacklustre before getting it all wrong at the very final oxer.
Slowest of the four-faulters, the reigning FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion was therefore pathfinder in the second round in which competitors ran in reverse order of merit and when Gitania hit the new vertical three fences from home Ehning's chances were gone. Kuerten also faulted at exactly the same spot and, having also added a single time fault completed with a total of nine, but Zoer and Lincoln made no mistake at their second effort to return home and clear in 47.47 seconds.
Whitaker also got it right at his second attempt but afterwards blamed himself for the his first-round timing error. "It was stupid" he said in frustration afterwards, knowing that any chance of taking the Top Ten title had slipped from his grasp. Ahlmann however had a much more unfortunate time, hitting three fences for 12 faults and he said "in the first round I took some chances and had a good round but when the first fence fell this time I knew it was all over".
Fuchs then set the arena alight with a fiercely competitive effort all the way to the last which, to the absolute disgust of the spectators, hit the floor. And the rider was not too pleased either. "I got the impression I just didn't jump high enough" he said with his usual good humour but there was disappointment written all over his face.
With six horses gone Whitaker's single time fault still held the lead but that was to be snatched away when Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterly set sail. With effortless ease the 13 year old gelding galloped around at maximum speed and, with victory clearly in her sights, the American-born rider who will celebrate her 37th birthday in two weeks time took out two strides on the run between the last two fences to stop the clock in 46.16 seconds. "I knew there were plenty of good ones coming behind me so I had to risk it if I wanted to win it" she said afterwards.
And Bengtsson showed that she had made the right decision when the Swedish rider produced another excellent performance but leaving more than a second between himself and the leading pair. Second-last into the ring Schroder was clear but slower still in 51.19 so then only Meredith's brother-in-law Ludger Beerbaum was left to threaten her supremacy. And he looked well in touch on the clock coming to the tricky vertical which was approached on a full right-hand turn after the double where, however, it all fell sensationally apart when Gladdys hit the top pole and then having stumbled on landing went down on her knees throwing her rider to the ground and pushing him violently along in front of her. Ludger seemed to have damaged his shoulder and took some time to get back to his feet but, as he said afterwards "that's the sport - my first round was fantastic, but not my second!"
So Meredith was confirmed as the 2006 IJRC Top Ten Final champion, picking up a handsome winners purse of €50,000 which, when added to her colossal winnings over the past few weeks, leaves her feeling very happy indeed. Just a week ago she earned €125,000 when finishing second in the Riders Tour final and following her victories in the Munich Grand Prix and the FEI World Cup qualifier in Stuttgart together with other extraordinary recent results she is really on a roll.
"It's a wonderful feeling to win this competition again" said the woman who, also with Shutterfly, previously claimed the title in 2004. "Shutterfly is the best horse in the world and I'm very proud of him. It has been so great that he could come out after two months rest following the World Equestrian Games in Aachen and find form again so quickly. This is a fantastic way for him to finish his year - I'm really delighted for him" she said.
1, Shutterfly (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) Ger 0/0 45.15; 2, MacKinley (Rolf Goran Bengtsson) Swe 0/0 47.38; 3, Eurocommerce Monaco (Gerco Schroder) Ned 0/0 51.19; 4, Insul Tech Mozart des Hayettes (Michael Whitaker) GBR 1/0 56.56; 5, Nirmette (Markus Fuchs) Sui 0/4 47.00; 6, Lincoln (Albert Zoer) Nd 4/0 47.57; 7, Gitania (Marcus Ehning) Ger 4/4 51.85; 8, Jipey Dark (Jessica Kuerten) Irl 4/5 58.90; 9, Lorenzo (Christian Ahlmann) Ger 0/1 49.75; 10, Gladdys S (Ludger Beerbaum) Ger 0/Elim.