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The Eventing world is one step closer to crowning its newest World Champion. The dressage phase of eventing at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games ended today and Germany has made it abundantly clear that they want gold.
79 horse and rider combinations finished their tests in the grandstand at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, and German Michael Jung leads the way aboard La Biosthetique-Sam FBW with a score of 33.0. Italy's Stephano Brecciaroli and Apollo van de Wendi Kurt Hoeve enjoyed the lead for half of today, but settle in second place with a 35.5. Simone Deitermann (GER), who led the day yesterday, is now in third place aboard Free Easy NRW with their 36.0.
On the U.S. front, individual rider Becky Holder and Courageous Comet triggered a rousing ovation for their brilliant performance, garnering a 39.3 to stand in fifth place. For the team, Phillip Dutton and Woodburn anchored this afternoon. Their score of 48.2, however, place them in 32nd at the end of the day.
Karen O'Connor and Mandiba's 44.8 from the morning session seats them in 18th place heading into cross-country, while Buck Davidson and Ballynoecastle RM resolved to 29th with yesterday's 47.0, and Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos round out the team in 36th with yesterday morning's 49.5.
Not surprisingly, Germany leads the way in team competition with a combined score of 144.3. Great Britain's consistency throughout places them in second with a 128.5, while Sweden rounds out the top three with a 131.2. The U.S. sits in 7th with a 140.
Michael Jung & La Biosthetique-Sam FBW: 33.0
Jung, fresh off his HSBC FEI World Cup Championship win, said was very pleased with his test. “The horse is a bundle of energy,” relayed Jung’s translator. “For the last two years, he’s performed beautifully, but how do you prepare for an event like this?”
Jung also said he thinks the cross-country course will be a true four-star test. “It’s quite difficult until the end of the course," he said. "There are big jumps, and this is the longest cross-country course for me.”
Stefano Brecciaroli & Apollo van de Wendi Kurt Hoeve: 35.5
The Rome-based Italian rider Stefano Brecciaroli, who wore his police uniform during today’s test, was equally thrilled with his ride, adding, “The horse has a lot of potential, and he did a very good job,” he said.
Karin Donckers & Gazelle de la Brasserie CH: 38.8
Karin Donckers of Belgium had to overcome an extra hurdle before making it back to WEG this year. She broke her arm on September 9th when she fell leading a young horse, but said she feels very confident about the weekend nonetheless.
“Hopefully I’m fit enough," she said. "I’m really looking forward to cross-country. I have to thank my dressage trainer who came every day to ride Gazelle. She’s a mare who’s always doing a good job, and she did it again. She's had a lot of good results and I've been riding her for almost six years. You can always count on her, even when there’s a lot of crowds. She stays very cool. It’s a great feeling."
Regarding tomorrow's cross-country course, "I think there a lot of questions out there," she went on describing Michael Etherington-Smith's world-class track, "lots of big jumps. The [Head of the Lake] is a really big effort. There are quite a few big drops into the water, and it asks a lot of courage from the horses."
Another of the big efforts is the combination 26ab, the Scalloped Brush, presented by Land Rover, which consists of two 4'9" hedges over ditches. While the direct route is much more of an effort than the option, the true test is conserving energy to tackle the tough question within the final homestretch of the course.
"The horses are a bit tired by then," she said. "Luckily, there’s a nice option, and many will use the other options on course. But it’s a beautiful course and I’m very excited.”
When asked about their thoughts on the course tomorrow, both Jung and Brecciaroli agreed, "Yes! What she said," they laughed.
One horse was eliminated from dressage today, France's Havenir d'Azac, ridden by Karim Florent Laghouagh, after judges noticed him bleeding from the mouth during the latter parts of the test. Marilyn Payne, the judge at C and President of Ground Jury explained that if there is blood in the horse’s mouth, the decision is clear.
"When he started we didn’t see it," she said. "In the middle there was a little pink, sometimes it’s a peppermint. But the judge on the side said it was geting worse. By then he was turning to finish, so we let him. It was a hard thing to do, but we had to disqualify him. We have to go by the rules."
As for the rest of the tests, "all of the top tests were every exciting to judge," Payne said. "To me, it wasn’t nerve wracking until all the tests started getting better and better. It’s the most exciting thing to judge horses and riders like this."
Brecciaroli was awarded a 10 from Payne for his rein back. "[It was] just flawless," Payne described of the Italian horse and rider's movement. "Then he walked forward in this lovely walk. It was just marvelous."
As for Jung and his mount, she described them as "solid 8s. The scribe said she was getting bored [of writing] 8, so she said, 'how about a 9?' " Payne laughed. "Such a pleasure—so consistent. The horses really seemed to be enjoy it."
The first horse will take to the cross-country course tomorrow at 10:04 a.m.
*editor's note: Because most of the top riders do not speak English as their first language, the translators were on-hand to help the foreign riders in delivering their quotes to the press.