It was only a matter of time.
Steve Guerdat of Switzerland won the Olympic individual gold show jumping medal in 2012, but the World Cup title kept eluding him. He was third here in 2007. In 2012 and 2013, he lost in jump-offs to the USA's Rich Fellers and Beezie Madden. Although he also was in the hunt last year, he once again failed to take the trophy.
Yet with his special talent, it seemed inevitable that he would be able to hold the Cup aloft in triumph someday, just as he did this afternoon--though he nearly blew it once more this time.
Today's two-round competition over unforgiving courses demanded accurate jumping and great rapport between horse and rider to negotiate them successfully. Going into the second round, Steve was leading France's Penelope Leprovost and Ireland's Bertram Allen by a 9-penalty margin, which gave him two rails in hand. But when a pole dropped at 5A, Steve got worried.
By the last fence, number 12, with victory in sight, and hearing "go, go, go" from the stands, he took a huge, crazy flyer at the Longines oxer. There was no way his mount, Albfuehren's Paille, was going to leave both poles in place, and sure enough, the back rail went. Worse yet, Steve was dangerously close to the 68-second time allowed, with a clocking of 67.76 seconds. Had he finished a few instants slower, he would have had a time penalty and been tied with Penelope and Bertram. Who knows what would have happened in a jump-off with those two?
Explaining the situation, Steve said with a slightly sheepish smile, "I went as fast as possible to the finish line and unfortunately, there was a big fence in the way."
Penelope ended as the runner-up, because time decides the lower-placing ties, and Bertram, the precocious 19-year-old, was 0.57 seconds slower, putting him third.
I guess you could say Steve was on a roll. Remember, he won Saturday night's Duel in the Desert on a cowpony, chasing a steer. Steve can get the best out of a variety of horses, but he does need to keep his disciplines separate. He noted he was still riding like a cowboy at the end of that final round.
The best U.S. finish was Beezie Madden on Simon, her 2013 title mount, fourth with 10 penalties and slightly faster in the second round than Jos Verlooy of Belgium, who had the same number of faults. Beezie carried in 6 penalties from the first two days of Cup competition, but she was fault-free in the first round today. Had she not dropped a rail in round two, she would have been the winner.
"I'm so happy with the way the horse went, but one rub today cost me quite a lot," Beezie conceded.
Rich Fellers of the U.S. on the oldest horse in the competition, 19-year-old Flexible, was tied with Steve on zero penalties coming into today's action. Two rails in each round, however, put him seventh with 16 penalties, but Rich was still smiling with pride about his valiant campaigner who never gives up, and is looking forward to competing with him another day.
Defending champion Daniel Deusser of Germany, the number one-ranked rider in the world, understandably wasn't happy with finishing 14th on Cornet d'Amour.
"Maybe I started a little bit too quick the first day," he reflected.
"When I go into the ring now, he's a little nervous. I don't think it's a major problem. But it's not good enough in that small arena, where you need to have everything controlled. Maybe for that arena, I should have done something different. I don't think it's something to fix here. I'll go outside and jump a bit smaller."
The arena is oddly configured and difficult, with fences coming up quickly in the tight space.
"If the horse likes it, it's good," Daniel said, "but we knew this was one of the smallest arenas for the whole World Cup circuit for us. That's why sometimes we have to choose a different horse for a different arena. I made the wrong choice this time, and will try again next time."
Course designer Anthony D'Ambrosio in many ways was the real star of World Cup week. He is the architect of the results, after all, and walking the course with him was so educational. Everything matters, from the colors and patterns of the fences (he doesn't like too many striped rails) to their placement -- a jump that a horse must take going toward the ingate can either be encouraging or cause a problem with striding if a mount is too eager.
Listen to Anthony talk about his work here. Click on the arrow on the left below to hear what he had to say.
The World Cups drew a total of 73,895 fans, up from 2009, the last time they were in Las Vegas after the recession got under way. The final day of show jumping, though, had an audience of 8,929, about 2,000 less than Saturday's dressage finals. You figure out what that means.
Life will seem dull from now on without a daily dose of lasers, fireworks, singers, acrobats and Elvis. Las Vegas Events has a bid in for 2018, and I'm sure producer Shawn Davis is cooking up more unusual exhibitions like the Duel in the Desert, so we have to hope it comes back here in three years.
Now I go from expensive watch to expensive watch, Longines to Rolex, heading for the Rolex Kentucky 4-star event next week. I'll be wearing my Timex...
Check in Thursday for the first of my postcards from the Bluegrass.