September 6, 2014—Beezie Madden and Cortes C strayed from perfection for the first time in this Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, when they dropped a rail at the Parimutuel Urbain oxer in the initial round of today's top-29 show jumping at d'Ornano Stadium, packed once again with vocal fans.
Beezie, who stood second in the standings, slipped to third, but then quickly made up the ground she lost with a perfect second round as we all stopped breathing until she cleared the final fence. At stake was a place in the Final Four, tomorrow's test for the world championship of show jumping.
Perenially cool and calm Beezie wasn't bothered by the toppled pole; all's well that ends well. Here's what she had to say about it.
France's Patrice Delaveau had two clear rounds on Orient Express HDC today to lead the rider standings, much to the delight of his compatriots, who rocked the stadium and flashed their flags. He played to them and blew a kiss. Beezie stood second while Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson was third with Casall Ask after an uncharacteristic knockdown in the last round. The fourth slot went to 2000 Olympic individual gold medalist Jeroen Dubbeldam of the Netherlands on Zenith SFN.
Two Americans nearly made the cut, but despite a pair of perfect rounds today on the feisty Rothchild, McLain missed being included by a mere 0.31 penalties, since the riders' totals were cumulative throughout the competition.
McLain experienced an anxious moment at the Land Rover oxer in the second round, when it looked as if Rothchild would fall short of clearing it.
"We had the front rail of that oxer down the other day and it's been a bogey, so I knew we needed a clear round and I stood him off it a little bit," McLain recounted.
"He's a little horse and the back rail got a little far away, but he tried hard and gave a little extra," said McLain.
"Difficult" and "frustrating" were, understandably, the words McLain used to describe his feelings about missing out on a long-time goal aboard a horse in whom he so strongly believes.
However, he and his wife, Lauren, had gone on a tour of the D-Day beaches, and seeing what happened there "puts into perspective not making the Final Four," he commented.
The Final Four format involves each rider starting with a clean slate, all previous faults wiped away. They jump a course on their own horse, then ride the same short route on all the other contenders' mounts. It used to be quite exciting when the game included a "bogey" horse who was difficult, but it would seem this group doesn't have such an animal -- though that remains to be seen for certain.
Rothchild could have been that horse.
McLain noted the chestnut gelding "is quirky, and you have to know him a little bit," while he categorized the equines in this WEG's final four as "pretty orthodox horses."
Despite his quirks (he can only be petted on one spot below his ear), Rothchild is a favorite of McLain's.
"Rothchild has taught me a lot of lessons," he said.
"He's taught me about meeting a horse in the middle, about believing in a horse and seeing the best and then it comes up. I really like this horse, aside from the ring. If he were a person, I'd go have a beer with him. He's a cool character."
The Final Four concept is controversial; has been for years, and there are those who think it should be dropped.
"It's a question whether it's a relevant competition any more. When this all started years ago, different parts of the world rode and trained very differently. Now, everybody trains about the same," said McLain.
I remember former U.S. coach Frank Chapot saying it would be a harder test if it involved the four worst horses in the world, instead of the four best.
In an odd ceremony after the competition, four riders -- McLain, Jeroen, Patrice and Ireland's Bertram Allen (only 19 years old and looks younger) were presented with ribbons. At first we couldn't figure it out, then we realized that the award was for going double-clear today.
Coach Robert Ridland summed up his feelings about the Beezie and McLain situation during a chat we had this afternoon.
In case you're wondering what happened to Kent Farrington, who rode Voyeur on the bronze medal U.S. team last week, he went home a few days ago. Although he qualified for the individual competition, he decided it would be better not to compete further "for the welfare of the horse," as Robert put it, but when I asked if Voyeur had a problem, he said no. Kent was so far down in the standings he likely wouldn't have had any shot at the Final Four, so it probably was better to save his mount for another day.
Catching up on a few loose ends here, there was good news about two riders who were injured during the Games.
Claudia Romero Chacon of Costa Rica is expected to be out of the hospital in a week after surgery for fractures and internal injuries when her horse ran into a tree in the endurance race.
Meanwhile, Chile's Tomas Couve Correa, who was stepped on by his horse when he had a fall in the second round of the team competition, has been discharged from the hospital.
And on the controlled medications front, two positives have been reported from the first week of the Games. Controlled medications are those which are used to treat horses outside of competition only.
A South African endurance mount, Tre Flama, who was vetted out at the second vet gate, was positive for bute. The horse was ridden by Giliese de Villiers.
Qalao des Mers, who finished fifth individually in eventing with Maxime Livio, and was on the fourth-placed French team, was positive for acepromazine, a tranquilizer.
The cases will have to go before the FEI tribunal, but it is possible the French eventing team will be disqualified and lose its qualification for the 2016 Olympics.
I was extremely frustrated today by the WEG's scheduling in having the best entries in the driving marathon competing at the Prarie Racecourse at the same time as the show jumpers were doing their thing at the stadium. The idea of the WEG was to expose people to more than one discipline, but if you wanted to see both top driving and top show jumping, you couldn't; you had to make a choice. It was especially annoying because Chester Weber was leading after dressage for the U.S. He didn't win the marathon, but he stands second to world champion Boyd Exell of Australia overall going into the cones segment.
Tomorrow the driving should be over before the jumping begins, so maybe those of us who would like to see each discipline will have a chance to do so, if the often-quirky transportation system cooperates.
I'm excited about the Final Four, so come back tomorrow as the WEG wraps up at last and read my final postcard.