December 2, 2014--Todd Minikus is leading the U.S. East Coast standings to qualify for the Longines Show Jumping World Cup Finals in Las Vegas the same way he often wins a jump off--by a mile.
He has 81 points to 60 for the next in line, Jack Towell. While Todd is a World Cup Finals veteran, with seven such outings to his credit, Jack will be making his first appearance in the finals if he qualifies. And after him, the race gets tighter, a lot tighter, and you can count on it becoming even hotter as time runs short to make the cut.
While the finals themselves always are a magnet for riders, having the competition in one of the world's most exciting cities makes the effort to get there even more intense.
Any finals offers a chance for them to focus on their efforts, rather than what's happening with their clients in the other rings (since there are no other rings). But let's face it: When the finals are in Vegas, that's also an opportunity to have fun -- see a show, eat in top restaurants and perhaps do some gambling. And after the show, there are plenty of opportunities to party, no matter how late it is.
It's not much of a gamble to say that McLain Ward, who won the qualifier at Toronto's Royal Winter Fair with an amazing performance on the always-game Rothchild, will be in Vegas. Standing third, he is still hunting for his first Cup finals victory after 15 tries. The last time the finals were in Vegas in 2009, he was second to Germany's U.S.-born Meredith Michaels Beerbaum, and it would be poetic justice if he were able to gain the Cup himself this time.
Beezie Madden, the 2013 finals champion, is just one point behind him in fourth, with 56 points, while U.S.-based Irishman Richie Maloney has 54 points, as does Kirsten Coe. Candice King is in the hunt in seventh place with 53 points, seven ahead of Leslie Burr Howard. Leslie won the 1986 finals -- nearly 30 years ago -- on McLain. The horse was named for McLain Ward -- who was in elementary school at the time.
On the West Coast, the leader is 2012 Finals winner Rich Fellers, who broke a 25-year U.S. drought in finals wins, has 54 points to 50 for both Vinton Karrasch and Susan Artes. Rising star Karl Cook is right behind on 49.
The Western European League, which has claimed the greatest number of Cup titles, is led by Steve Guerdat. The Olympic gold medalist from Switzerland was third in Vegas in 2007. Dutch dynamo Harrie Smolders is 10 points behind, on 47, while France's darling, Kevin Staut, stands third on 38.
Dutch rider Jur Vrieling, who is not well-known in the U.S., has 33. And then two Americans who have campaigned in Europe are well up in the rankings. These young stars, each with 30 points, are Lucy Davis and Reed Kessler.
Lucy made her debut on a championship squad with a team bronze last summer at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. In 2012, Reed -- who had just turned 18 -- became the youngest rider to compete on an Olympic equestrian team. They're followed by another Swiss, Martin Fuchs (28) and Marcus Ehning of Germany, winner of the 2003 Cup finals in Vegas, who went on to take the title two more times.
Though there are 14 other leagues, ranging from China to South Africa and in between, if you like to play the odds in Vegas, bet on a winner from either the Western European League or one of the North American Leagues.
For more information on the current standings, please visit http://fei.org/fei/events/world-cups/jumping/current-season.