Team competition was at its finest in a transatlantic showdown between Riders USA and Riders Europe in the innovative $200,000 Riders Masters Cup, presented and created by EEM in collaboration with the European Equestrian Federation.
Show jumping fans were on the edge of their seats as the two teams faced off in a rematch that began at the Longines Masters of Paris back on December 2. Riders USA chef d’equipe Robert Ridland (USA) spent the past five months formulating his strategy for a win on home soil and sent out the best of the best to duel against Riders Europe, led by chef d’equipe Philippe Guerdat (SUI).
In the opening duel, Kevin Staut (FRA) took the win over two-time Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) when the American left an uncharacteristic two rails on the floor riding HH Gigi’s Girl. Georgina Bloomberg then looked like she would emerge victorious with a quick clear aboard Manodie II H but was nipped in the end by Harrie Smolders (NED) to make it two to nothing in favor of Riders Europe.
Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) scored another point for Riders Europe when Adrienne Sternlicht (USA) struggled with her mount, Pembroke, for 12 faults. Beezie Madden (USA) gave hope to American fans with a clear round aboard Con Taggio to score the first point for Riders USA after Gregory Wathelet (BEL) left a rail on the floor riding MJT Nevados S.
When the final competitor for Riders Europe, 2016 Olympic individual silver medalist Peder Fredricson (SWE), put a clear round on the board with H&M Zaloubet, Laura Kraut was unable to match his faultless performance with Hello Guv’Nor, leaving the opening match score at four to one in favor of Riders Europe.
As the saying goes, especially in show jumping sport, it isn’t over until it’s over. Facing off in the speed match where double points were on the line, Riders USA had a chance to bring it back for the home crowd. Ridland adjusted his strategy and sent Kraut back as the lead-off rider. Riders USA’s confidence swelled when she came out victorious over Philippaerts riding Goofy van T Laerhof with a time of 61.20 versus the Belgian’s time of 61.83 seconds. That put the score at four to three, with Riders USA quickly gaining on its opponents.
Staut was next in, posting a fast time of 57.43 riding Ayade de Septon et HDC that was soon eclipsed by Madden. The newly-crowned Longines FEI World Cup Final champion brought in a fresh mount, Jiva, and raced to victory in a time of 57.02 seconds as the crowd went wild. Suddenly Riders USA had pulled into the lead five to four.
New York City’s sweetheart Bloomberg laid it all on the line in the speed duel, leaving Wathelet in the dust with a brilliant ride. Riders USA was staging a comeback of epic proportions, surging ahead seven to four.
The excitement continued to mount as Riders USA’s hopes looked bright, but Riders Europe were still breathing down its neck. Sternlicht gave it her best shot with Pembroke, but when a rail fell Fredricson claimed two valuable points for Riders Europe, tightening the gap and making it seven to six in favor of the Americans.
It all came down to the final duel, which saw two of the fastest riders in the world pitted against each other. Ward took no prisoners, guiding HH Gigi’s Girl home in a blistering fast time of 54.82 seconds.
Smolders had the weight of a continent riding on his shoulders, but the Dutchman never faltered, taking every risk to cross the timers in an unbelievable 52.91 seconds – by far the fastest time of the night – with Cas 2. His perfectly calculated and executed performance gave Riders Europe the edge, putting the defending champions from Paris ahead by a nose to win eight to seven over Riders USA.
“It went right down to the wire!” exclaimed Guerdat of his team’s victory. “We knew USA would be strong tonight because, as Robert said, after Paris they wanted to win back at home. I have a team who are all champions and the best in the world at the moment. It would be difficult to get a better team than this!”
Ridland was quick to promise that Riders USA will put up a strong fight the next time the two teams meet.
“We’re not giving up,” the American chef d’equipe pledged. “We went down to the wire in Paris and we went down to the wire again tonight. That final duel was really one for the ages. We put up one hell of a fight and a great second-half comeback. We clawed our way back, and that’s what sport is about.
“It’s really exciting to see the top riders in the world going for speed,” concluded Ridland. “It’s a great format, and I think everybody got their money’s worth tonight. We’ll be back again!”
While Riders Europe claimed the first edition of the Riders Masters Cup, Riders USA promise a strong comeback for bragging rights when the next edition of the Riders Masters Cup is staged at the Longines Masters in Paris from November 30 to December 2, 2018.