The opening day of the Sony Ericsson FEI World Cup Final in Milan was charged with tension and drama yesterday.
Markus Fuchs (right) took an early lead on Tinka’s Boy in the first final competition with a swift round, setting him just ahead of defending champion Markus Ehning with Anka, who held on for second place ahead of fellow German Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum with Shuttlefly.
Fuchs was particularly delighted with his performance, especially after being sidelined by injury for much of the season. “My horse jumped really beautifully. Because I had to go at the beginning I didn’t take any crazy chances, but I did try to be fast and I’m very pleased,” he said.
The 13-fence track with plenty of turn-backs and three doubles to be jumped asked a lot of questions of both horse and rider. The doubles proved the most influential, and three riders came to grief at the double of water trays.
America’s McLain Ward and Goldika took a nasty fall at another combination comprising of a triple bar to oxer. They crashed through the first element after a particularly tight turn to get their line. Horse and rider left the arena together, although the mare was visibly shaken as she got to her feet.
There was a shock withdrawal from the Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa, who scored a hat-trick of wins between 1998 and 2000. His stallion Baloubet du Rouet had two fences down, and eight faults left him in 24th place.
Pessoa explained his decision to withdraw: “Baloubet du Rouet did not jump well yesterday and I think he has a back problem. To win the final against the best combinations in the world you need to be at your very best, and the horse needs to give 100%.”
Michael Whitaker produced a clear round on Portofino to leave him in a credible 10th place. Clear rounds were the deciding factor in this speed competition and with only 6.5 seconds separating the top 13 clear rounds, the second and third finals today and Sunday are likely to be equally as tense.