Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum stormed to victory with Shutterfly in the FEI/Gandini Top 10 Final, presented by Rolex, in Geneva at the weekend, in an electric competition that was full of drama.
The 34-year-old American-born rider recently became the first female rider to lead the FEI rider rankings and her flying form was clear for all to see. She produced two rounds of pure magic to force the defending champion, Rodrigo Pessoa from Brazil, into the runner-up spot leaving Marcus Ehning to finish third.
Michael Whitaker kicked off proceedings at the Palexpo exhibition hall with just a single mistake, plus one time fault, from Portofino in the first round to complete with five faults on the board.
Robert Smith and Kalusha hit the same vertical at the middle element of the combination, while Belgium’s Ludo Philippaerts and Tornado lowered both the triple bar at fence eight and the following vertical. Germany’s Otto Becker and Lando hit the oxer at fence three.
Switzerland’s Markus Fuchs got a great reception from the crowd but he found himself battling to keep Granie’s attention and had to ride for his life most of the way around the arena, coming home with 12 faults.
Toni Hassman’s Camirez B also lowered the bogey second element of the combination at fence five and then the triple bar along with the second element of the final double for another 12-faulter before his German counterpart Marcus Ehning, set the standard with a copybook clear.
Unlike so many of those who had gone before, Ehning’s big 13-year-old mare Anka got on with her job and powered around the colossal 12-fence track, to set the first real target when clear in 62.97sec.
Rodrigo Pessoa displayed his legendary horsemanship when producing the second clear of the first round with his new ride of just 10 days, Carlot 3, in the slightly slower time of 63.65sec.
Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, winner of the FEI/Gandini Top 10 final in 2001 and 2002, had a very difficult round with his 2001 winner Goldfever, who appeared very unsettled and spooked wildly on the line between fences two and three. Beerbaum seemed to be struggling for control much of the way around, doing well to come home with just one time fault along with 12 more for three fences down.
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly concluded the first round with a foot-perfect exhibition of good jumping, stopping the clock in precisely the same time as Pessoa.
Goldfever regained his composure to execute a clear to kick off the second round, along with Hassmann’s Camirez B and Fuchs’ Granie, while Phillipaerts’ youngster Tornado R made just a single error and collected one additional fault for time.
Whitaker produced a lovely second-round clear in a time of 52.77sec to put himself in contention, while Robert Smith and Kalusha added eight more faults to complete with 12. Becker and Lando hit the third to finish with a total of eight, leaving the three first-round clears to battle it out in the closing stages.
Pessoa showed his class when bringing Carlot home clear in 48.13sec but Michaels-Beerbaum shaved almost six seconds off that with a superb turn at the mid-way stage and a brave gallop to the last. Ehning and Anka gave it everything they had, and they were up on time as they raced to the last, but the final fence fell to leave them in third place.
Michael Whitaker, who has just become a father for the third time, lined up in fourth and took home 21,000CHF (£9,500). He blamed himself for Portofino’s first-round error – “I was over-riding” he explained.
Pessoa took 33,000CHF (£14,900) as runner-up and said: “I’m delighted with Carlot. He is German-bred by Carthago and used to be ridden by Maria Sundberg from Sweden. This was my first show with him and I think he’s a top-class horse – I’m looking forward to the future.”
Michaels-Beerbaum claimed the 45,000CHF (£20,000) winner’s purse but it was the victory in this prestigious competition that meant most to her.
“I’m so happy to be not only the very first No. 1 female rider in the world, but to be the winner of the Top 10 final as well. This is a dream come true for me”, she said. “It’s a great honour to ride in the Top 10 and I hope that other women competitors will see that we girls can do it as well as any of the rest of them”.
FEI/Gandini Top 10 Final, presented by Rolex
1. Shutterfly (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 0/0 42.36;
2. Carlot 3 (Rodrigo Pessoa) BRA 0/0 48.13;
3. Anka (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/4 42.16;
4. Portofino (Michael Whitaker) GBR 5/0 52.77;
5. Lando (Otto Becker) GER 4/4 49.71;
6. Camirez B (Toni Hassmann) GER 12/0 45.65;
7. Granie (Markus Fuchs) SUI 12/0 48.17;
8. Kalusha (Robert Smith) GBR 4/8 48.71;
9. Goldfever (Ludger Beerbaum) GER 13/0 54.89;
10. Tornado R (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 10/5 60.50.