As he set out on the Marathon, his regal horses poised, their silky black coats gleaming silver under the Italian sun, Boyd’s quest to win a record-breaking sixth individual gold medal continued. He might have wished for a later place in the draw to watch what those before him made of the course, but fate played its hand and he found himself following one of the young pretenders to his crown, Germany’s Michael Brauchle.
Josef Middendorf’s (GER) eight new obstacles, with a total of 103 balls perched on their elements, raised enough questions for the 37 starters, who took it down to the wire and were still walking routes and examining the numerous options early on a misty Saturday morning.
Pitched halfway through the order, the dark and volcanic Pratoni dust swirling around him, Michael blazed a trail and smashed through all the earlier times, proving that with bold driving, whip-fast rein handling and post-hugging tight turns, his bid to change the old order and win the world title was a serious one. Ending on a winning penalty total of 107.00, which added to the 49.18 for Dressage, shot him up the overall placings into 2nd (156.14).
“This year I won the Marathon at Royal Windsor and Valkenswaard and that was good for me. I’m a young man and I have a lot of strength and my horses fight for me and with me. It’s a big plus for me in the Marathon when my horses have fun - big fun!”
My right leader is Djamilo (Jamie) and he’s a brilliant Marathon horse. He knows his job; he’s been doing this for four years. I bought him as a young horse, and we have worked together for a lot of years and make a good team together. I think we also put Germany in a good place now" Michael Brauchle explained.
Boyd and his crew knew that Michael was going to pile on the pressure, but that’s fuel for a man who has dominated the world stage for so long. His score of 116.01 placed him 6th, to give him a total of 150.14 and, for now, he has done enough to stay in front of Michael going into Sunday’s final phase - with two cones in hand.
But the mighty Ijsbrand Chardon (NED), who is as hungry as ever for his 5th world title, is another who can upset the best laid plans. Drawing on all his combat wisdom, he turned in a dominant performance, totalling 114.49 and was thrilled with a 4th placed round which raised him to 3rd overnight. His compatriot Koos de Ronde (NED), a marathon maestro who rounded off the day’s play with an incredible display of speed and bravery, blasting through the obstacles to produce some of the fastest times of the day, falling short of Michael’s total by a mere 0.86, and raising him from 14th to 5th (162.10).
“The horses were fantastic; the beginning was extremely strong, but I lost a little in the water. Michael Brauchle drove a fantastic Marathon. I tried to catch him but, in the end, I missed, I think by about 0.8 but I’m very happy. Michael is a very fast driver, his team is very fast, he has power, he’s technically good, he has a lot of guts, and like me he wants to go fast.
I have two new horses; this is my second show with them, and they did a fantastic job. In the end it’s a combined event so there’s always a bit of calculation if I can lose so much in Dressage and make so much up today. And you have to find the right balance with the right horses. I’m now in 5th place so I’m happy and the team is in top spot but it’s not over yet. Another important day to come but so far so good!", Koos De Ronde said.
Not only have two of the biggest names put themselves back in individual medal contention, but they have pushed Germany off the top spot in the team event, ending on 311.58. But there’s only 3.27 between them – a cone and a second of time.
Chester Weber (USA) did what was required and wasn’t far away on 118.36, with his 41.52 from Thursday, and slid him down to 4th by 2.41 behind Ijsbrand (159.88). Koos then sits just in front of 6th placed Mareike Harm (GER) by only 1.77 (165.75).
Always contenders in the Marathon, Belgium’s Glen Geerts and Dries Degrieck did enough to put their nation into bronze position with 335.2. In touch with some of the speedier rounds, Glen rose from 12th into 7th, on a total of 165.75 – and finished in the Marathon prizes in 5th. He sits just ahead of Bram Chardon (NED) who perhaps attacked this phase a little too hard and by his standards was off kilter, ending just 0.17 behind on 165.92.
Another standout round came from Daniel Schneiders (AUS) who impressed through all the obstacles to finish 3rd on 111.36 to take him from 17th to 9th (167.20). Aware that she would be unlikely to maintain her 4th place after Dressage, Anna Sandmann (GER) drove a confidence-building round at her first major championships with a four-in-hand and goes into the Cones in 17th.
In the teams, France now lies in 4th (346.49) ahead of Hungary (358.93) who had the only elimination of the day as József Dobrovitz Jr. came unstuck in the final obstacle, and Australia in 6th (359.45).
With wafer thin margins from top to bottom, only a few cones have to roll to change the order again. Overnight, the drivers will be realigning themselves as the battle lines are drawn and Sunday’s Cones will be nothing less than a Clash of the Titans.
Can Boyd do it again? Can The Netherland’s take a record 10th win?
We’ll have to wait and see…