As the Dressage phase of the FEI Eventing World Championship 2022 at Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA) drew to a close today Great Britain lost the advantage on the Individual leaderboard, but their spectacular team total of 69.2 set a new World Championship record and they go into tomorrow’s cross-country phase still well in command of the team rankings.
When Tom McEwen scored 25.6 with his Tokyo Olympic team gold and individual silver medal-winning ride Toledo de Kerser late this morning the record was already broken, and then the 24.3 posted by the current number one athlete in the FEI Eventing rankings, Oliver Townend with Ballaghmor Class, stretched it even further.
Meanwhile German superstar Michael Jung, three times individual European champion, twice Olympic Individual champion and possibly on his way to his second Individual World title, ousted overnight leader, Great Britain’s Laura Collett, from the top of the Individual leaderboard when posting his best ever CCI-5* score of 18.8 with fischerChipmunk FRH this afternoon.
“It’s amazing how he performs in the arena”, Jung said of the 14-year-old bay gelding. “He just brings everything in there and you can ride like at home so this is a great feeling. He is so relaxed but powerful and concentrated so you can show all of what you train, and that’s an amazing feeling for the rider”, the 40-year-old German pointed out.
The 26.0 posted by reigning Individual Olympic champion Julia Krajewski and Amande de B’Neville already boosted German team chances earlier in the day before Jung’s leading score saw his side rocket up from overnight seventh place to leave them in silver medal spot going into tomorrow’s cross-country challenge on a score of 76.1.
Team USA held onto bronze medal position while New Zealand dropped from second to fourth, but on a running tally of 77.9 the Kiwis trail the Americans by just 1.3 while Team Australia are just over six points further adrift in fifth. France, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland and the host nation of Italy make up the top 10 of the 16 competing teams.
China’s Alex Hua Tian and Don Geniro slotted into individual fourth place with a score of 23.7 today, while America’s Tamra Smith and Mai Baum are in fifth ahead of Britain’s Townend in sixth.
Smith was on the winning US team at the Pan American Games in Lima (PER) in 2019 with her 16-year-old gelding and the pair also competed at last summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. They were always expected to feature well in the Dressage phase at Pratoni having finished tenth in Aachen (GER) and ninth in Kentucky (USA) last year and ninth in Badminton GBR this year, always with impressive first-phase scores.
“I feel it was better than Badminton today”, said the 48-year-old Californian. “He’s in much better self-carriage and relaxation and most of it was brilliant. It’s been a life-long goal of mine to be here at the World Championship and to be on this horse is extra special because I think he’s one of the best in the world. I think he belongs here!”, she said.
Monica Spencer remains best of the Kiwis, in equal-seventh place with Britain’s Tom McEwen going into tomorrow’s cross-country phase on a score of 25.6. McEwen had been hoping for better but a break in medium trot early in his test saw him having to claw back marks, which he did with considerable cool.
“It wasn’t our best test but we recovered really well”, he said. “The changes and canter-work were lovely and I was really pleased with his walk but didn’t have quite enough from the leg going in probably and it was a little bit of a recovery process”, he explained.
Food for thought
Once dressage is out of the way all focus now turns to tomorrow’s cross-county test, and Guiseppe della Chiesa’s course has certainly given riders plenty of food for thought.
“There are plenty of errors to be made if you’re not ‘on it’. You’ve got to go out with your plan and stick to it - the thinking rider will come out on top tomorrow, whether it’s how the horse feels underneath you or how the course could change”, McEwen said.
World number four and three-time Olympian, New Zealand’s Jonelle Price whose score of 26.1 today with McClaren leaves her two places ahead of husband Tim and Falco in 13th, gave her assessment.
“Time is going be the biggest factor”, she said. “We’ve got such a high-calibre field of horses here and the British team have the best horses in the world. So I think the horses are going to make light work of it but the hills and a lot of congested jumping will make the clock challenging.”
Germany’s Olympic champion Krajewski and her mare will be on familiar territory because the pair came to Pratoni in the spring of this year to train on the hills in preparation for Kentucky where, in the final analysis, they didn’t compete. She said today, “my horse is built like a showjumper - she can jump everything and she is really fit. For the cross-country here the horses need to be in good condition, and the riders need to be clever at some of these combinations”.
Equiratings statistics show that at the last seven FEI Eventing World Championships the eventual winning team was lying either first or second after dressage and that, since 2002, the individual champion has never been outside the top five after the dressage phase. At the last four world championships Team Germany has led the way after dressage and Michael Jung has arrived in Pratoni this week as favourite to take the Individual title.
But statistics are one thing and the sport of Eventing has a knack for throwing up plenty of surprises. The story of the FEI Eventing World Championship 2022 will continue to play out when Germany’s Christoph Walhler and Carjatan S lead the way in the cross-country phase at 10.30 local time tomorrow morning….so don’t miss a hoofbeat….