Bruno Broucqsault became the first Frenchman to claim the title when, thanks to sheer genius of his 13 year old gelding Dileme de Cephe, he snatched victory in a thrilling finish to the Sony Ericsson FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Milan today.
Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum was second, denied a two-way jump off with the 45 year old French rider by what seemed like nothing short of massive injustice when, after a first-round effort that was nothing short of perfection, a slight second-round error cost her dearly.
Markus Fuchs picked up just four faults on this final day with Tinka's Boy to place third ahead of Eugenie Angot and the brilliant Cigale du Tallis from France who were the only partnership to match the winner's double-clear performance.
Just four horse-and-rider combinations completed the first track without penalty as big fences and tricky distances took their toll.
Meredith said afterwards "the first round today was very difficult; every fence came up quickly after fence two and there were extremely technical distances with questions about scope and carefulness; all the questions a good course should have".
Many of the early runners tried to tackle the distance from the wall at fence two to the oxer at fence three on four forward strides but it became clear that five shorter strides was more suitable for most, as the front bar of the oxer fell time and time again, while the line from the oxer at five to the double at six also proved a bit of a puzzle. A very forward four strides left a lot of the horses too flat at the next fence while it seemed almost impossible for many to shorten enough to put in five.
Laura Kraut however literally came unstuck at the very first fence, a triple bar, when the horse seemed a little deep and, for the second time this weekend, decided to stop. However fellow-American, Richard Spooner, put the record straight when producing the first clear round. There are some horses that thrive on a challenge and, like all the best Irish-breds, the bay gelding simply jumped his heart out despite some dangerous moments and this partnership crossed the line to a storm of applause as the crowd recognised the courage of both horse and rider.
Cigale is the French word for Grasshopper and Eugenie's horse lived up to her name as they popped around the track to put the second clear on the board but only Meredith with Shutterfly and Bruno and Dileme de Cephe would follow suit as Markus Fuchs, lying overnight third and just four points behind the leaders going into this final competition, added four more to his tally when Tinka's Boy clipped the second element of the double.
So with no alteration to the overnight position for the leading three the second round began, Eric Van der Vleuten and Audi's Jikke finding the key this time for The Netherlands along with Thomas Velin and Equest Carnute (Den), Malin Baryard with Butterfly Flip (Swe), Italy's Juan Carlos Garcia with Albin, and Germany's Marco Kutscher with Montender. It all fell apart for Richard Spooner however when, now lying seventh, they plummeted down the leaderboard again when collecting 12 faults this time out but Eugenie produced another great run from Cigale to complete with the nine penalties she had collected over the first two competition.
This put real pressure on Markus Fuchs. He was now carrying eight and would slip right down the order if he couldn't hold it together, but the man who had to relinquish his World No. 1 slot because of the injury-problems he has been battling with was not going to go down easily. Looking uncomfortable and with Tinka's Boy looking a little tired Markus steered a crafty, cautious course to come home without incident and now he could finish no worse than a very creditable third.
Second-last into the ring came Bruno with Dileme de Cephe and this extraordinary partnership was nothing if not determined. A father of two who runs a big riding centre near Lille in France, Bruno is a shy, private man but his relationship with his 13 year old gelding is something special. Helped by Eric Navet in recent years the rider has risen to the top of the sport in France, last year winning the Grand Prix classes at both Rome and Barcelona but it is the depth of understanding between himself and Dileme de Cephe which has brought him to the top; they don't always seem to be working in absolute harmony and at times seem to be decidedly at odds but they want to leave all the fences standing no matter what happens and their belief in each other is unique.
Dileme tapped the vertical at fence one and then looked all wrong on his approach to the oxer at fence five on the new track but, as always giving it everything he's got, the horse left it up and cleared the line to leave Meredith in the hot seat.
Shutterfly had not made a mistake all weekend and in fact Meredith's opening effort on this final day was stunning. Her eye for a stride had been spot-on all weekend and Shutterfly seemed calmer and more confident than ever but, when meeting that same oxer at five a little deep, the gelding put in a big effort which, as Meredith explained left them long to the first element of the following double and there was a gasp of disbelief when it fell.
It seemed incredibly unfair that this sensational duo should be punished so harshly but, at the end of the day, show jumping comes down to leaving the fences up and Meredith was gracious in defeat.
"Bruno deserved his win today" she said afterwards. "I was a little disappointed to have lost and I think I was a bit unlucky but I am so pleased with my horse's performance all weekend long. He was so good; the fault in the final round was unfortunate but that's what happens in this sport! I have to say that the problem really occurred at the oxer before the planks that we hit; Shutterfly gave an unbelievable jump over the oxer and the crowd made a loud gasp; he is very sensitive to sound and pulled me past the correct distance to the planks. When we had that fence down it was a terrible feeling but I knew I had to concentrate and get him home, its easy to get distracted in those circumstances and things then can go very wrong".
Delighted but perhaps somewhat shell-shocked at finding himself the newly-crowned FEI World Cup Jumping Champion, Bruno is clearly not going to let this success go to his head. When asked how he felt about his historic victory he commented "I'm just still little Bruno, nothing changes. I am very happy. When I came here I hoped to finish in the top five but I never expected to win so I want to thank everyone who has helped and supported me here".
It certainly was not the result that had been expected but Markus Fuchs said "we often have surprises in our sport. Two days ago I was impressed with Bruno's confidence when he said he would not feel the pressure going into the last day; this is a big, big performance and I would like to congratulate him".
Under the most extreme pressure Bruno and Dileme de Cephe never faltered in their absolute faith in one another and France has now found another super-hero to further boost the incredible run of French form on the international stage.
The Sony Ericsson FEI World Cup Jumping Final was a great success, particularly taking into account the fact that the Milan organisers agreed to stage it only eight months ago. In typically direct fashion Max Amman, who resigned last year after 25 years as World Cup Director, gave a concise critical analysis of the 26th World Cup Final.
"The organisers did a great job technically; the warm-up area, stabling and the surface in the arena were excellent - but they failed to provide enough professional staff for the event. There was a large number of volunteers and their lack of experience was very evident at the beginning of the show; the welcome just was not there for many of the riders. However we should be grateful to the Italian Federation who took on this adventure. Italy is not like Germany or Ireland where show jumping is so popular. Here it is a high-society sport".
Commenting on the lack of spectators over the first few days of competition he said "on the early days most of the spectators were not Italian; instead they were from other countries around the world. For six years a World Cup qualifier was staged in Bologna and there was no public support over the early days but on Sunday the seating was full to capacity; that's the way it tends to be in Italy".
He was upbeat about the future for the series. "The World Cup is solid; it is the best thing that the FEI has. If we had a major sponsor, as we did for 20 years with Volvo, we would have the money to do additional things like producing the Media Guide, organising press receptions etc. but without that we have to just settle for the basics; hopefully a major sponsor will be found" he added.
John Roche, FEI Technical Manager for the World Cup series, is now Co-ordinator for all matters in relation to the World Cup said "what Max has done for equestrian sport in developing the World Cup series is immeasurable. He gave the indoor season a focus; a sense of purpose; and he directed and consolidated the sport in a way that was badly needed. He invested a wealth of creativity, dedication and enthusiasm and we are now reaping the benefits of that; we are greatly in his debt".
Those watching today's competition were indeed treated to a great sporting moment.
RESULT OF 26th WORLD CUP FINAL 2004 (after third final competition):
1, Bruno Broucqsault (Dileme de Cephe) Fra 0; 2, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Shutterfly) Ger 4; 3, Markus Fuchs (Tinka's Boy) Sui 8; 4, Eugenie Angot (Cigale du Tallis) Fra 9; 5, Marco Kutscher (Montender) Ger 13; equal 6, Juan Carlos Garcia (Albin) Ita, Malin Baryard (H&M Butterfly Flip) Swe 14; 8, Wim Schroder (Eurocommerce Montreal) Ned 16; 9, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (MacKinley) Swe 18; 10, Thomas Velin (Equest Carnute) Den 19; 11, Ludo Philippaerts (Parco) Bel 23; 12, Richard Spooner (Hilton Flight) USA 25; 13, Marcus Ehning (Anka) Ger 26; 14, Eric Van der Vleuten (Audi's Jikke) Ned 27; 15, Michael Whitaker (Portofino/Handel) GB 29; 16, Yann Candele (Mill Creek Sweet Dream) Fra 30; 17, Hubert Bourdy (VDL Groep Eve des Etisses) Fra 33; 18, Christophe Barbeau (Qerly Chin) Sui 37; 19, Jean-Marc Nicolas (JPC Modesto Equifoam) Fra 39; 20, Grzegorz Kubiak (Djane de Fontenis) Pol 46; 21, Nicole Shahinian-Simpson (El Campeon's So Long) USA 47; 22, Ainsley Vince (Catch 22) Can Ret (third final competition); 23, Laura Kraut (Anthem) USA Elim (third final competition); 25, Toni Hassmann (Camirez B) Ger Ret (third final competition).
FOR YOUR INFORMATION:
Of the riders competing in Milan this weekend, Britain's Michael Whitaker has the greatest number of starts in World Cup Finals; 15. Next in line are Lars Nieberg and Ludo Philippaerts who have started on 10 occasions while Rodrigo Pessoa, who withdrew after the first
competition, has had nine starts.
The winners of the 12 FEI World Cup 2003/2004 leagues were as follows:
Western Europe; Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Ger); Central Europe; Gunnar Klettenberg (Est); USA East Coast; Molly Ashe (USA); USA West Coast; Richard Spooner (USA); Canada; Ainsley Vince (Can); South America; Marcelo Lemes de Souza (Bra); Australia (Chris Chugg); New Zealand; Sally Steiner; Japan; Takamichi Mashiyama; South Africa; Dominey Alexander; South East Asia; Qabil Ambak (Mas); Central Asia; Alexander Tishkov (Kaz).
Jos Lansink (World Cup Champion 1994) and Helena Weinberg who qualified in the Western European League withdrew from the Final. Reserves Jean Marc Nicolas and Lars Nieberg are therefore now competing.
This is the 26th World Cup Final; the series began in 1979.
Riders from 12 different leagues qualify for the Final; Central Europe, Western Europe, USA West Coast, USA East Coast, Canada, South America, South Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Only one rider has ever won the series three years in succession; Rodrigo Pessoa winner in 1998/99/2000; even more remarkably the Brazilian rider achieved that distinction partnering the same horse on each occasion; Baloubet du Rouet.
Rodrigo was just 25 years old when he recorded his first success but the youngest rider ever to win the World Cup title was Canada's Mario Deslauriers who was 19 years of age when steering Aramis to victory in 1984.
In 2003, a total of 41 riders competed and Pessoa and Baloubet finished in the top three for the sixth consecutive time.
Gothenburg has been the most visited venue for the final which has been staged there on 10 occasions. The finals alternate between Europe and the United States of America. Las Vegas, venue in 2000 and again in 2003, will host the 2004/2005 final next April.
In 2003 the winner was Markus Ehning (Anka), second was Rodrigo Pessoa (Baloubet du Rouet) and third was Malin Baryard (H&M Butterfly Flip).
THE COMPETITIONS AT THE WORLD CUP FINAL:
Wednesday 21st; Training competition in afternoon; approx 1.40m.
Thursday 22nd - First Final competition; Table C over a Table A course. Max height 1.50m. One round speed, no jump-off.
Friday 23rd; Second Final competition; Table A; one round followed by a jump-off against the clock. Height 1.50m; 1.60m.
After the second final competition points are transformed into penalties. Horses entered for the final day may not jump in any competition on Saturday which is a rest day.
Sunday 25th; Third Final competition; Table A; two rounds over Grand Prix course, height 1.50m to 1.60m. If there is a tie for first place after the three competitions throughout the week there will be a jump-off against the clock over a reduced course which may be followed by a second jump-off if the situation remains unchanged.
The starting order in the first competition is based on the final standings in the respective Leagues i.e. reverse order of merit.