Las Vegas, Nev., April 25, 2005 -- I told you so. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of Germany won the Budweiser Jumping World Cup yesterday, just as I predicted she would in my prognostications last week. If only I could do this with the stock market!
She's a cool customer this one, beautiful and brainy (she once attended Princeton) with a fabulous jumper in Shutterfly. In fact, he has been so "on" here that I was surprised when she dropped a pole with a light rub at an oxer, the last fence in the triple combination for the first segment of a two-rounder that wrapped up the Cup at the Thomas & Mack Center. The mishap didn't dissipate her lead, but it did cut it back.
Interestingly, the man who turned out to be her chief rival, Michael Whitaker of Great Britain, rapped the first fence in the second round hard with Portofino, but the oxer stayed intact. Michael had only a single time fault in each of yesterday's rounds, leaving him on 7 penalties, while Meredith went into the last round on 4. That meant she had no room for a knockdown, and Michael doubtless was dreaming of duplicating the record of his brother John, who won the Cup twice with the amazing Milton.
Other horses did let their riders down. Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, a three-time Cup champ, went from second after the first round to seventh at the awards ceremonies when Baloubet du Rouet toppled two rails. Some riders let their horses down. Nick Skelton added strides until his stallion, Arko, got too close to the liverpool fronted by a vertical and went through it. Nick fell off, a scary moment, because he broke his neck several years ago. But I'm told he was fine.
This competition boiled down to what Meredith could do in the final round. The 10,127 spectators seemed to stop breathing as Meredith entered the ring after Rodrigo, looked around to take possession of the jumps, and then proceeded to glide over them with her bay Hanoverian. She had been second last year in Milan, and it was obvious she wasn't going to settle for being a runner-up again, even to a rider as distinguished as Michael W.
As she cleared the final fence, her destiny became clear. She ended on 4 faults, to Michael's 7, and won $84,738 of the $272,434 prize money. Her face lit up with a grin of triumph as she raised her arm in a salute to being No. 1. Then she pointed down to her horse, telling us all that she was paying tribute to an amazing athlete.
"Shutterfly jumped absolutely brilliantly today. He was in top form," she said afterwards, beaming.
By the way, Meredith was the first woman (and in a way, the first American) to win the Cup since 1987. During her victory gallop, they played that old Beach Boys song "California Girls" because Meredith is a native of California who was a respected U.S. rider until she married Marcus Beerbaum of Germany in 1998 and changed her citizenship.
Meredith, who is never lost for words, kissed the silver Cup and said, "It's a great honor to be among fabulous names on this trophy. It's a wonderful pleasure to win here in Las Vegas. It's almost like being at home, since I'm from California and so many people came here to see me that haven't seen me in many years. I could feel their enthusiasm motivate me throughout the weekend."
And what of the Americans, the ones who haven't given up their citizenship? Kimberly Frey did a beautiful job. She was fourth in the Cup's first leg, dropped to a tie for 10th after the Friday night class, and rose to fifth yesterday with only one rail down on Marlou. Pretty amazing.
I asked if the wonderful mare was for sale and she quickly told me "no" and meant it. (Good thing, since my checking account is a little short anyway, but it's nice that she loves her horse so much that she's determined to keep her.)
Schuyler Riley finished in a tie for 12th with Ilian, and the rest of the U.S. crowd (those who made it into the final day) were much further down. George Morris will make some changes when he takes over as chef d'equipe, and I'll bet by the time the World Cup Final gets to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, next year that we'll do a whole lot better.
One of the USA's biggest disappointments was the fate of Laura Kraut, who didn't ride again after taking a hard fall when Anthem refused the third fence in the first leg of the Cup. She told me that veterinarians in Florida had given a clean bill of health to her horse, who had suffered a back problem. But in that first class, it was obvious to her he wasn't right.
She wished that she had known that before shipping to Las Vegas, because she would have given up her spot for the Cup to Budweiser American Invitational winner Beezie Madden, who just missed the cut.
Laura is taking the horse with her to Europe, where she will compete with the U.S. team in the Samsung Nations' Cups, and Anthem will get veterinary treatment that she hopes will make him whole again.
One of the characters of the show jumping world, Pedro Cebulka, wears interesting costumes in his job as master of the ingate, where he adds a little levity to a serious moment, helping riders relax and take a deep breath before trotting into battle. But yesterday, he topped himself in an Elvis mask that included hair. I would have given you a picture, but he looked so much like Elvis that you would have had to take my word that it was really Pedro.
And now for the really big news. World Cup dressage champion Anky van Grunsven topped winning her seventh title in the competition when she married her longtime partner, Sjef Janssen, in a ceremony performed here by Elvis yesterday. Well, not Pedro or the real Elvis, of course; an Elvis impersonator. The witnesses were, appropriately for the queen of the World Cup, dressage World Cup founder Joep Bartels and his wife, rider Tineke Bartels. The bride and groom wore jeans and big smiles.
The two have been together for years and have a baby named Yannick. Sjef is one of the world's great dressage brains and is the Dutch team coach.
So while we're still on the lighter side, I have to talk about the celebrities who hit the World Cup. Saturday night Siegfried and Roy made their first public appearance, sans wild animals, when they were driven around the arena in a white Bentley. Roy, you'll remember, nearly died when a tiger attacked him during his act.
Yesterday Robert Duvall and Tom Selleck were lured over to the PRIMEDIA Equine Network booth, where they were given Practical Horseman hats and Robert talked about his latest movie.
"Got a part in it for an old cowhand?" Tom asked, before they moseyed off to Hermes to buy some goodies.
At this World Cup highlights are displayed on the Jumbotron screen in the arena at the beginning of every competition and before the awards ceremonies.
The only screen I have is your computer screen, but I'll give you a short recap of the things that impressed me most here: The standing ovation for Debbie McDonald and her great ride on a horse that is truly her partner; the enthusiasm of the crowds for sports that once couldn't get as much of an audience as we all knew they deserved; the look of mingled joy and triumph on Meredith's face as she realized she'd won the Cup; the gallery of regrettable riding jackets, to which I've added Danish star Tina Lund's brown windowpane plaid number with the little belt in the back.
And more: The way course designer Guillerme Jorge and his jump crew scurried around at warp speed to set the second course today (he's the real deal, incidentally, what a terrific job he did here); the jumps decked out with Vegas-style feathers, and the giant dice that marked the start and finish lines yesterday; the fabulous entertainment that was timed just right.
I also loved seeing so many folks from the equestrian world. It seemed like everyone was here, including some I hadn't seen in a long while.
Though I love my job, there's no rest for the weary. I'm going on to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, where I'll dash off my first postcard to you on Friday night.