WELLINGTON, Fla--Beezie Madden on Darry Lou came through for the U.S. once again to win the $230,000 CSIO5* Nations Cup on Sunday.Feb. 16 at the Palm Beach Master Series in a jump-off against Great Britain's Alexandra Thornton in a dramatic finish after the U.S. came from behind in the first round to tie Great Britain and force the jump-off.
To make it even more exciting, Madden had to go first in the jump-off, but she finished in 33.11 seconds to beat Thornton’s time of 36.34 seconds.
The team of Jessica Springsteen of Colts Neck, N.J. on RMF Zecilie, Margie Engle of Wellington, Fla., on Royce, Laura Kraut of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., on Confu and Madden of Cazenovia, N.Y., were led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland.
Ridland selected four-time Olympic medalist Madden to compete in the jump-off.
“For sure, I didn’t want to leave the door too open for Thornton to be faster than me," said Madden. "I think my horse actually kind of rises to the occasion when I put a little pressure on him."
“I HAVE TO say, right from the first jumps in the schooling area, he was jumping better than in the first round,” Madden said. “He wanted to play a little after Fence 1, and I kind of had to kick him in the belly and be like, ‘Let’s get down to business here!’ But he really came through.”
"He does love to gallop! He’s actually really super to ride, he’s not delicate so you can wind him up a bit and let him off and he rises to the occasion - he’s a lot of fun to ride!"
There were eight teams competing, but only USA, Mexico and Canada were after qualifying points in the North and Central America and Caribbean League series, from which two of those three countries will qualify for the Final in Barcelona, Spain next October.
America's win got the maximum 100 points while Mexico got 70 for finishing third and Canada got 60 points for finishing fourth in a competition filled with plenty of excitement.
After Round 1, the U.S. was tied for third with Mexico and Ireland on a score of 8, with Ireland and Great Britain tied for first on 4, Brazil and Australia tied for sixth on 12 and Canada eighth on 14.
“I actually thought that all of us that had faults in the first round had a bit of unlucky rails,” said Springsteen, who had fence 10 down in round 1. “For the second round, I didn’t want to change my plan too much. I just felt like I needed a little more space back to that vertical. Other than that, Zecilie jumped amazing in both rounds, so I was really thrilled with her.”
According to Course Designer Alan Wade of Ireland, the true test of the track was meant to be its height, not its technicality.
“I had a discussion with my assistants to keep the 1.60m height, and the distances maybe wouldn’t be as tricky as you might have in the Grand Prix,” said Wade, who made two fences higher moving into Round 2. “This class, to me, was probably the most important class I’ve designed this year."
“It was basically up to the athletes, and they provided a great afternoon of sport. It was an honor to design the course.”
An unexpected moment occurred midway through round 1, when veteran team member Engle’s horse, Royce, completed his round on 4 faults, and then spooked at the end of the ring, unseating his rider. “I didn’t really have my reins. He darted right, and I kind of exited left,” said Engle, who was unhurt in the fall. “Royce hadn’t shown for the whole week, so he was nice and fresh. With the heat, I maybe left him a bit too fresh.
“After he ran around the ring for a while, he was much quieter in the second round! I took my time, and I just made sure when I went to that oxer, where I had the rail in Round 1, that I came out and got a bit straighter to it.”
Engle became the second of two clears midway through round 2, with Springsteen leading off to set the tone for her team.
Next it was up to Kraut, the only rider on the squad to earn a clear in the first round.
On her longtime partner, the 13 year-old Holsteiner gelding Confu, Kraut laid down yet another clean round, sparing her teammate, Madden, from having to jump the second round.
“You hate to be overconfident, but I was feeling good," said Kraut. "Confu was jumping well down here. I had an unlucky fence in the Grand Prix the other day, and I said to myself, ‘Alright, that’s an omen that you need to do two clear rounds on Sunday.’
“That being said, it was also hard not to be overconfident when I had a team like this: great riders and horses. It’s probably the most confident that I’ve felt in a long time.”
As round 2 drew to a close, Ireland had slipped down the standings, while two clears by Mexico’s riders would ultimately secure the squad third place on 17.
Only Great Britain, at a disadvantage with only three riders, Thornton, Emily Moffitt, and Amanda Derbyshire, competing and no drop score , could still challenge the U.S.
But after anchor rider Derbyshire on Cornwall BH had an early pole, the pressure was on during a two-rider jump-off that would ultimately determine the class winner.
Ridland, reflecting on his win, conceded that the task ahead of his team was sizeable.
“This is a hard Nations Cup for everybody, not just for us." said Ridland. "These horses aren’t in mid-season form, but the field of play, when you looked at the teams last night, it would have been just as easy to be fifth for any team out there. It was really good jumping.
“This is the pinnacle of the sport, the Nations Cup,” he added. “This is what the sport is all about.”