My mother-in-law loves to gamble (sorry, Ma!) and for her that means bingo, slot machines, scratch-offs and lottery tickets. When she plays the lottery she typically uses a combination of her kids’ and grandkids’ birthdays, but if a particular number seems lucky she’ll tell us to “play that number!” and adds it into the mix. Ma, if you’re reading this, start playing the number 19!
So here’s the connection: Mario Deslauriers was the youngest ever winner of the World Cup when he won it in 1984 at age 19. Last night’s winner of the Final I class of the Longines FEI World Cup of Show Jumping was Bertram Allen, a 19 year-old Irish phenom who’s not only riding the speedy and spirited Molly Malone V, he’s riding the crest of a wave of wins. However, Bertram wasn’t the only 19 year-old Irish phenom that placed well in the class. The other was 19 years-young Irish Sport Horse stallion Flexible, who with his rider Rich Fellers won the final in 2012.
Forty out of the forty-one contestants slated to start contested the challenging course designed by the USA’s Anthony D’Ambrosio (Germany’s Marco Kutscher and Cornet’s Cristallo withdrew). The class list was a veritable Who’s Who of show jumping glitterati: Last year’s winners Daniel Deusser and Cornet D’Amour joined previous winners Beezie Madden and Simon as well as Rich Fellers and Flexible. Germany’s Marcus Ehning, a three-time winner of the class, was entered with one of his up-and-coming horses, the 9 year-old stallion Singular LS la Silla.
Also in the field were former European Champion Kevin Staut with long time partner Silvana HDC and 2012 Olympic Champion Steve Geurdat with Albfeuhren’s Paille (say that one 5x fast, I dare you). Joining them was France’s Patrice Delaveau, individual Silver Medalist from the 2014 WEG and Orient Express. The Dutch brought three members of their Gold Medal Dream Team from the 2014 WEG: Gerco Schroder, Jur Vrieling, and Maikel van der Vleuten. The USA’s Laura Kraut and McLain Ward, members of the USA’s Gold Medal winning team from 2008, also began their quest for the crown in last night’s class.
So basically, it was a show jumping geek’s fantasy come to life. The class started with a clear from the other 19 year-old in the class, Belgium’s Jos Verloy and Domino. Two entries later Patrice Delaveau and Orient Express blazed around the course, stopping the timers at 66.44. Others going clear were Gerco Schroder, the USA’s Kirsten Coe, and Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya on the former Nick Skelton ride Carlo. France’s first lady of show jumping, Penelope Leprevost went clear, as did Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs. Delaveau held the lead until Jur Vreiling and VDL Zirocco Blue NOP entered 20th in the order and set off at a scorching clip, matching Delaveau’s time of 66.44.
Maikel van der Vleuten also went clean, and then we didn’t see another faultless round until Bertram Allen and Molly Malone entered the ring as the 32nd to go. Allen’s had a darn good year so far, winning the Grand Prix of Dublin and his first ever World Cup qualifier at the fourth leg in Verona. If you’ve seen the pair go, you know Molly Malone is wicked fast and brave, and Allen made good use of those attributes over D’Ambrosio’s course. Funny sidenote -when I saw Allen win in Verona I actually thought to myself, “If that if this kid goes to the Finals, he’ll win the speed class, no doubt.” I went into the show tonight thinking that Allen would win it, and he did, crossing the line at 65.45. (Maybe I should start playing the numbers. I’m certainly in the right city to do so!)
The crowd was still electrified when Fellers and Flexible entered the ring two horses later. The pair set off like they meant business, Fellers in his trademark forward seat and Flexible pinging over the jumps. You could see the entire crowd was riding along with him, collective intakes of breath as Flexible rose in the air and collective sighs of relief when he landed with the poles still in place. They tripped the wire just under a second behind Allen at 66.37, and the suffice to say that the spectators at the Thomas and Mack center raised the roof with the decibel level of their cheering.
The class ended with Allen on top, Fellers and Flexible in second, and Patrice Delaveau and Jur Vrieling tied for third. In the press conference, when asked to describe his mare, Allen commented that she has a strong character with her own “special ways.” He added that in the morning schooling she was running away with him, and at the time he was a bit worried about the class, thinking “What am I going to do?” He added that he knew he’d be fine when he went into the warm-up, as Molly “knows when to fire it up for the ring.”
Fellers shared that he’d been a bit worried about his World Cup prospects as Flexible had a slight colic earlier in the week, something Fellers said he’d never done before. Luckily the stallion’s groom noticed signs of distress quickly, and clearly Flexible was no worse for the wear last night.
When asked how he planned to celebrate (remember, at 19 Allen is legally unable to lift a pint or take a celebratory whack at a one-armed bandit) Allen replied, “We’ll keep it quiet.” Clearly this 19 year-old has the poise, control and confidence of someone much older, and the other 19 year-old in the top placings, Flexible, has the fire and the legs of someone much younger.
We wish all the competitors the best of luck, and look forward to more amazing jumping here in Vegas.