As the excitement continues to build for the 2015 FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas next April, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the groundbreaking moments and historic feats from the five previous FEI World Cup Finals held in Las Vegas.
As we’ve discussed before, there was a great sense of anticipation for the initial Final in Las Vegas in 2000, with an expectation that the dynamic sport of show jumping (dressage wouldn’t be added till 2005) would be presented like never before. Well, it certainly turned out to be the case and no one expressed it better than Max Ammann, creator of the World Cup, who said after that initial event that, “World-class sport and world-class entertainment were combined to create arguably the greatest equine extravaganza that has ever existed!”
And based on the thousands of people who have come to Vegas for each of the following Finals, the world agreed! With Vegas performers like Susan Anton and Clint Holmes, amazing opening ceremonies, fireworks (yes, inside the arena!), laser light shows, Vegas showgirls and surprises galore (remember footing expert Oliver Hoberg flying down from the arena ceiling?), everyone has special feelings about the pageantry that is the Las Vegas World Cup.
Still, with all this, it is always the competition that holds center stage and in the Finals in Las Vegas, we have seen some accomplishments as dazzling as the world-famous Las Vegas strip. When we held the first World Cup Final in Las Vegas in 2000, all the talk was about whether or not Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil could achieve an unprecedented “three-peat” by winning the Final for a third consecutive year.
Pessoa and his horse, Gandini Baloubet du Rouet, pulled off a remarkable victory, a feat all the more amazing as the horse had stepped off of the plane with a 105 degree fever! Despite the added pressure, Pessoa pulled out two fault-free rounds on the final day to clinch the win and etch his name in the record books with an accomplishment that has yet to be duplicated.
In 2003, Pessoa came close to another title, but this time had to step aside for German Marcus Ehning. Entering the third and final day of competition, Malin Baryard of Sweden held first place, entering the last two rounds, as the leader always does, with a score of no faults. Ehning and Pessoa were tied for second place with two faults each. Despite the mounting pressure, Ehning and his Oldenburg mare, Anka, laid down two perfect trips while the other two each had a rail down in the first round with Baryard dropping another in the second round. Ehning thus won the first of his three World Cup championships one day after his 29th birthday. Pessoa finished in second place and Baryard was third.
In 2005, dressage and show jumping fans were united as the two World Cup Finals merged into one incredible equestrian event for the first time ever. Dressage’s debut in Las Vegas saw Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands win her record seventh World Cup Final (she now has won nine!) with a score of 86.725% in front of a sold-out crowd of over 11,500 people! The showstopper, however, was America’s Debbie MacDonald, riding the legendary Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas for whom the Thomas & Mack Center is named. She rocked the house with her freestyle performance set to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” The crowd was electric as Debbie paraded around the ring with an enormous grin on her face. The air in the arena was unlike anything that had been seen in dressage before.
In show jumping, California native Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of Germany won the first of her three World Cup titles, with her husband, Marcus Beerbaum, placing 11th. Meredith claimed the win aboard her standout 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Shutterfly, who dropped only one rail through five rounds of jumping.
In 2007, Beat Mandli of Switzerland won his first World Cup Final after more than a decade of trying. Entering Sunday’s final two rounds, the top seven riders were separated by only four faults, and many believed that rookie Daniel Duesser of Germany, winner of this year’s Final in Lyon, France, would take the win. Mandli had other plans and, after a first round that saw nine of the top 10 riders incur faults, he came away with the win.
In dressage, Isabell Werth of Germany was crowned champion, riding Warum Nicht FRH to a decisive victory in front of a sellout crowd of 11,925. Werth, who had also won the World Cup title in 1992, received a dazzling score of 84.250%. Placed first by all five judges, she was awarded two artistic scores over 90.000%, and a perfect 10 for music and interpretation, the only one in the competition to receive such marks. Imke Schellekens-Bartels of The Netherlands scored 77.950 riding Sunrise to finish second, slightly ahead of Steffen Peters of the United States who was third on Floriano with 77.800.
In 2009, the last year the World Cup was held in Las Vegas, Peters turned the tables on Werth and claimed the dressage title. The then 44-year-old from San Diego edged Germany’s two-time champion with an inspirational performance, while Anky Van Grunsven placed third. What made Peters’s win even more exciting was that it was only the second win ever for the United States in the 23 year history of the Dressage World Cup!
In one of the closest Finals in World Cup history, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum secured her third title on Shutterfly, narrowing edging American McLain Ward on Sapphire and Holland’s Albert Zoer on Oki Doki. “Horses like Shutterfly only come along once in a lifetime,” Meredith said afterward of her longtime partner, “and I’m very lucky to have him.”
In so many ways it seems that this incredible sport we all love so much is at its best when it’sin the Las Vegas. Every time the World Cup returns, it is sure to be memorable. Well, Las Vegas, get ready ‘cause here we come again; the 2015 FEI World Cup™ Finals are coming home to Vegas and promise to be more exciting than ever!