With the 2020 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas just ten months away and the excitement building like crazy, I thought we should look back at some of the historic moments that have taken place at the six previous Finals held in the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”
The first FEI World Cup Final anywhere was held in 1979; it was held for jumping with the first dressage Final coming in 1986. The concept for the World Cup Final was developed by Swiss journalist Max Ammann at the request of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, then President of the FEI. The format was modeled after skiing’s World Cup and it aimed to improve media coverage of equestrian sport.
The World Cup was an immediate hit with riders and spectators and Max and the FEI knew they had a winner. It would go on to even greater popularity after John Quirk convinced Max and the FEI to bring the Final to Las Vegas where great sport would be combined with great entertainment.
After the first Final in Vegas in 2000, I remember Max saying, “Las Vegas proved to the world that you can do a different horse show than what is normally the case. They combined world-class sport with world-class entertainment and presented show jumping like it’s never been seen before. The success of the Final in Las Vegas was a breakthrough for U.S. show jumping and I think what we saw was the future of the sport.”
Adding to the anticipation for that first Final in Las Vegas was the question of whether or not Brazilian rider Rodrigo Pessoa and the remarkable stallion Gandini Baloubet du Rouet, whose bloodlines are still highly sought after, could achieve an unprecedented third consecutive win in the Final. Much to everyone’s delight, he did! The pair jumped two fault-free rounds on the final day to clinch the win and engrave Pessoa’s name in the record books forever.
Although Pessoa came close to another title when the Final returned to Las Vegas in 2003, it wasn’t to be. Entering the last day, Sweden’s Malin Baryard held first place on zero faults while Pessoa and Germany’s Marcus Ehning were tied for second with two faults each. Ehning and the mare Anka jumped two perfect rounds while the other two each had a rail down in the first round with Baryard dropping another in the second round. Ehning clinched the first of his three World Cup Finals (he also won in 2006 and 2010), with Pessoa taking second place and Baryard third.
World Cup history was made in 2005 as the jumping and dressage Finals were held together for the first time. Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands won her record seventh Final in dressage (she went on to win two more for a record of nine that still stands), but the most memorable moment came when America’s Debbie MacDonald and the legendary chestnut mare Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas for whom the Thomas & Mack Center is named, performed their breath-taking Grand Prix Freestyle to a medley of soul music.
The duo virtually ‘rocked the house,’ reaching a climax with their last movements down the centerline set to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” The sold-out stadium of over 11,500 people stood and clapped along (at that time a big ‘no-no’ in dressage) and erupted in cheers before the final halt. Although the pair finished in third, it remains an unforgettable performance that most people feel changed the sport of dressage forever!
When you hear Aretha start singing, listen to the crowd and watch Debbie’s face!
In jumping, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of Germany, a California native, won the first of her three World Cup titles. Meredith and her famed gelding Shutterfly dropped only one rail through five rounds of jumping to claim the victory, while Great Britain’s Michael Whitaker and Portofino 63 took second place and Germany’s Lars Nieberg took third aboard Lucie 55.
In 2007, Switzerland’s Beat Mandli won his first World Cup Final after more than a decade of attempts. Going into the last day’s final two rounds, the top seven riders were separated by only four faults. Mandli scored the victory after nine of the top 10 riders incurred faults in the first round. Germany’s Daniel Deusser took second with Air Jordan Z, while countryman Markus Beerbaum, Meredith’s husband, took third aboard Leena.
In dressage, Germany’s Isabell Werth put in a spectacular performance aboard Warum Nicht FRH in front of a crowd of 11,925 to claim her second World Cup title. Werth, who had won the 1992 Final, received a score of 84.250%. Dutch rider Imke Schellekens-Bartels scored 77.950% on Sunrise to take second, just slightly ahead of America’s Steffen Peters who finished third on Floriano with 77.800%.
In 2009, it was Peters’s time to shine. Riding his famed partner, Ravel, Peters scored an 84.950% to claim his first World Cup championship – only the second ever for an American! Werth was second with Satchmo 78, while van Grunsven took third aboard Painted Black.
Also that year, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly jumped into the record books in one of the closest Finals in history. The duo narrowly edged American McLain Ward who placed second on Sapphire. With the victory, Meredith joined the ranks of three-time winners alongside Pessoa and Austria’s Hugo Simon (Ehning would get his third the following year). Shutterfly became only the second horse to win three Finals joining Pessoa’s Baloubet du Rouet.
The atmosphere in the Thomas & Mack Center for the 2015 Finals was absolutely electric as Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and her record-setting partner, Valegro, came to defend their dressage title. Dujardin and Valegro, still the only duo to hold Olympic, World, European and World Cup titles simultaneously, danced their way across the arena, executing seamless transitions and amazing extensions to score a jaw-dropping 94.196%!
“Having a horse like Valegro is just amazing,” Dujardin commented after her win. “I wasn’t sure how he would cope with all those people, but I think he loved the American crowd!”
The jumping Final saw Swiss rider Steve Guerdat, who had come close to winning the title each of the three previous years, finally claim his first World Cup aboard Albfeuhren’s Paille. Guerdat has since added two more titles to join the exclusive three-win club!
Every time the World Cup Finals return to Las Vegas it is memorable. The “Entertainment Capital of the World” provides the ideal backdrop and one thing I can promise you is this…the 2020 Finals in Las Vegas are going to be bigger and better than ever before, so make sure you join us at the Thomas & Mack Center next April 15-19!
From July 1-August 15, members of the World Cup Club will have the next opportunity to purchase All-Session Tickets. It’s free to become a World Cup Club member, so sign up now! You’ll have first choice on the best available seats, and also get the latest news, ticket and hotel information. Join NOW at www.worldcuplasvegas.com/world-cup-club.
Further ticket information for the 2020 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas will be announced later this year. Everyone is encouraged to visit the event’s official website at www.WorldCupLasVegas.com and sign up for the latest news and information for FREE at www.worldcuplasvegas.com/world-cup-club.