In a concept unique to the Longines Masters, the Riders Masters Cup pits five-member teams from Europe and the United States in a head-to-head battle.
Now in its second season, the Riders Masters Cup is held at the Longines Masters of Paris in December before the innovative concept crosses the Atlantic for the Longines Masters of New York. Robert Ridland, team captain of Riders USA, put together a strong team to face off on home soil against Riders Europe, captained by Philippe Guerdat, for the fourth edition of the Riders Masters Cup.
In what has quickly become a crowd favorite, each captain picks a rider to go head-to-head with a rider from the opposing team. Strategy plays a large part, as each captain has the ability to change the match-ups for the second round and can even go so far as to switch out a rider’s horse for a fresh one.
The opening round saw Lillie Keenan, Riders USA team’s requisite Under 25 rider, matched up against Pius Schwizer riding Cortney Cox. Keenan dropped two rails for eight faults riding Chaccolette while Schwizer kept them all in place, giving Riders Europe the advantage of 10 points to Team USA’s five points.
Things were quickly tied up at 15 faults apiece however when Harrie Smolders incurred four faults riding Cas 2 while Kristen Vanderveen turned in a clear round for Riders USA aboard Bull’s Run Faustino de Tili.
In the sport of show jumping, fortunes can change quickly as Laura Chapot discovered when her mount, Chandon Blue, took exception to the signature “We Ride The World” wall and was eliminated. That meant Riders USA received zero points while Riders Europe gained 10 for Darragh Kenny’s four-fault ride aboard Sweet Tricia. Riders Europe pulled into the lead with 25 points to Riders USA’s 15.
When Olivier Philippaerts incurred four faults with Insolente des Dix Bonniers, the door was wide open for three-time Rider Masters Cup veteran McLain Ward who produced a beautiful clear riding Rapidash. Riders USA was back in the mix with 25 points, trailing just five points behind Riders Europe’s total of 30 points.
In the final match up, Devin Ryan for Riders USA dropped one rail with Cooper. Edward Levy, the Under 25 representative for Riders Europe, kept all the rails in place to give his team another 10 points.
At the end of the first round Riders Europe was out in front with a total of 40 points while Riders USA were still well within striking distance with 30 points.
Tactics came into play with the team captains strategizing about their match-ups for the second round, which is run in a speed format with double points on the line.
In the opening match for the speed round, Ward and Rapidash were again clear but Pius Schwizer changed horses, bringing out Ulane Belmaniere to finish faster and gain 20 points for Riders Europe. The score now stood at 60 for Riders Europe, 40 for Riders USA.
Repeating the match-up from the opening round, it was Levy against Ryan. Levy brought in a new horse, Starlette de la Roque, and had one rail down for a three-second time penalty and final time of 59.65 seconds. Ryan gave it his best shot with Cooper but two rails down led to a six-second time penalty, giving him a total of 63.09. Riders Europe pulled further ahead with 80 points to the 50 held by Riders USA.
The third match-up saw Keenan and Chaccolette go clear in a time of 56.90 seconds while her opponent for the second round, Philippaerts and Insolente des Dix Bonniers, incurred a three-second time penalty for a total time of 59.86 seconds. Finally, Riders USA could see light at the end of the tunnel as their 70 points still put them in the hunt against Team Europe with 90.
It was not to be, however, as the fourth match-up would tell the final tale. Kenny was first into the ring and provided a moment of drama when his mount, Sweet Tricia, slammed on the brakes, almost dismounting Kenny in the process. Despite the six-second time penalty applied for a refusal, Kenny’s adjusted time of 66.98 seconds still held up against the 69.48 seconds posted by Chapot and Chandon Blue after the pair had two rails down.
With only 80 points to its credit, it was mathematically impossible for Riders USA to catch the 110 points already on the board for Riders Europe. The final match up went ahead and further cemented Riders Europe’s victory when Smolders came out ahead of Vanderveen. The final score was 130 for Riders Europe, 90 for Riders USA.
Coming into New York, Riders Europe had won the first three events. Much to the disappointment of the supportive New York crowd, Riders Europe maintained its supremacy, remaining unbeaten in the fourth battle to date.
“I am proud of this group,” said captain Guerdat of his Riders Europe team. “I was able to create a real team spirit since the beginning of the week; we have all been eating together, for example.”
“It seems like it was a pretty big margin and, in some ways, it was, but with just a couple things going differently we could have won it,” affirmed Ridland. “It’s not fun losing. I don’t enjoy losing and none of us were particularly happy about that but the format, I think, is tremendous. It’s unique and we will be back again in Paris and we hope for a different result.”