Switzerland’s London 2012 Olympic champion Steve Guerdat earned an impressive victory in the opening competition of the Jumping Championship at the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) World Equestrian Games in Tryon.
Guerdat, drawn 123rd from 124 starters, saved the best until almost last on his 12-year-old bay mare Bianca
Brazil’s Pedro Veniss, riding Quabri de l’Isle, was long-time leader in the one round speed class, but Guerdat clipped 35 hundredths of a second off his time, clocking 76.33 seconds to earn the $33,325 (£25,000/€28,500) top prize.
Australia’s Rowan Willis took an impressive third spot on Blue Movie and Germany’s Marcus Ehning was fourth aboard Pret A Tout.
"I think to be honest, it is an advantage in a speed class going at the end,"Guerdat said.
"We walked the course, and nine hours later we rode, so it was a long day, but we knew that before we came so we were ready for it."
In terms of the team competition, it was a dream start for early leaders Switzerland as Guerdat’s colleague Martin Fuchs finished fifth with Clooney, although the Netherlands are looming large as two riders - world number one Harrie Smolders and Marc Houtzager -are in the top 10, and eighth-placed McLain Ward leads the United States’ challenge.
Less than two seconds separated the top seven finishers, setting up another thrilling day of action at the U.S. Trust Arena tomorrow which will end with the top 10 countries contesting the team medals and the leading 25 riders going forward to the Individual final on Sunday (September 23).
The Swiss quartet of Guerdat, Fuchs, Janika Sprunger and Werner Muff head the team competition at its early stage, with The Netherlands - Smolders, Houtzager, Jur Vrieling and Frank Schuttert - in second and the Brazilian group of Veniss, Luiz Francisco de Azevedo, Pedro Junqueira Muylaert and Yuri Mansur holding third.
The top six team finishers will also secure prized qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, with the three remaining places currently being filled by the US, Australia and France, who secured the gold medal at Rio 2016.