Equestrian: Kuerten fall ends World hopes
The 2010 Rolex FEI World Cup final, which kicks off with preliminary classes in Geneva tomorrow, has been blown wide open by the late withdrawal of Jessica Kuerten.
When 2009 champion, Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who gave birth to her first baby just six weeks ago, confirmed last week that she will not defend the title she has won three times, then Kuerten's position as long-time favourite was further strengthened.
But the Irish rider is counting her lucky stars that the helmet she was wearing when she took a fall while training a young horse last Friday, did its job. Although she was hospitalised and doesn't feel up to competing this week, Kuerten said: "It could have been a lot worse."
She had already decided that she would not compete her top ride Castle Forbes Libertina at the Swiss fixture, so whether her other two mares would have kept her in contention is now only a matter of conjecture.
It's a big disappointment for Irish showjumping fans however, because it seemed Kuerten had a better chance than ever of taking the title that has eluded Irish riders throughout the entire 32-year history of the series.
Eddie Macken finished joint-third at the inaugural final in 1979, and it was another 20 years before Trevor Coyle went one better when second with Cruising in 1999. Kuerten was runner-up in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 and very nearly scooped the honours at the Gothenburg final two years ago only to see it slip from her grasp for a fourth-place finish on the final day.
In this remarkable season however Ireland has, for the very first time, qualified three riders for the World Cup showdown and the remaining two will be giving it their best shot as the five-day fixture unfolds.
Dermott Lennon, who claimed the individual title at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, has returned to centre stage as his partnership with Woods Rosbotham's Hallmark Elite has matured. And his third-place finish at the penultimate qualifier in Gothenburg last month suggests the Banbridge man is in the zone.
The surprise package however is the presence of 22-year-old Darragh Kenny from Belmont in Offaly who has been taking the US circuit by storm, displaying great jumping from Obelix during the qualifying rounds.
Kenny's talent has blossomed under the expert guidance of trainers and horse producers Missy Clarke and John Brennan of North Run Farm in Vermont, where he has been based since last year.
But the cream of international showjumping lines out in Geneva this week and in Kuerten's absence the spotlight has turned to Germany's Marcus Ehning, world No 1 rider Pius Schwizer of Switzerland and America's double Olympic gold medallist McLain Ward amongst others.
Three days of tough jumping tomorrow, Friday and on Sunday will decide the fate of the 2010 title.