Familiar faces roost atop the World Cup West League show jumping standings as the New Year begins. Richard Spooner leads the board. Youngster Karl Cook is 12 points back, and veteran Rich Fellers sits third. But, as always, anything can and will happen during the last four qualifiers to be held at HITS Thermal in February and March. Three spots to compete in the Finals, in 's-Hertogenbosch in late April, are open to American riders in the West League. A big win or two could vault
Saer Coulter, Rusty Stewart and Francie Steinwedell-Carvin into a top three spot, if the current leaders falter.
The West League has been the subject of extra scrutiny as many are unhappy with how it is currently structured. In August, high performance riders and show organizers met with the USET's Sally Ike to convey their frustrations. They said the new structure for the league, introduced in the 2009/2010 season, had the unintended consequences of diluting competition and putting California-based riders and qualifier hosts at
It used to be that North America was split into four leagues: U.S. East Coast, U.S. West Coast, Mexico and Canada. As of the 2009/2010 season, however, the continent was condensed to two leagues: one for the East and West coasts, encompassing riders from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The new West League still sends three American riders from the West Coast, (seven earn invites from the East Coast) to the Finals, while the two Canadians and two Mexicans with the most points in either league get their respective country's two berths.
The new structure also starts the league in June, in Canada, as opposed to the old format beginning in August in Del Mar. And it includes outdoor classes, which are imperfect preparation for the indoor finals and is a disappointment given how hard West Coasters worked to make the previous league an all-indoors season only a few years ago.
At the August meeting, held during a Blenheim EquiSports show in San Juan Capistrano, manager Robert Ridland explained that the motivation for rolling Mexico, Canada and the U.S. into one West League was to create a more exciting event to market. But unfortunately, "it did the exact reverse." Kicking off the 16-qualifier league with four classes in Canada encourages contenders to summer in Canada while racking up points. It also enables Canadians and Mexicans to earn enough points there without having to compete in California at all.
Grand Prix rider Ali Nilforushan spoke for colleagues in demanding that the league return to its original structure. Currently, he said, it's nearly impossible to qualify for the Finals without spending considerable time in Canada, which is a hardship for those running businesses in California. Time spent away hurts their businesses, which in turn, impacts attendance at West Coast shows.
Competitions are also hurt by the league's longer format of 16 classes, up from between 10 and 12. (A rider's points are totaled from their seven top finishes in the league.) Top contenders are spread too thin to make each class exciting and it's also possible that riders who can start in Canada have gained a nearly insurmountable lead well before the league is over, draining the last qualifiers of any suspense about who'll get a
The standings at year's end shed light on these complaints. Bi-coastal and bi-continental Richard Spooner earned 47 of his 88 points competing in Canada, versus 21 points earned in California. (His win in Kentucky in early November earned him another 20.) Richard is unique in that his main business is campaigning jumpers, rather than juggling a Grand Prix career with an amateur-oriented training business as most of his U.S. contemporaries do.
Second-seeded Karl Cook earned 20 points in Canada, and the rest of his 76 in California and Las Vegas. Third-seeded Rich Fellers of Oregon kept things simple by winning three classes (easy!), one in Canada and two in California, back-to-backers in Sacramento and Burbank.
As an international rider, Ali represents Iran and thus would have to earn the same number of points as the third-ranked American in the league in which he is domiciled. If the West league were over right now, he'd need 71 points and he currently has 25, all accrued within the "old league's" territory.
There are a potential 80 points up for grabs at the qualifiers held during weeks II, III, IV and V at Thermal. Although Rich Fellers and Flexible won three in Thermal in 2008, that's a pretty unusual occurrence, so more likely the wins will be spread fairly evenly between contenders. That being the case, those who got off to a great start in Canada will be hard to catch if they do decently in Thermal.
More meetings of national and international committees during the fall followed the August gathering in San Juan Capistrano. At presstime, nothing had been resolved regarding changes in the league's structure going forward, but something different is likely in the works for the 2012/2013 season.