Australia’s Boyd Exell set a new World Championship record this afternoon with his team of black geldings, owned by Hungary’s Vincze Tamas. Exell put down a faultless dressage test, which was awarded with a magnificent score of 30.08 penalty points. The previous World Record was set by Chester Weber (USA), who scored 32.13 penalty points at the 2008 World four-in-hand Driving Championships in Beesd (NED).

Exell, who won the CAIO Aachen and Royal Windsor Horse Show 2010 with this same team, has now taken over the lead in the standings from IJsbrand Chardon (NED) and Chester Weber (USA) who both set a score of 35.97 penalty points on the first dressage day. USA’s Tucker Johnson and Dutch driver Theo Timmerman, who both finished dressage with a score of 40.19, are tied in fourth place.

Exell was somewhat handicapped after snapping a bone in his left hand jumping a horse over a cross-country obstacle at home. He says it bothers him a bit, but he is hoping adrenaline will take over in the marathon tomorrow so he doesn’t feel the pain.

Tucker Johnson drove his last ever dressage test at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games since he will retire after this World Championship from the combined driving sport. Johnson’s team included a horse Exell loaned him, the left leader, named Black Shadow, which he has only been driving for two weeks. The 46-year-old American is a very successful driver, first in the international pairs class and later on in the international four-in-hand driving sport. In 1991 he won the team gold medal at the World Pairs Driving Championships in Zwettl. In 2002 he contributed to the American team silver medal at the WEG in Jerez de la Frontera, where he came fourth individually. Although he is retiring from competition, Johnson will continue his driving career in Coaching.

With two US drivers in second place and two Dutch drivers in fourth place, the Nations Team standings are also tied, which is quite rare for a World Championship. The Americans and the Dutch will battle it out in tomorrow’s marathon.

A 16-kilometre long marathon course is awaiting the 25 competitors on Saturday, including eight beautifully designed obstacles, spread out over the spacious site of the Kentucky Horse Park. US World Championship course designer and President of the FEI Driving Committee Richard Nicoll has built the obstacles to both test the competitors and to make the driving sport as attractive as possible to the spectators: “I have built these obstacles for the drivers, it is up to them to choose which routes they prefer to take”, Nicoll said. “But I also had to keep in mind that two-thirds of the crowd have never seen driving. That is why we have included three water obstacles and most of the obstacles are situated down low in order to create a better view for the spectators.”

Nicoll and his crew have made every obstacle as varied as possible by using different materials. Heavy posts are used as well as treated timber, oak rails and locust native wood. Every obstacle is horse friendly with rounded posts. Nicoll worked closely with Eventing course designer Mike Etherington-Smith since two marathon obstacles were also part of the Eventing Cross Country, which took place here last week.

Builder Mike Costello and his crew are responsible for the construction of the obstacles in which portable elements are also included. None of the obstacles are painted which results in a beautiful natural look. The only colours are added by the enormous amount of flowers, which have been put in place by 95 volunteers.

“Every obstacle has its own challenge and especially the first obstacle is rather technical. The last two obstacles will be decisive for the competitors. This will really test the fitness of their horses”, concludes Nicoll.

Boyd Exell (AUS):
“I had to stop myself from smiling in there. My horses were doing it all on their own, the circles, the corners, everything. My grooms helped by telling me to warm up for 20 minutes less. I will not underestimate IJsbrand Chardon, I know that he will go as fast as he can in the marathon. The course is very open with some challenging turns. We are used to more technical obstacles.”

Tucker Johnson (USA):
“My left leader horse got a bit excited so I picked a safe pace which still showed the brilliance of my horses. I feel that my team has wonderful balance and movement and they showed an elegant and attractive test. It is good to be here and to drive my last dressage test on home soil.”

Individual standings after dressage:
1. Boyd Exell (Aus) 30.08
2. IJsbrand Chardon (Ned) 35.97
2. Chester Weber (Usa) 35.97
4. Theo Timmerman (Ned) 40.19
4. Tucker Johnson (Usa) 40.19
6. Christoph Sandmann (Ger) 40.58
7. Daniel Würgler (Sui) 45.06
8. Tomas Eriksson (Swe) 50.30
9. James Fairclough (Usa) 51.97
10. Koos de Ronde (Ned) 52.22

Team standings after dressage:
1. The Netherlands/USA 76.16
3. Australia 85.38
4. Germany 98.44
5. Sweden 103.68
6. Switzerland 109.96
7. Canada 144.26