Natalie Dean is Primed for World Cup Success
Natalie Dean and Chance Ste Hermelle. Photo: Andrew Ryback Photography
The 2022-2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League kicks off Saturday at Sacramento, CA’s Murieta Equestrian Center with two standout contenders: Conor Swail (IRL) and Natalie Dean (USA).
Swail, of course, is an obvious choice. Not only is he ranked among the top five riders in the World, but he’s also the event’s defending champion with the athletic Vital Chance de la Roque. During the 2021-2022 NAL season, Swail won three of the league’s eight qualifying events and led the league in points from start to finish. He’d ultimately place eighth at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in Leipzig (GER).
But a year ago, Dean was fourth in Sacramento and finished the season third in the NAL standings as the top ranked U.S. rider. While Dean elected not to compete in Leipzig, the 23-year-old returns to the west coast looking to start a new qualifying season off strongly, her eyes set firmly on competing at her first senior championship.
It’s a nice incentive that the 2023 World Cup Finals will be held on home turf for Dean, as the event returns to the U.S. in Omaha, NE in April. If last year’s numbers are any indication, Dean should be safely in that lineup.
During the 2021-2022 NAL season, Dean competed in three qualifiers. From Sacramento to Lexington and Las Vegas, she averaged just one rail. More impressive was her finish position. Dean’s average finish was within the top four, and through three years and two full seasons, she’s averaged a finish position in the top 10 in World Cup events. That’s quite a feat for a rider still eligible for the U25 division.
Dean will make her return to Sacramento with the 14-year-old Chance Ste Hermelle. According to Prixview Next Gen data, this mare is incredibly balanced, with 47.06% of her faults coming equally off the left and right leads. There’s also just an 8 percent difference in faults breakdown by point of contact (rails up front vs. behind). What will this experienced combination have to look out for? The numbers say: plank verticals. They’ve had faults nearly a quarter of the time (23.53%) they’ve faced this careful fence on course.
But what might be working best for them is a return indoors. In their indoor starts last year, albeit limited, Dean and Chance averaged just 2 faults and a finish position in the top 12. And in Thursday’s Grand Prix Qualifier in Sacramento, the pair was the first to produce a clear effort over Olaf Petersen, Jr.’s course.
The North American League, by the Numbers
What can we expect from this season’s North American League? The 2021-2022 season brought about a new format, condensing the season from 12 to eight legs and creating one cohesive league by eliminating the sub-leagues that separated east and west coast riders. Still, seven east coast U.S. and three west coast U.S. athletes, along with two riders apiece from Canada and Mexico, will punch their tickets to Omaha. Riders may compete in as many qualifiers as they wish, but only their four best results will count for points.
The NAL is unique in the diversity of its venues. Four qualifiers are truly indoor competitions, while two events—Puebla (MEX) and Ocala (USA)—are outdoor events. Sacramento is a hybrid of sorts; its arena is not fully enclosed, but its sold out crowd shrinks the space, with some seats directly up against the railing.
World Cup events averaged 25 athletes last season, with the most (35) turning out for the National Horse Show in Lexington, KY (A maximum of 40 athletes may contest an NAL event). Only one event averaged more faults than that class, and that was Las Vegas, where there are other…distractions. It’s worth noting that Dean excelled in both events, finishing sixth and second, respectively.
The stakes on the NAL this year will be high—not only because more U.S. riders will want to contest a World Cup Finals in their home country, but also because two qualifiers will be—for the first time—CSI5*-W events. That means, more of everything—prize money, world ranking points (not to be confused with World Cup qualifying points) and technicality of course design. You can expect that at Upper Marlboro, MD (a new venue) for the Washington International Horse Show in addition to the National.
Follow Dean and the North American League season through Prixview’s fantasy games at Prixview.com/fantasy.