Marc Houtzager brought his year to the perfect close when winning the Olympia leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series yesterday.
Riding Sterrehof’s Tamino, the Dutchman went fourth in the eight-horse jump-off and clinched it with the smoothest of rides.
Runner-up spot went to Malin Baryard-Johnsson with H&M Tornesch, and the Swedish star has now moved to within sight of a qualifying spot for the series final on her home turf in Gothenburg, Sweden next April. Peter Charles slotted into third, and it was a particularly creditable performance from the man who helped clinch team gold for Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Partnering a new ride, the 10 year old French-bred mare Murka’s Odie de Frevent, Charles is only just back in action after undergoing surgery in September.
Houtzager said “it looks like London is the place to be for me! I won team silver at the Olympic Games and now I’ve had my first World Cup win here. It’s a great win for me, and it is especially great because it is the last show of the year!”
Course designer Louis Konickx set the riders a tough task. It was his debut at this hugely popular event. Course-building at Olympia demands great ingenuity because the arena is so very tight. “You are afraid you might only get one clear, but also afraid it might be fifteen, so to get eight clear in the first round was perfect!” he said afterwards.
The early starters showed just how difficult it could be, with two of the first three – Britain’s Robert Whitaker (USA Today) and Ireland’s Cian O’Connor (Ulano) – opting to retire, although second-line Briton, Guy Williams, steered Titus home to show how it should be done.
The course included the now-iconic London Bus wall which adorned the Olympic equestrian arena at Greenwich Park, and this stood at fence five on the 12-obstacle track. But for the majority of the 35 starters it was the double at fence seven and the very last fence on the course, the triple combination, that proved most troublesome.
The latter required a cautious approach, as the one-stride distance between the first two verticals was tight while there was a long stretch to the final oxer. Spain’s Manuel Anon and Rackel Chavannaise, Italy’s Luca Moneta and Neptune Brecourt, Germany’s Max Kuhner and Clintop, Britain’s John Whitaker and Maximillian, Frenchman Roger Yves Bost and Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois and London 2012 individual Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat from Switzerland riding Nasa were amongst those who missed out on a place in the second round with a mistake at this one.
Williams was first to take on the clock with Titus, a talented 12 year old gelding who was sold last year to Australia’s Edwina Alexander, but who has found his way back to the British rider’s yard. And the horse and rider have quickly bonded once again, although with two mistakes in the timed round they left the door wide open for the rest as the jump-off got under way.
Next in was Charles with the mare that was previously ridden by Frenchman Nicolas Delmotte. Light-bodied, athletic and brave, she looks a real prospect and set the target with a clear round in 37.54 seconds that always looked like challenging for a top placing.
The jump-off track asked for both speed and control, with the right-handed turn-back after the remaining two elements of the triple combination proving pivotal as riders attempted to rebalance for the following vertical before pushing on to the London Bus Wall and then turning right-handed once again for the long run to the last.
Baryard-Johnsson’s 12 year old stallion has a ground-eating stride and easily raised the game after taking out a stride between the first two fences to stop the clock in 36.63 seconds, but Houtzager’s Tamino made it look even easier. Setting off with both speed and rhythm, the Dutch-bred gelding was completely concentrated as he took everything in his stride to break the beam in 34.67 seconds and soar into the lead.
But it was far from over as his Dutch compatriot Gerco Schroder was next off with his Olympic individual silver medal winning ride, the handsome 10 year old London. But a risky turn to the vertical three from home didn’t pay off this time out, and then the crowd went wild as Nick Skelton entered the ring with Big Star.
Skelton’s contribution to Britain’s golden summer has endeared him even more to the hearts of his already-adoring public, and they were willing him home all the way. But Big Star is still only nine years old, and, all week, he found the atmosphere of the Olympia arena electrifying so his veteran rider had to work hard to keep his mind on his job. An unlucky tap at the wall collected four faults, although their time of 35.57 would prove good enough for fourth place when the final two riders, Portugal’s Luciana Diniz with Lennox and French rider Penelope Leprevost with Nayana, also faulted.
His win was an ideal early birthday present for Houtzager who will turn 42 on January 9. And he is now wondering whether to alter his plans for 2013 in order to include the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Final. “I competed in Lyon (FRA) and had one down and finished 12th and I thought I wouldn’t go to the final, but maybe I have to change the plan after today,” he said.
Describing his jump-off round, he said “I wasn’t sure we could win when we came out of ring but my horse is really fast. I actually wanted to take one more stride to the wall, but in the end I’m very happy. Tamino has had a great season, team silver, three Grand Prix wins, it couldn’t be better really and I do enjoy competing here in London. It’s such an amazing atmosphere, just like it was at the Olympic Games,” he said.
One rider who is determined to get to the Gothenburg final is Baryard-Johnsson, who had plenty to be pleased about with her second placing.
“The big goal for me is to ride in the final. Being Swedish it is very important to compete at home, and I feel my horse is in great shape, better than ever,” she said. “I came to Olympia for the first time in 1995 when I was living with John Whitaker – well we lived in the same house – excuse my English!” she added with a laugh. “I love coming back here,” she said.
Peter Charles is excited about the future for Murka’s Odie de Frevent. “I’ve only done a couple of shows since I got back (riding after surgery), and we weren’t planning to do a World Cup with her, just the Grand Prix, but she jumped really well today,” he said.
He is still getting to know the mare, “when you’re at that stage with a horse like that, and the mouth is quite difficult and you are trying out new bits, then you don’t know fully how fast to go with her. I tried going fast once and she ran away with me!” he said.
“She came in a trade for a lame horse about a year ago. I ride her in a polo pony bit”.
“It was a big thing for her to do today. I know she has ability; she does it her own way.”
But he has no plans to take her to the final this season. “If I keep her then I’d probably aim her at the World Equestrian Games in 2014,” he said.
The Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Western European League series now moves on to Mechelen in Belgium where the eighth leg will take place on Sunday 30 December.
Result: 11, Sterrehof’s Tamino (Marc Houtzager) NED 0/0 34.67; 2, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/0 36.63; 3, Murka’s Odie de Frevent (Peter Charles) GBR 0/0 37.54; 4, Big Star (Nick Skelton) GBR 0/4 35.57; 5, Nayana (Penelope Leprevost) FRA 0/4 36.16; 6, London (Gerco Schroder) NED 0/8 35.48; 7, Lennox (Luciana Diniz) POR 0/8 35.57; 8, Titus (Guy Williams) GBR 0/8 38.28; 9, Plot Blue (Marcus Ehning) GER 4/58.18; 10, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois (Roger Yves Bost) FRA 4/59.32; 11, 11th and Bleeker (Gerfried Puck) AUT 4/59.60; 12, Reveur de Hurtebise (Kevin Staut) FRA 4/59.75; 13, Tripple X (Ben Maher) GBR 4/60.74; 14, Uptown Boy (Janika Sprunger) SUI 4/61.01; 15, Nasa (Steve Guerdat) SUI 4/61.05; 16, Clintop (Max Kuhner) GER 4/61.21; 17, Rackel Chavannaise (Manuel Anon) ESP 4/61.38; 18, Cedric (Laura Kraut) USA 4/62.2l; 19, Hello Sanctos (Scott Brash) GBR 4/62.46; 20, Maximillian (John Whitaker) GBR 5/64.91; 21, Ornella Mail HDC (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 8/57.19; 22, Oz de Breve (Laura Renwick) GBR 8/58.56; 23, H&M Cash In (Peder Fredricson) SWE 8/59.06; 24, Neptune Brecourt (Luca Moneta) ITA 8/60.34; 25, Hello Sailor (Tina Fletcher) GBR 8/60.64; 26, Verdi III (Pius Schwizer) SUI 8/60.67; 27, Billy Congo (William Funnell) GBR 8/61.31; 28, L’Espoir (Geir Gulliksen) NOR 8/61.61; 29, Papillon Z (Rik Hemeryck) BEL 8/62.26; 30, Der Senaat (Abdel Said) EGY 9/66.09; 31, Erenice Horta (Edwina Tops-Alexander) AUS 12/60.84; 32, Antello Z (Michael Whitaker) GBR 12/63.63; 33, Fresh Direct Kalico Bay (Tim Stockdale) GBR Ret; 33, Ulano (Cian O’Connor) IRL Ret; 33, USA Today (Robert Whitaker) GBR Ret.
World Cup Standings after Round 7:
1. Sergio Alvarez Moya ESP – 75
2. Kevin Staut FRA – 63
3. Roger Yves Bost FRA – 39
4. Pius Schwizer SUI – 38
5. Marcus Ehning GER – 36
6. Jeroen Dubbeldam NED – 35
7. Luciana Diniz POR – 33
8. Penelope Leprevost FRA – 33
9. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE – 32
10. Christian Ahlmann GER – 30
11. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER – 29
12. Scott Brash GBR – 26
13. Marc Houtzager NED – 25
14. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS – 24
15. Denis Lynch IRL – 24
16. Maikel van der Vleuten NED – 23
17. William Funnell GBR – 23
18. Marco Kutscher GER – 23
19. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER – 22
20. Jens Fredricson SWE – 22