Irish teenager Bertram Allen has set the bar with an impressive win in the opening speed competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France on Tuesday.
Beating 152 other competitors, the 19-year-old scooted over Frederick Cottier’s 14 fence track on his Dublin Grand Prix winner Molly Malone V, cutting corners with precision for a time of 77.01 seconds and pole position.
Molly Malone V, a 10-year-old grey mare by Kannan, is owned by Ballywalter Farms. Allen hails from County Wexford, but is based in Munster, Germany and is coached by German ace Marcus Ehning.
Allen’s ride was perfection, but there was still a lot of head-shaking at the end of the day because, although his star has been rising for quite some time, his appearance at the top of the individual order at the end of this first world championship contest was generally unexpected. Except by the Irish who have been watching this extraordinarily talented young man making his way through the sport for a number of years now.
Despite his tender years he has a lot of experience under his belt, and his form in recent months includes a brilliant victory in the Longines Grand Prix at Dublin Horse Show just a few weeks ago. And of course he’d given warning of his intent when consistently successful at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 test event earlier in the summer.
On his winning ride, he said: “the mare jumped out of her skin. The plan was a good solid round, but she took everything in her stride and we were able to get a great round in, so I’m over the moon! She has quite a bit of experience of going fast against the clock and we know each other well, so we know what we can and can’t do, and we got the measure right today.”
He went on to compare the pressure of competing at this World Games to Dublin. “This is a whole new level again,” he added.
“This is the biggest stage I’ve ever performed on, and it’s a completely different level again, but I’ve had quite a bit of experience with under-age championships for ponies and juniors and I was reserve in Barcelona last year (at Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping 2013 Final).”
Asked if it is true that he has taken a medal at every championship in which he has competed so far he replied, “yes, I don’t know how I managed that! I suppose there was a bit of luck along the way. It would be great if the luck could keep going for one more Championship!” he replied with a laugh. And could he make it into Sunday’s final-four individual medal decider? “Sure that’s what I’m dreaming about,” he said, “but it’s a long, long way away!”
Like every other nation fielding a team this week, Olympic qualification is a major goal, and with clears from all of Allen’s fellow team-members the Irish are lying just two places off the top five slots which will pave the way to Rio 2016 when the team medals are distributed on Thursday. But the French are feeling pretty confident in the overnight lead, even though only a single fence separates the top six nations going into tomorrow’s second challenge.
The French are closely followed by Sweden in second, the USA in third, Germany in fourth, Netherlands in fifth and Canada in sixth.
Allen left older and far more seasoned riders trailing, including French heroine Penelope LePrevost, who flew around the track with her big jumping chestnut mare Flora De Mariposa for a time of 77.82 and eventual sixth place. Four other top international riders all stopped the clock on the same second as the Irish rider, but none could quite erase his lead.
The French contingent in the vocal crowd was willing Patrice Delaveau to jump round clear and his stallion Orient Express HDC duly obliged and clocked a fast time to boot at 77.18, but this wasn’t quite good enough for pole position and the home rider had to settle for second.
Belgian supporters went wild when Gregory Wathelet crossed the finish line on 77.33 aboard the nine-year-old bay stallion Conrad De Hus, the stylish rider cutting the corner early on at fence 2 to set himself up for third.
The USA’s Beezie Madden, the penultimate competitor in the ring, turned Cortes C tightly, not least to that purple and white upright at 2, but even she fell short of Allen’s time — by 0.33 of a second — which left her fourth.
Former European Champion and Beijing Olympic individual silver medallist Rolf Goran Bengtsson coaxed a brilliant performance from his bay Holsteiner stallion Casall Ask to occupy fifth for Sweden, stopping the clock on 77.70.
Germany’s Daniel Deusser put another sound round for Germany with his scopey grey gelding Cornet d’Amour. While the pilot didn’t look to have his pedal to the metal, he took tight lines for a final score of 78.41 for seventh place behind Penelope Leprevost.
Canada’s Ian Miller, the oldest competitor in the field at 67, showed his younger rivals how Frederick Cottier’s clever course should be jumped. He too took tight lines and ended up with a finishing score of 78.84 for eighth place aboard the Vigo d’Arsouilles son Dixson.
“This was a daunting task and I told Dixson: ‘This is a mountain we have to climb here.’ But a championship always brings out the best in people and horses. That is what makes this competition so remarkable,” said Miller, a 10-time Olympian who is contesting his seventh WEG.
Peder Fredericson slipped to ninth place with H&M Sibon, while Dutchman Jeroen Dubbeldam and Zenith SFN rounded up the top 10.
There were a few shocks during the afternoon’s session, the biggest being Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat’s refusal at the first of the rustic planks at 8a with his London gold medal ride Nino Des Buissonnets.
“Normally a double of planks is his specialty. That was a bad day today,” Guerdat said.
The world’s number one pairing, Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos, took out the back rail of the influential oxer at 11, approached off a tight left hand turn. They were on for a top 15 placing but that mistake left them well off the pace in 43rd, the sole fault from Britain’s quartet of riders. Brash has been suffering from food poisoning, but admitted that he had felt better that morning.
Kent Farrington, the first of the afternoon session’s ‘stars’, was on target to trounce the Irish leader but his bay gelding Voyeur tapped the back rail on that ‘bogey’ oxer too for an extra 4sec to add to his showstopping time of 77.02.
Italy’s Emanuele Gaudiano and his consistent mare Cocoshynsky stopped the clock at 78.17 but that oxer at 11, as well as the pink poles at 12, were already on the floor.
Pieter Devos and his classy Dream Of India Greenfield would have entered the top 10 but for dislodging the upright planks at 8a, while Morocco’s Abdelkebir Ouaddar and his spirited stallion Quickly De Kreisker were the fastest of the day (75.84), and they drew gasps from the crowd for their speedy efforts. Sadly a foot in the water denied them victory but they still finished 13th with 79.84.
France’s Kevin Staut and Reveur De Hurtebise HDC stopped the clock on 77.24 but they had four to add with a shock pole down at the white and blue oxer at 6.
The afternoon session proved to be slightly less dramatic than the morning’s had been, although Morocco’s Hassan Jabri did manage to demolish the final Rolex green and yellow oxer, his horse Loxy De La Reselle CH ploughing through it, leaving his jockey perched precariously around his ears. Fortunately as the dark bay cantered through the finish he managed to push himself back into the plate to avoid elimination. Save of the day!
Mexico’s Marlon Modolo Zanotelli’s Ad Clouwni became airborne a mile away from the water but the brave chestnut managed to clear the tape to improve Brazil’s fortunes from this morning when Doda de Miranda was eliminated.
The USA’s Lucy Davis was almost dislodged from the plate when Barron dived through the wall at 5, his stylish jockey doing well to regain the chestnut’s concentration for the rest of the round, which was clear.
“He shot out to the left and I came off the line and then we were lost,” Davis said. “It was a case of miscommunication. But he is such a brave horse to crash through a wall and still keep going.”
A total of 150 horse-and-rider combinations go through to Wednesday’s first round of the team final competition, which is also the second individual qualifier, and it is Portugal’s Mario Wilson Fernandes and Zurito do Belmonte who will be first into the arena.
All teams go into Wednesday’s competition, but only the top 10 will qualify for Thursday’s second round of the team final.
Top 10 results First Jumping Competition
- Bertram Allen (IRL)/ Molly Malone V – 77.01
- Patrice Delaveau (FRA)/ Orient Express HDC – 77.18
- Gregory Wathelet (BEL)/ Conrad De Hus – 77.33
- Beezie Madden (USA)/ Cortes C – 77.34
- Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE)/ Casall Ask – 77.70
- Flora de Miriposa (Penelope Leprevost), FRA, 77.82
- Cornet D’Amour (Daniel Deusser), GER, 78.41
- Dixson (Ian Millar), CAN, 78.84
- H&M Sibon (Peder Fredricson), SWE, 78.86
- Zenith SFN (Jeroen Dubbeldam), NED, 79.52