It was an evening when maturity counted for a great deal, and the age-profile in the jump-off line-up told a fascinating story as the 57 year old former World Cup champion stole the show for the second time in two years. He pipped the relatively youthful 43 year old Briton, Tim Stockdale, for the honours while Rutherford Latham (53) slotted into third to the delight of the home supporters, and with Markus Fuchs (50) slotting into fifth for Switzerland and the great French horseman Michel Robert claiming ninth spot in this, his 60th year, it was vintage stuff all the way.
Austria's Thomas Fruhmann and The Sixth Sense clinched victory at the eleventh leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series in Vigo, Spain.
Lazarus led the way in the timed round with a single error in 46.28 seconds before Belgium's Patrick McEntee set the first target when clear with Ever Mury Marais Z. He played a cautious game however, fully aware that a zero score would book his ticket to the Gothenburg final after an excellent indoor season, so his time of 49.88 seconds was never going to be the winning one.
Germany's Lars Nieberg and Lucie left three on the floor before Spain's Rutherford Latham and Guarana Champeix, winners of the fourth leg of the series in Stuttgart and already well-qualified for the final, raised the pressure with a great run which brought them through the finish in 43.05 seconds to take the lead. Their advantage was short-lived however as Tim Stockdale shaved well over a second off that when breaking the beam with Fresh Direct Corlato in 41.74. This mare, who placed third last weekend at Bordeaux, also won the Grand Prix in Nantes last month and is growing in confidence all the time.
France had three riders through to the closing stages but the first of these, Eugenie Angot, collected eight faults with Ilostra Dark just before Switzerland's Markus Fuchs showed that Stockdale's target-time was beatable when screaming across the line in 41.58 seconds with Nirmette but, unfortunately, leaving a fence on the ground behind him. Dutchman Harry Smolders and Exquis Oliver Q also lowered one while the second French runner, Julien Epaillard, picked up eight faults with Kanthaka de Petra and then the heat was turned right up again by Fruhmann.
Always a formidable opponent when on form, this man who took the World Cup title at Del Mar in California, USA riding Genius in 1992 still has the hunger to win and, setting off with The Sixth Sense, he had his foot to the floor.
"I saw Tim's round and he was very, very fast but I got a really sharp turn to the triple bar and I knew it was good!" Fruhmann said afterwards. That it was, bringing him home just over a second quicker than the British rider and really putting it up to the remaining three. They were three good ones however so he could not be completely sure of victory just yet, but a fence down for last weekend's Bordeaux winners Gerco Schroder and Eurocommerce Milano from The Netherlands and also for Frenchman Michel Robert with Mme Pompadour M was followed by an uncharacteristic elimination for Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Butterfly Flip.
Fruhmann described the turn to the triple bar in the jump-off as "very difficult" and it was here that Sweden's golden girl and her wonderful 17 year old mare ran into trouble, Butterfly Flip deciding that it was pointless to continue after things didn't work out at her first attempt.
"I have not been very lucky in my last few Grand Prixs" Fruhmann pointed out, "because we never have more than one fence down, but tonight it went right and I'm delighted with my horse. I think I was good as well!" he pointed out with a laugh. "I keep my horse working all the time with little breaks in between big classes and now he will have three weeks off before I decide where we will go next" he added.
"I only started in the World Cup at Leipzig and then did Bordeaux last weekend and this weekend at Vigo but the final was never in my plan" the winner explained. However, you could tell he is now tempted after he claimed a handsome €35,000 - "I'll take some time now to think about s'Hertogenbosch" he said.
The first eleven riders on the Western European League leaderboard seem to have done enough to make the cut, but Harry Smolders and British newcomer William Whitaker are just a tantalising few points away followed by veterans like Germany's Heinrich-Hermann Engemann, Marcus Ehning and Michael Whitaker and Sunday's result will be a real disappointment for Baryard-Johnsson who is still about five points short of the qualification zone. The Gothenburg finale just wouldn't be the same without her and her magical mare so the last qualifying opportunity will be vital. However the competition is likely to be cut-throat as the line-up for the 30th Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series is decided at the Dutch fixture in six weeks time.
WESTERN EUROPEAN LEADERBOARD AFTER ROUND 11 IN VIGO:
1. Jessica Kuerten - 79
2. Rutherford Latham - 63
3. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum - 59
4. Tim Stockdale - 50
5. Gerco Schroder - 49
6. Steve Guerdat - 48
7. Patrick McEntee - 47
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson - 47
9. Albert Zoer - 45
10. Ludger Beerbaum - 44
11. Helena Lundback - 41
12. Harry Smolders - 39
William Whitaker - 39
14. Heinrich-Hermann Engemann - 38
15. Marcus Ehning - 37
Michael Whitaker - 37
17. Eugenie Angot - 35
Malin Baryard-Johnsson - 35
19. Markus Fuchs - 34
Mikael Forsten - 34
Rodrigo Pessoa - 34
22. Judy-Ann Melchior - 33