Switzerland's Pius Schwizer, winner of the opening leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping 2011/2012 series yesterday riding Carlina, is presented with a Rolex watch by Magali Dubois Vaucher from Rolex. He also won a Land Rover Evoque. © FEI/Roger Svalsrod
"This is my very first success in a World Cup qualifier, so I'm super-pleased with the result!" Schwizer said after collecting the winner's prize of a Rolex watch. "I've been second and third a few times, but it feels really great to be first - and Carlina was brilliant today!" he added.
The compact Telenor Arena in Oslo measures just 35 metres by 75 metres, but course-designers Terje Olsen-Nalum and Anders Hafskjold didn't compromise on height and width, giving the 40 starters plenty to think about. The triple combination at fence six - oxer, vertical, oxer - proved influential, but it was the 1.70m-wide oxer at fence nine that hit the floor most often in the first round as nine horse-and-rider combinations faulted there.
Belgium's Gregory Wathalet and Copin van de Broy opened the class with three mistakes, including one at this fence. But for the home-side spectators the biggest surprise was the elimination of their own Tony Andre Hansen who, second into the ring, suffered a major miscommunication with his 10 year old gelding Frodo at the vertical at fence seven which resulted in a fall. Third to go was Italy's Natale Chiaudani who has found a fine new horse in the shape of the 12 year old chestnut gelding Almero who eased around the 13-fence track for the first clear of the afternoon. And 13 more would join him in the second-round decider which started out over the wide triple-bar.
There were eight jumping efforts second time out, and the oxer at fence nine fell as Chiaudani led the way against the clock. But, second to go, Angelica Augustsson and Mic Mac du Tillard left everything intact to take the early lead. The Swedish 24 year old, who became an overnight star following her thrilling victory on home turf in Gothenburg last season, stopped the clock on 37.67 seconds, but she clearly wasn't taking too many chances with her talented but fiery Cruising mare at this stage of the season, and the door still looked wide open as the exciting partnership galloped through the finish.
Great Britain's William Funnell shaved 0.43 seconds off the target time with a great round from his promising home-bred eight year old, Billy Angelo, and stayed out in front when Norway's Nina Braaten and Loyd 12 hit the second element of the double, three from home. Three-time Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping champion, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum from Germany, followed with a foot-perfect run from her eight year old mare Bella Donna, but with 39.51 seconds on the board they failed to threaten for top spot and it was likewise for The Netherlands' Maikel van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdi even though they were almost a second quicker.
Philipp Weishaupt wasn't hanging about, however. The German rider set off at full tilt with Madeleine Winter-Schulze's 11-year-old mare Souvenir and, having taken a risky turn to the penultimate Rolex oxer, cleared the line in 35.87 seconds to reset the parameters. And he stayed out in front despite the best efforts of the next six contenders including Ireland's Denis Lynch (Lantinus), and Frenchman Kevin Staut (Zeta de Hus) who were both both clear but not quick enough, Staut's fellow-countryman Patrice Delaveau (Ornella Mail) who collected eight faults, Australia's Edwina Tops-Alexander (Cevo Itot du Chateau) who left the bogey oxer at nine on the floor and Portugal's Luciana Diniz (Winningmood) whose copybook tour of the track in 36.64 seconds was good enough to slot, temporarily, into runner-up spot.
Second-last to go, all eyes were on the man who claimed the individual FEI European Jumping Championship title in Madrid, Spain last month, but when Casall La Silla hit the penultimate fence, then Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson would finish well down the line. Now only Schwizer stood between Weishaupt and victory, and the Swiss man was filled with determination.
"Carlina is fast, so I always know I can try to win with her no matter what anyone else might do," Schwizer said afterwards. And fast she was, the 10 year old mare finding every fence in exactly the right spot as she wound her way home in 34.63 seconds to put the result beyond any doubt.
This leaves Schwizer at the head of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Western European League table at this very early stage of the season and with the comfort of knowing that one more really good performance will be almost enough to guarantee him a place at the series final in 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands next April. He was delighted with the way Carlina went - "I have been riding her for three years, and she is super-careful and has plenty of scope - I'm so happy with her right now," he said.
Defending champion, Germany's Christian Ahlmann, was one of 12 four-faulters in the opening round with Lorenzo, but he, like many of his counterparts, is heading for the second leg which will take place in Helsinki, Finland next Sunday and he will be hoping for better luck as the race to earn one of the coveted places at the seasonal finale moves up another gear.
Lynch and Lantinus collected €12,000 for their fifth place. Tipperary-born Lynch finished 15th overall in the 2010/2011 season standings. Cian O'Connor and his new gelding Carpe Diem picked up four faults first time out, while Ireland's third competitor Billy Twomey, who finished fifth overall last season, retired Tracey Forrest's chestnut stallion Romanov II in the first round when the horse's martingale broke after the fifth fence.
Meanwhile, Irish rider John Hickey was victorious in Saturday night's bareback Puissance competition at Oslo, winning on the fourth jump-off at a height of 2m 10cm with the bay gelding Cactus.
1, Carlina (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/0 34.63;
2, Souvenir (Philipp Weishaupt) GER 0/0 35.87;
3, Winningmood (Luciana Diniz) POR 0/0 36.64;
4, Billy Angelo (William Funnell) GBR 0/0 37.34;
5, Lantinus (D Lynch) IRL 0/0 37.45;
6, Mic Mac du Tillard (Angelica Augustsson) SWE 0/0 37.67;
7, Zeta de Hus (Kevin Staut) FRA 0/0 38.16;
8, VDL Groep Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 38.75;
9, Bella Donna (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum0 GER 0/0 39.51;
10, Casall La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 0/4 36.54;
11, Cevo Itot du Chateau (Edwina Tops-Alexander) AUS 0/4 36.54;
12, Loyd 12 (Nina Braaten) NOR 0/4 40.17;
13, Almero (Natale Chiaudani) ITA 0/4 41.32;
14, Ornella Mail (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 0/8 38.85.