Switzerland's Pius Schwizer and Carlina, pictured with Anthony Schaub from Rolex, after winning the second leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumpings series in Helsinki, Finland on Sunday. © FEI/Matti Heitanen
Malin Baryard-Johnsson nearly stole his thunder with a feat of derring-do that would challenge even the trick-riding expertise of the Ukrainian Cossacks. In a heart-stopping "save" that had spectators on the edges of their seats, the Swedish rider managed to stay onboard her 11 year old gelding H&M Reveur de Hurtebise and finish third behind The Netherlands's Michael Van der Vleuten while the host nation's Nina Fagerstrom slotted into fourth.
But it was Schwizer who was wearing the biggest smile at the end of the day, as with the maximum 40 points already posting him to the top of the leaderboard, he is well on his way to the 2011/2012 series final in 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands next April.
"My compliments to the course designer - it was a real World Cup track," Schwizer said afterwards. Brazil's Jorge Guilherme set them a tough test in the small Helsinki arena. "You have to build top courses for the European World Cup events," he said. "This is the Formula 1 of Jumping and it needs to be difficult enough while bearing in mind that we are still early in the season."
In a starting field of 37 there were four retirements and two eliminations - the first of the latter taking out third-line rider Henk van de Pol and Kirfa de Kreisker from The Netherlands and the second occurring when Spain's Sergio Alvarez Moya and Kisby, going fifth from the end, ran into trouble at the last. This vertical proved influential. Ridden on a short five strides from the preceding double, the narrow stile consisting of just three white poles was merciless to those who, having had to push for the penultimate fence, arrived on a stride that was too forward.
Jorge Guilherme was quite satisfied when nine horse-and-rider combinations conquered his challenge to go through to the second-round decider.
Belgium's Ludo Philippaerts set the pace with a double-error from Kassini Jack and Austria's Iris Murray, who has coped admirably since stepping up in class with Night Flight in recent weeks, followed suit. But Schwizer and Carlina made no mistakes, setting off with purpose and setting the target with a great clear in 37.58 seconds. "I didn't take too much of a risk - I could have gone faster, but I knew it was pretty good," he said afterwards of his round.
Ireland's Billy Twomey was first to take that on, but took his foot off the gas after an early mistake with Romanov. The crowd went wild however when home-grown star, Nina Fagerstrom, left all the fences intact with Talent, although she was more than two seconds off Schwizer's target time. And she was immediately overtaken for runner-up spot by The Netherand's Maikel van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdo who clocked 38.30.
It was Frenchman Patrice Delaveau who looked most likely to oust the Swiss leader from his perch. Setting off like a whirlwind he was well up on the clock turning to the last with Ornella Mail, but paid a big price for a massive stand-off at the last. So when Germany's Daniel Deusser and Untouchable also left one on the floor, then only Baryard-Johnsson stood between Schwizer and an exceptional start to the new season.
The Swedish rider was looking good until she reached the former triple combination, now reduced to two jumping efforts. "I was too fast going in," she said afterwards, and the end result was a huge effort from her gelding that sent her into orbit over the second element. "I landed on the left-hand side of the saddle when I came back down, and it was quite scarey for a while!" she said.
"I struggled to get back on, trying to get my stirrups, but I said to myself 'no, don't circle and no, forget about the stirrups, just keep going and try to stay in the saddle over the last three fences!" she said.
Against all the odds she succeeded, and with the crowd bursting with admiration for her courage and determination, she galloped through the finish with the clock showing 40.62 and with all the poles still in place - "yeh, scarey - but good," she laughed afterwards.
This was good enough for third behind Van der Vleuten who was really pleased with his horse.
"I've had him for four years now and he's one of the best I've ever had. He's honest and always tries his best - no course is ever too high or too wide for him," he said of VDL Groep Verdi who is still only nine years old.
Fagerstrom slotted into fourth having done "better than expected". "I always want to do well here in front of my family and my friends, but I didn't take too many risks - I preferred to finish with two clear rounds instead," said the rider who has now slotted into joint-eighth spot on the leaderboard ahead of the next leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series in Lyon, France next Sunday.
This was the second round of the FEI World Cup Series 2011/12 and a back-to-back win for Switzerland's Pius Schwizer and Carlina.
37 riders from 16 different nations participated- AUS, AUT, BEL, DEN, ESP, FIN, FRA, GER, GBR, IRL, ITA, KSA, NED, NOR, SWE, SUI.
Current league leader is Pius Schwizer on the maximum 40 points.
The youngest horse competing was 8 years old, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum's Bella Donna 66.
There were three 15 year old horses competing: Calandro (Sebastian Numminem), L'Espoir (Geir Gulliksen), Ideal de la Loge (Roger Yves Bost).
1, Carlina (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/0 37.58; 2, VDL Groep Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 38.30; 3, H&M Reveur de Hurtebise (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/0 40.62; 4, Talent (Nina Fagerstrom) FIN 0/0 40.70; 5, Ornella Mail (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 0/4 35.14; 6, Untouchable 27 (Daniel Deusser) GER 0/4 37.40; 7, Romanov II (Billy Twomey) IRL 0/4 40.07; 8, Kassini Jac (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 0/8 40.48; 9, Night Flight (Iris Murray) AUT 0/8 46.26; 10, Mic Mac du Tillard (Angelica Augustsson) SWE 4/- 58.97; 11, Nino des Buissonnets (Steve Guerdat) SUI 4/- 59.20; 12, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) NED 4/- 61.29; 13, Ciske van Overis (Edwina Tops-Alexander) AUS 4/- 61.53; 14, VDL Groep Quinara (Leopold van Asten) NED 4/- 62.02; 15, Bella Donna 66 (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 4/- 62.88; 16, Copin van de Broy (Gregory Wathelet) BEL 4/- 63.38; =17, H&M Arctic Aurora Borealis (Peder Fredericson) SWE 4/- 63.45; =17, Eurocommerce Seoul (Wout-Jan van der Schans) NED 4/- 63.45.
Standings After Round 2 at Helsinki (FIN):
1. Pius Schwizer SUI - 40
2. Maikel van der Vleuten NED - 26
3. Angelica Augustsson SWE - 18
4. Philipp Weishaupt GER - 17
5. Luciana Diniz POR - 15
5. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE - 15
5. Patrice Delaveau FRA - 15
8. William Funnell GBR - 13
8. Nina Fagerstrom FIN - 13
10. Denis Lynch IRL - 12
11. Daniel Deusser GER - 11
12. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER - 10
12. Billy Twomey IRL - 10
12. Kevin Staut FRA - 10
12. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS - 10
16. Ludo Philippaerts BEL - 9
17. Iris Murray AUT - 8
18. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE - 7