European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson
zoomed to victory on Casall La Silla in the third leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Western European League series in Lyon, France, yesterday.
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Casall La Silla during the prize-giving presentation with Phillipe Schaeffer, Director General Rolex France. © FEI/Kit Houghton
The Swedish rider snatched the lead at the halfway stage of the nine-horse jump-off and could not be caught.
From the 40-strong field of world-class combinations, it was The Ukraine's Katharina Offel and Cathleen who claimed runner-up spot ahead of Switzerland's Steve Guerdat with Nino des Buissonnets in third, while host-nation hero Kevin Staut filled fourth place riding Zeta de Hus.
Course designer Frank Rothenberger produced a masterpiece - a 13-fence track that asked questions from start to finish but which produced a sparkling line-up for the second and deciding round against the clock in which rideability was tested to the very limit.
In round one - from the opening oxer, right through to the last - it was all about crisp communication and absolute obedience as riders had to both drive their horses forward and check them back quickly in order to leave the poles in place. In the jump-off, control was absolutely key to success, and Bengtsson's proved to be the best of all.
The toughness of the track was not apparent at the outset, as pathfinder Guerdat and French veteran Michel Robert, riding Kellemoi de Pepita, both made little of it to return a zero score. But another 16 took their turn before Switzerland's Werner Muff and Kiamon did likewise only to be followed by Bengtsson, then Ireland's Denis Lynch with Lantinus, Staut, Great Britain's Michael Whitaker with Viking, Offel and, finally, Germany's Ludger Beerbaum with Gotha.
Two big oxers, with a long gallop between them, opened the jump-off track but it was the S-bend verticals mid-way round the new course that decided the result. Guerdat wasn't the least intimated by the test ahead of him even though it was only the second Grand Prix ever in the career of his 10 year old gelding Nino des Buissonnets, and, setting off at a relentless pace, he really put it up to them when racing through the finish in 41.62 seconds. That was clearly going to keep him well in touch.
Robert seemed to be traveling at maximum speed when next to go, but the clock showed a deficit of almost two second as he steered his mare across the finish-line and when Muff's gelding left two on the floor, the Swiss rider was still well out in front.
Bengtsson changed all that with a blistering round from his 12 year old stallion, taking out a stride on the S-bend to take the lead in 40.88 seconds. Denis Lynch's Lantinus hit the second fence, and although Kevin Staut produced a round of pure class from his 11 year old mare Zeta, he didn't challenge for the lead when clocking up 42.64 seconds. Whitaker and the nine year old Viking, had two fences down but the penultimate partnership looked a real danger.
Offel's bay mare is also only a nine-year-old but she had demonstrated that she relishes speed in the first round, and the Ukrainian rider has found a way of harnessing that energy to great effect - racing across the line just seven one-hundredths of a second slower than the Swede for second place. And that was where she stayed when Beerbaum's Gotha hit the last.
"We came close in Oslo, but it was much better today," said Bengtsson, who collected his first World Cup Jumping points at the season-opener in Norway two weeks ago when placing 10th.
"It has a been a four-fault weekend, so I didn't go too fast in the first round but with Steve and Katharina in the jump-off I understood I had to go for it. I can go fast with Casall against the clock but I can't go too fast with Ninja who is careful but not the fastest. I'm very lucky to have these wonderful horses," he added.
He has now moved into second place on the series leaderboard, behind Switzerland's Pius Schwizer, ahead of next Sunday's fourth leg in Verona, Italy. "My objective is to keep competing and to qualify for the Final in 's-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands), so today's 20 points are most welcome. I have to qualify first of course, and then pick the horse afterwards," he said.
Runner-up, Katharina Offel, was smiling too. "My horse is still young and to compete in her first World Cup and to finish in second place is quite something," said the Ukrainian rider who is based near Cologne, Germany.
"Cathleen is owned by a great friend of the family, Frank Müller, who has been supporting me with horses for many years. Atlanta, which I rode at the World Championships in Aachen, was also owned by him," she said.
The capacity crowd in the Lyon arena enjoyed great sport this afternoon, and much of the talk over the weekend was about the staging, at this very popular venue, of FEI World Cup Jumping and Dressage Finals in 2014 - both the organizers and the riders are very excited about that.
But the man most satisfied was the quiet and charming Swede, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, whose horsemanship and competitiveness gave him €60,000 and the edge on a thrilling afternoon. The reigning European Champion looks well on the road to being a major contender for the 2011/2012 Rolex FEI World Cup title.
40 starters, and 9 into the jump-off
5 double-clear rounds
Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson (H&M Tornesch) missed out on a place in the jump-off when just fractionally over the time-allowed in the first round.
3 retired - Ireland's Shane Breen (Luikka), Germany's Marcus Ehning (Noltes Kuchengirl) and Germany's Philipp Weishaupt (Souvenir).
1 elimination - Germany's Daniel Deusser (Untouchable).