Dutch rider Jeroen Dubbeldam won the thrilling opening leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Western European League series at Oslo, Norway yesterday, with BMC Utascha.
The competition attracted a star-studded field that included three individual Olympic champions including the current title-holder, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat. But it was the Dutchman, who claimed gold in Sydney, Australia 12 years ago, who earned those all-important maximum points.
The cream really came to the top, and it was 2007 series winner, Switzerland’s Beat Mandli, who slotted into runner-up spot with Louis, while Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya showed the potential of his new partnership with the former Nick Skelton ride, Carlo, when finishing a very close third. Fourth place went to another Dutchman, Maikel van der Vleuten with VDL Groep Verdi, while British riders filled fifth and sixth – the London 2012 Olympic team gold medal winning duo of Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos slotting in ahead of Will Funnell and Billy Congo.
Anyone expecting a gentle introduction to the new season was in for a rude awakening, as the 13-fence first-round track created by Norwegian course designer Anders Hafskiold proved a serious test. Control and accuracy were vital in the tight confines of the Telenor Arena, but big jumping was also required, with no less than four fences standing at the maximum 1.60m. Mandli’s pathfinding clear belied the strength of the challenge, and although Dubbeldam followed suit when running 12th of the 40 starters, another 20 came into the ring before Moya recorded the next fault-free effort.
The real bogey of the day was the line from the massive triple bar at fence nine, which stood 1.60m high and stretched 1.90m wide, to the following triple combination of a vertical to a double of oxers. A strong approach was needed to the former, but that often left horses too forward to the following vertical and sometimes under-powered at the next two parts of the combination. Such was its influence, that this line penalised 23 of the starting field, and only eight managed to keep a completely clean sheet to go into the jump-off.
A total of 12 missed out when putting just four faults on the scoreboard, and amongst them was Guerdat who produced a lovely, quiet ride on the promising nine year old Chips whose only mistake was at the triple combination where Max Kuhner’s impressive young stallion, Clintop 2, also made his single error for the German rider.
Mandli threw down the gauntlet when first to go against the clock, turning tight to the vertical at fence one, now the third obstacle on the track, and taking a risky but well-judged gallop down the double two fences later to set a strong target with a clear in 43.83 seconds. Next in, Dubbeldam decided to forego his final preparations and instead watch the Swiss man’s round – and he was glad he did. “Beat was really fast, and if I hadn’t seen him go I wouldn’t have tried so hard!” the 39 year old Dutch rider said afterwards. He set off at a blistering pace with Utascha and managed to squeeze the mare home 0.04 seconds quicker, and it was obvious that this would now take some beating.
Brash set off in determined fashion, but Hello Sanctos clipped the first part of the double, and then it was Moya’s turn with Carlo, the 11 year old gelding who was so successful for Britain’s Nick Skelton before being sold to the Spanish rider in recent months. One of Moya’s first outings with the horse was in Barcelona last month where they competed in the minor classes. And it’s clear they are quickly cementing a great partnership, Carlo jumping big and clean and full of enthusiasm to slot into third place when stopping the clock on 43.98 seconds.
Fifth to go, Van der Vleuten’s chances were dashed with a mistake at the last, while reigning European Champion, and the man who continues to hold the No. 1 spot on the Rolex World Rankings, Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, left two on the floor with Carusso LS La Silla. So now only two more stood between Dubbeldam and those 20 precious maximum points.
Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer had pulled off a real surprise in the first round with an effortless clear from the youngest horse in the class, the aptly-named eight-year-old gelding Powerplay who is owned by Swiss Olympian and horse agent Max Hauri. And although they double-faulted this time out it is clear this is a partnership with a big future ahead of them. Funnell’s single mistake with Billy Congo at the second fence saw him having to settle for sixth place, but he has managed to collect 11 points and that’s no mean achievement at this early stage of the series which moves on to Helsinki in Finland next weekend.
There were a lot of happy chaps at the post-competition press conference, and all of the top three riders had every reason to be pleased with their horses. “I still don’t know him that well yet, but Carlo really tried his best for me today, so I’m delighted!” said Moya who finished third. The Spanish rider is looking forward to competing in more of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifiers as he is targeting a place at the final in Gothenburg, Sweden next April.
For runner-up Mandli, it was a case of feeling really relieved, because his 12 year old gelding, Louis, has had a difficult year. “He had a colic operation in April, and it’s just great to see him come back so well now. He felt really good today,” the rider said.
For Dubbeldam it was a very significant moment. He took over the ride on Utascha this summer, but they were clearly not gelling as a partnership when they competed on the Dutch team at Rotterdam in June. The mare had a nasty fall with her former rider, Eric Van der Vleuten, at the FEI European Championships in Madrid, Spain last September and she didn’t jump for some time afterwards. “It takes time for a horse to get its confidence back, and it has taken time for Utascha and I to get to know each other,” the rider explained.
“After Rotterdam we decided to take one step back. I realised we were going too fast, and I felt we needed the time to get to know each other and not to rush things. So we didn’t try for the Olympic Games, and instead we did smaller classes and she started to trust me, and so we began to feel good together a few months ago. I wondered if we were ready for the indoor season, but today I realised we are ready, she gave me a great feeling because now we understand each other and I’m really looking forward to jumping indoors with her!” he said.
Dubbeldam is already signed up for Helsinki next weekend where he could, if things continue to go his way with another strong result, come close to clinching his qualifying spot at the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping 2012/2013 Final next spring.
A total of 12 qualifying competitions will take place in the Western European League before the final at Gothenburg, Sweden next April (24-28 April 2013).
Riders from 16 leagues are battling it out for a qualifying spot at the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Final 2012/2013.
Youngest rider in the competition was Victoria Gulliksen, 20 year old daughter of Norwegian team stalwart Geir Gulliksen.
Youngest horse was the 8 year old Holsteiner gelding Powerplay (Casall x Limbus), ridden by Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer – this partnership finished seventh.
A total of 40 riders from 17 nations were in action.
Three individual Olympic gold medallists competed – reigning champion Steve Guerdat (SUI), 2004 champion Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) and 2000 champion Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED).
A total of 6 riders retired in the first round – Norway’s Morten Djupvi (Valle Blanche), Italy’s Luca Moneta (Neptune Brecourt), Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa (HH Rebozo), Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet (Kronos d’Ouilly), Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander (Guccio) and Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt (Catoki).
Results: 1, BMC Utascha SFN (Jeroen Dubbeldam) NED 0/0 43.79; 2, Louis (Beat Mandli) SUI 0/0 43.83; 3, Carlo (Sergio Alvarez Moya) ESP 0/0 43.95; 4, VDL Groep Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/4 43.86; 5, Hello Sanctos (Scott Brash) GBR 0/4 46.84; 6, Billy Congo (William Funnell) GBR 0/4 47.41; 7, Powerplay (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/8, 47.41; 8, Carusso LS La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 0/8 46.70; 9, Silvana HDC (Kevin Staut) FRA 4/65.74; 10, Mylord Carthago (Penelope Leprevost) FRA 4/66.25; 11, Winningmood (Luciana Diniz) POR 4/66.85; 12, Cash (Marco Kutscher) GER 4/67.49; 13, Royal Power (Jose Maria Larocca) ARG 4/67.80; 14, Chips (Steve Guerdat) SUI 4/68.70; 15, H&M Cash (Peder Fredricson) SWE 4/69.53; 16, VDL Groep Credence Z (Mathijs van Asten) NED 4/70.04.