Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts produced a career-defining win at the last qualifying round of the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League in Gothenburg, Sweden on Sunday.
Lying well outside the top-18 qualification zone as the class began, his result sent him rocketing all the way up the leaderboard from 31st to 14th place and into a place at the Final in Lyon, France in seven week’s time.
“I’ve almost no words for this, it’s unbelievable!” said the 20-year-old rider who was filled with excitement after an extraordinary performance that saw him pip three-time FEI World Cup Jumping champion Marcus Ehning from Germany by two-hundredths of a second, while The Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten slotted into third.
Son of Belgian jumping star Ludo Philippaerts, and twin-brother of Olivier Philippaerts who also competes successfully at international level, Nicola was one of ten who made the cut into the jump-off. And, with the 11-year-old mare Donatella-N, he scorched home with what proved to be an unbeatable round when third-last to go.
Course designer Frank Rothenberger made his Gothenburg debut and presented a track that initially seemed very straightforward. But the German ace placed his fences so cleverly that the key to a clear round was forward riding and anticipation of what was around the next corner as well as clean jumping. The long, oval shape of the Scandinavium Arena always presents quite a unique challenge from a course-building perspective. And while some faults were registered early on the track, including at the triple combination at fence six, the majority came later on the course, particularly at the last two obstacles.
The time-allowed of 77 seconds was generous, and Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander was the only rider to fall foul of it due to a fairly leisurely tour of the arena with Ego van Orti.
There were a few first-round surprises, but none bigger than that which saw Ludger Beerbaum lose his chance of clinching a place at the Final when pulling up Chiara after losing his right stirrup on the turn to the triple combination. He was five places off a qualifying spot going into the competition and seemed more than likely to collect enough points to make the cut. The Final won’t seem quite the same without the man who lies third on the current Longines World Rankings and who was the first German to clinch the FEI World Cup Jumping title when winning through with the great mare, Ratina Z, at Gothenburg in 1993.
Ludo Phiiippaerts could be seen jumping up and down with excitement and pride at his son’s victory in such prestigious company. “Yes my father was pretty pleased all right, he was jumping nearly higher than me!” said Nicola Philippaerts afterwards.
Success is no stranger to this young man who was a member of the European gold medal winning team at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 before going on to become European Young Rider Champion at Comporta in Portugal the following year.
He has enjoyed some significant results with Donatella-N since taking up the ride on this daughter of Vigo d’Arsouilles, the horse who carried Philippe Lejeune to the individual title at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky four years ago.
“I took her (Donatella-N) from my brother (Olivier), she was quite hot and quite hard to ride at the beginning but we have come together over the last few months. Today was her first World Cup and I can hardly believe she has won it! But she has been feeling so good for the last while, she was fifth in the Grand Prix at Bordeaux a few weeks ago and she has really been on form,” Philippaerts said.
Reflecting on his second-place performance, Marcus Ehning said, “actually I am quite happy with my horse. He is 17 now but he is in great shape. Last year he won the Grand Prix and I think he likes Sweden as well! I am very, very happy!” He added that he plans to take his Bordeaux winner, the fabulous grey stallion Cornado, to the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final.
Third-placed Maikel van der Vleuten said he was very happy with the way VDL Groep Sapphire jumped, but added “I am not so happy with myself to be honest. I didn’t start quick enough and was just two tenths of a second too slow – today was a bit my fault”.
But having finished fifth on the Western European League table at the end of this qualifying series he can comfortably look forward to the prestigious Final where he will compete alongside Philippaerts.
Result: 1. Donatella-N (Nicola Philippaerts) BEL 0/0 39.30; 2, Plot Blue (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 39.32; 3, VDL Groep Sapphire B (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 39.52; 4, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/0 40.30; 5, Casello (Douglas Lindelow) SWE 0/0 40.93; 6, Capetown (Wout-Jan van der Schans) NED 0/0 41.13; 7, Caral (Niklas Jonsson) SWE 0/0 43.30; 8, Quidam du Vivier (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/4 41.32; 9, VDL Bubalu (J Vrieling) NED 0/4 41.61; 10, Edesa S Banjan (Geir Gulliksen) NOR 0/4 43.97.
Western European League- Standings after Round 10:
1. Marcus Ehning GER – 81
2. Scott Brash GBR – 69
3. Pius Schwizer SUI – 63
4. Patrice Delaveau FRA – 61
5. Maikel van der Vleuten NED – 55
6. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS – 53
7. Steve Guerdat SUI – 51
8. Kevin Staut FRA – 48
9. Roger Yves Bost FRA – 45
10. Billy Twomey IRL – 40
11. Luciana Diniz POR – 40
12. Joe Clee GBR – 39
13. Lars Nieberg GER – 39
14. Nicola Philippaerts BEL – 38
15. Tim Gredley GBR – 36
16. Lucy Davis USA – 36
17. Christian Ahlmann GER – 35
18. Francois Mathy Jr. BEL – 34
19. Michael Whitaker GBR – 32
20. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER – 31
21. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE – 28
22. Simon Delestre FRA – 28