Germany's Christian Ahlmann, winner of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Final. © FEI/Kit Houghton
Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z. © Kit Houghton/FEI
There was huge disappointment for Kutscher who had the world's most prestigious indoor title in his sights until his luck ran out at the very end. Such was the unforgiving nature of Frank Rothenberger's testing courses that the slightest of errors proved very costly. The competition was about scope, speed, courage, accuracy and, most importantly, the rideability of the horses. In the end it was Ahlmann's 11-year-old Taloubet Z who put all the ingredients together to create the winning formula.
US riders were first to find the key to the opening track as veteran Margie Engle's spectacular round with the exciting grey, Indigo, was followed by a copybook run from Beezie Madden and the stunning Coral Reef Via Volo. These ladies were jumping middle-order in the start-list of 27 runners after the previous two competitions, and it didn't seem that Dubbeldam's clear with BMC van Grunsven Simon, or the equally impressive fault-free effort from 10th-placed McLain Ward and Antares, would prove overly influential. The remaining nine struggled to leave all the fences up - defending champion Marcus Ehning from Germany lowering both the second element of the triple combination at fence four and the last element of the final double to slip from contention with Sabrina.
Lamaze's Hickstead always raises the heart-rate, and when the stallion crossed the line clear it piled the pressure on the remaining four. There was little between the leaders as they jumped in reverse order of merit, and as the final double also caught New Zealand's Katie McVean and Delphi and Dutchman Gerco Schroder left two on the floor on his tour of the ring with Eurocommerce New Orleans, then the German leaders were given more breathing space.
Second-last to go, Kutscher then further secured his advantage with a clear from Cash despite rattling a number of poles, but last man in, Ahlmann fell victim to that tricky final double.
Second placegetters, Eric Lamaze (Canada) and Hickstead.
Jeroen Dubbeldam (The Netherlands) and BMC van Grunsven Simon were third. © Kit Houghton/FEI
McVean hit the oxer at fence four and Lamaze dislodged the flimsy top plank on the vertical at 10 so the pressure was further relieved for the leading home runners. And when Ahlmann stayed cool as a breeze to bring Taloubet Z home clear - he was now guaranteed at least second place.
But it all fell apart for Kutscher when Cash hit the first before bringing down two more for a devastating 12 faults. The German fans groaned with disappointment for him, but they still had a hero to cheer as Ahlmann claimed the coveted title for Germany for the ninth time in the 33-year history of this great series.
"I'm unbelievably happy that everything worked out the way it did," said the winning rider. "Taloubet did an amazing job all weekend and the only fault he made was his rider's fault at the last fence in the first round. He is a horse with quality, scope and power but he has no experience of Championship competition so I'm delighted that he showed today that he can do it," he added.
"Taloubet will have a break now for a few weeks and then do the Global Champions Tour and maybe a Nations Cup. I'm not sure about later in the season and the European Championships in Madrid because we will have to see how well he jumps when he goes outside," Ahlmann said.
Second-placed Lamaze was more than pleased, too. "I'm really thrilled with what happened here this week - I couldn't have asked for any more. Hickstead is only starting his season, he didn't jump indoors all winter so I'm very happy to be where I am right now. [The World Cup Final was only Hickstead's second indoor competition of the season]. Every day gets better for me - it just shows what a great horse he is when he can achieve this when he is not even fully fit!" he said.
"I knew he wasn't ready for those inside turns and to be competitive in that event. I was hoping for a clear and it didn't happen. I had to come from behind. When you are on a sports car like Hickstead, anything is possible," Lamaze said.
Lamaze, who is currently based in Belgium with Rodrigo Pessoa, will next compete at CSIO5* La Baule, France, followed by CSIO5* Rome, Italy. Lamaze will return to Canada in June to contest the Spruce Meadows summer tournaments in Calgary.
Dubbeldam said that he lived in hope even when lying 11th going into the last competition. "You have to believe it's possible and I went in today thinking I would go up at least a few places," he said. "I knew my horse was in top form, I had a super feeling in the first class but then on Friday we had an unlucky eight faults - however I still had a super feeling going into today's competition," he saidd.
Ahlmann talked about the "ups and downs" he has experienced with Taloubet. "He was difficult to control in the beginning - he jumped a lot more forward and it made it difficult for him over the fences so I tried to build him up slowly and carefully, starting in small classes.
"It took a lot of time but as you can see today it was well worth the wait!" Ahlmann said. His career honours include Team and Individual gold at European championship level, team bronze from the Olympic Games and team bronze from the FEI World Equestrian Games and now the most desired trophy of the international indoor circuit - the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping title.
27 horse-and-rider combinations started in the third and last competition.
Germany's Christian Ahlmann and Marco Kutscher shared the lead with a zero score as the competition began.
Course designer, Frank Rothenberger, presented a first-round track of 13 obstacles with 16 jumping efforts and a second-round track with 12 jumping efforts.
21 riders qualified for round 2 but only 19 competed.
6 riders jumped clear in round 1.
5 jumped clear in round 2.
Only 2 combinations jumped double-clear in today's class - Coral Reef Via Vola ridden by America's Beezie Madden and BMC van Grunsven Simon ridden by The Netherlands' Jeroen Dubbeldam.
Dubbeldam was lying in 11th place as today's competition began, and his double-clear moved him up 8 places to finish third.
The winner, Christian Ahlmann, recorded the ninth German win in the 33-year history of FEI World Cup Jumping.
The win was also the fourth successive German victory.
Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z. © Kit Houghton/FEI