Clear blue skies welcomed an international field to new facilities in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, where Juan Manuel Luzardo (URU) and Stan delivered a daring performance to win the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifier at CSI4*-W Valle de Bravo. The first World Cup qualifier to be hosted on Mexican soil, the event thrilled the home crowd with four Mexican riders advancing into the ten-rider jump off from a startlist of 28 competitors.
“It’s a very important competition,” said Guilherme Nogueira Jorge (BRA), the course designer. “And even if it’s one of the last qualifying competitions, it’s still early in the year for a lot of horses, so I had to come up with a course that was suitable to the standards of the competition, but also took that into consideration.
“Today the height was 1.60-metre, so I tried to put up a course that was big enough but also nice to ride so that we could have a few clear rounds, and in the end the riders and the horses did a great job, and they jumped it much better than expected, and we had ten clear.”
Nogueira designed the World Cup qualifier course at the National Horse Show earlier in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League schedule and will design the course at the upcoming Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
“It was a very well designed track,” said third-place finisher Simon Nizri (ISR), a native of Mexico City. “It’s an international level, the kind you get when you go to any contest in the world. Probably the hardest parts were the options that the designer made for us, and choosing there was the hardest part.”
The jump-off course with seven obstacles demanded tight turns and long gallops for riders to shave time off the clock. First in the order, Audrey Coulter (USA) set an impressive pace at 42.47 seconds with an efficient track aboard Alex (Arpeggio x Mon Cheri), emphasised by an incredibly tight rollback from the double combination to a single vertical.
But the winding course played in favour of the following horse-and-rider pair, Luzardo (URU) and 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Stan (Stakkato x Sacramento Son). Riding a larger stride, Luzardo managed to finish through the Longines timers at 41.85 seconds, proving too fast to catch by the remaining eight riders. Coulter’s time also held on to finish in the runner-up position.
“I’m really happy,” said Luzardo, following his win. “My horse is really fast so I tried to do short turns, and we had luck and that’s it. He has a huge stride. He’s really hot blooded and he’s so brave and a little bit green but always doing his best.
“When I finished my turn, I went to a paddock back there. I was by myself. I didn’t want to see anybody. I visited my partner, and a man who is like my father came by. He came running, saying, ‘You just won!’ So I went down and hugged him and was really happy.”
Luzardo, who is based in Guadalajara, Mexico, and his partner, Mauricio Guerra Colorado, bought the horse three years ago, but he was sidelined with an injury for nearly a year. Two months after returning to competition, the pair won the first grand prix they entered. Since then, Luzardo has competed Stan at the Pan American Games and at Spruce Meadows. “He came back really good, and I’m really happy,” Luzardo added.
The day’s win was still unexpected for the 35-year-old rider, who plans to travel to compete in the United States or in Canada this summer. “I didn’t think about (going to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final) because I didn’t expect this result, but I have to think about it now,” he said.
Audrey Coulter (USA) has crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the North American continent multiple times this season to achieve her goal of qualifying for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 23-26 March 2016.
“I was a little nervous today,” she said. “I’ve been trying to qualify for the World Cup Final, and so we came here hoping to get some points, and succeeded.
“We had a little bad luck last week. I was in Leipzig, and you had to qualify for the qualifier, but 31 were prequalified and 40 can go, so 9 spots were to be filled but 19 were trying to qualify. I had a very nice round, but one unlucky rail. And so I didn’t get to compete in the qualifier last week. In Vegas we were second, also, so that was exciting. And in Madrid, I was 12th.”
Although Coulter is originally from San Francisco, Calif. (USA), she is based in Belgium, and is qualifying through the Western European League. She will compete in Zurich (SUI) next week in the League’s concluding event to secure her position in the top 18 that qualify for the Final.
“I’ve had Alex for a little over a year now,” she added. “He came with that name, and we sort of bought him more as a second horse actually, and toward the end of the summer we just clicked, and he’s been going really well for me. He’s very careful. He always wants to do well, so he’s been a great horse to have. But I think I’ll go to the Final on (number one horse) Domino.”
During the course walk, United States Olympian and top-ranked West Coast rider Will Simpson noted that the arena slanted slightly uphill across, making some of the oxers more difficult to clear. Although he was successful in clearing the wider obstacles, he and his mount The Dude (Carry Gold x Argentinus) knocked an unlucky rail at the first element of the triple combination.
Early favorites, Harrie Smolders (NED), Karl Cook (USA), Jaime Azcarraga (MEX), and Juan Pablo Gaspar Albanez (MEX), also accumulated unfortunate faults in the first round, thus proving the unexpected and exciting nature of the sport.
“I got an email, with the information of the new North American League,” said Rafael David, International Director of the Mexican Equestrian Federation. “I just thought, ‘The option is there, we just have to be there.’ There is a possible place for Mexico. There were two people competing to get it. They let us know we got one of the 14 spots of the tour. We were so excited. Then of course with our main sponsor Scappino, who have been with this Cup for 12 years, since it started. They sent a contract. We signed and said, ‘Let it come.’
“In fact, bringing the riders from other countries and the good news that Longines was also title sponsor; without them it wouldn’t have been possible. The projection with international riders that came and to this kind of event obviously raises the posture of Mexico as an equestrian country. This is really important; we broke a record for an international contest in Latin America - as in the number of participants, as well as in the number of countries that came, which were 14.”
The competitors, both Mexican natives of the country and residents, also expressed their excitement for the country’s inclusion at the top level of the sport.
“I’m very happy to be here and very proud that Mexico is at this level of horse jumping - the international level,” said Nizri. “And the fact that we have so very good riders makes everybody get better at what they do.”
“This event is important for show jumping in Mexico and in all of Latin America,” Luzardo added. “I’m very proud that it’s here.”
1. Stan (Juan Manuel Luzardo), URU, 0 faults/41.85 seconds (JO);
2. Alex (Audrey Coulter), USA, 0/42.47 (JO);
3. E Muze Yek (Simon Nizri), ISR, 0/42.52 (JO);
4. Cayetana (Nikolaj Hein Ruus), DEN, 0/43.59 (JO);
5. Escarlata LS (Fabian Sejanes), ARG, 0/46.87 (JO);
6. Red Gold (Alfredo Ramirez Piedra), MEX, 0/49.16 (JO);
Source: FEI Press Release