The final two rounds of Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping competition didn’t disappoint as 26 horse and rider combinations returned for scintillating competition over two massive courses that had even the best in the line-up raising their eyebrows. The top 4 rose to the occasion, putting in impeccable, faultless rounds, including Swiss rider Steve Guerdat who would be crowned World Cup Champion for the second year running.
In round 1, the 7th fence proved to be a bogey, a yellow and blue wave-style vertical serving as an optical illusion that fell time and again. Fences 9a and b, an oxer-to-vertical Liverpool combination were also cause of quite a few faults. Austria’s Max Kuhner, 4th in the line-up, put in the first clear ride aboard his 8 year-old stallion, Chardonnay 79. In all, 9 were clear in the first round with the first 5 holding their positions except for Marcus Ehning who had an unfortunate rail down at 9b.
In the second round, 20 riders returned to duke it out for the top spot, hoping to go clean and benefit from a mistake or two from the other riders. The 12-obstacle, 15-effort course was no easy task – it was big and technical, allowing little room for error. A mid-course oxer-vertical-vertical triple combination rode tight and fell frequently as the horses couldn’t collect themselves for the uprights after their massive effort over the oxer.
Australia’s Chris Chugg was the first clear in round 2, the veteran rider overjoyed by his ride on the 8 year-old mare, Cristalline. He may not have had a chance to stand on the podium, but you’d never know it as he took his helmet off and made his own victory gallop as he exited the ring.
The 8 clear in round two were Chugg, Callan Solem, Christian Ahlmann, Denis Lynch, Marcus Ehning, Daniel Deusser, Harrie Smolders, and Steve Guerdat. As the final three were on course there was heavy tension in the Scandinavium and complete silence as the top contenders took to the course.
Harrie Smolders and Emerald, the 12 year-old stallion who seemed to clear everything with a foot to spare, were faultless, the Dutch rider expressing a rare bit of emotion after landing from the final fence.
Daniel Deusser and Cornet d’Amour would also go clear, putting all the pressure on Steve Guerdat. One rail would be the difference between first and third place.
Guerdat and Corbinian rose to the occasion, the bay gelding showing his verve with extra kicks in the hind end, never coming close to a rail. The pair took first, with Smolders coming second due to a slightly faster time than Daniel Deusser.
During the press conference, all three riders were grateful for the horses they rode in the Final, and noted the difficulty of the course.
“First of all, my horse was in fantastic form the first day on. I had a very good feeling over all the rounds except a stupid mistake on the second day, which is why I’m third,” said Deusser of Cornet d’Amour’s performance. “When we walked the second round I was quite impressed – it was a big class. I saw Steve in the warm-up and we actually laughed and went “aahhh!”. I said to him if we are still on the podium in the top three after the second round I’m happy with that, and he laughed and said ‘me too!”. In the end that’s how it finished and for me that’s a reason to be happy today!” Said Deusser.
Smolders was delighted with Emerald NOP’s performance as well, this being his first championship. “He convinced me in every way this week. He’s a very attractive horse and he loves the atmosphere here. I must say it was great sport and super exposure of how our sport should be, the audience, the course designing, everything was very good publicity for our sport. Also to have this kind of money from Longines is just as it should be.”
Guerdat proved to be a humble winner. “It was important to me to ride better than last year,” Guerdat laughed, “I didn’t ride well in the final last year and that stays in your head. My goal was to ride better than last year and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on my horse. Today he was fighting with me and that gives you confidence along the course.”
Riders and organizers alike praised the work of course designer Santiago Varela. Perhaps John Madden, FEI Vice President and Chairman of the Jumping Committee put it best, “after walking each course you could see it was going to be a fair, difficult test, and after walking the second round today I said to Santi (course designer) that I’m absolutely sure whoever wins will be the correct winner. This was an excellently tested championship. Every aspect was tested and I think even the second and third-placed riders can say that they weren’t cheated in any way. They had a chance to win, but Steve won fair and square over a fantastically complete test.”
Throughout the final, Guerdat was very honest in expressing the complicated relationship between himself and Corbinian as they continue to find each other’s rhythms. “I feel very privileged with my life and the great horses I’m allowed to ride. I have such a strong team supporting me. It’s not easy every day with me but we’ve got the same goal and I’d like to thank my team today. We’ve come a long way with that horse [Corbinian] and it’s really a team victory today. There are many people who should be standing here with me.”
With two successive World Cup wins and an Olympic gold, Steve Guerdat is looking good for Rio and beyond.
Article by Ashley Fairfield-Remeza