The French combination of Simon Delestre and Hermes Ryan won the adrenalin-filled fourth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2015/2015 Western European League in sensational style at Verona, Italy today.
The 15-horse jump-off against the clock was full of thrills and surprises, with the unusual occurrence of superstars Ludger Beerbaum (Chaman) from Germany and Scott Brash (Hello M’Lady) from Great Britain tied for the lead at the halfway stage after breaking the beam in precisely the same time. But at the end of the memorable competition they eventually had to settle for joint-third place when overtaken by Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann (Cantinero) in runner-up spot and Delestre with his brave and agile chestnut who came out on top.
Rose to the challenge
It was a day when many promising young horses really rose to the challenge of top-class sport over a big, demanding but straight-forward course designed by Italian maestro, Uliano Vezzani. Max Kuhner’s fabulous grey stallion, Chardonnay, is only eight, yet still found the key to the track that included a testing triple combination at fence six and a difficult line from the triple-bar at eight to the following double – vertical to oxer. Coming up on a four-stride distance from the previous obstacle, elements of the latter constantly hit the floor, while the penultimate oxer also took its toll throughout the afternoon.
Chardonnay was clear once again for the Austrian rider in the jump-off, setting the target when sixth to go in a time of 47.84 seconds.
Vezzani’s new track proved a bit of a puzzle for the early runners, and Kuhner opted for a careful tour with his talented young charge. So when Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson broke the beam in 38.89 seconds with Unita ASK he went well into the lead only to be immediately overtaken by Dutchman Maikel van der Vleuten and the ever-reliable VDL Groep Verdi who were half a second quicker.
However it was the man who claimed the coveted FEI World Cup™ Jumping trophy for Germany for the very first time back in 1993 who really set today’s competition alight, Ludger Beerbaum steering Chaman home in 37.83 seconds to throw it down to the rest of the field. The knowledgable crowd jumped to their feet in appreciation as he cleared the line, convinced that this could not be bettered, but there was plenty more excitement to come.
Critical points on the jump-off track were the rollback to the vertical at fence three, and another from the water-tray oxer at five to the two remaining elements of the triple combination. World No. 1, Scott Brash, produced a brilliant turn to the third fence with the nine-year-old Hello M’Lady and galloped down to the last, but the crowd gasped with amazement when the clock showed exactly the same time as it did for Beerbaum. The prospect of joint-winners seemed very much on the cards, but Delestre had other ideas about that.
The Frenchman said afterwards that he was determined not to push Hermes Ryan too hard, but that “he’s a small horse with a lot of scope so that always gives you an advantage against the clock. I decided I would just try to be fast without going crazy”, and it worked like a dream as they broke the timers in 36.46 seconds to go out in front. It still wasn’t quite over however, as, second-last to go, Henrik von Eckermann, on the considerably bigger gelding Cantinero, was well in touch coming down to the final fence. “Maybe I could have done one less (stride) to the last” the Swedish rider mused after posting his time of 36.72 seconds for second place.
A little fresh
“Verona is my first show with Ryan since the Europeans at Aachen, and he was a little fresh the first day” said 34-year-old Delestre who claimed individual bronze at this summer’s Championships at the hallowed German venue. He changed his plan for the weekend when he realised his little Selle-Francais gelding was on his toes. “Usually I would jump him in a small class and then the Grand Prix, but instead I did the big class yesterday because I wanted him to settle, and anyway I didn’t want to shock him with the size of the fences today”, he explained.
“Ryan is a typical French horse and the best I’ve ever had in my life – when he’s relaxed like he was today it’s easy to be fast with him – he’s very special, he has only had three fences down in this whole season!” said the rider who, having already collected points at both the first leg in Oslo (NOR) and the third leg in Lyon (FRA), is now qualified for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016 Final in Gothenburg, Sweden next March.
He has taken over at the top of the leaderboard, ousting his compatriot, Penelope Leprevost who has won two other legs of the series so far, and when asked this evening if the Western European League is turning into “the French World Cup series”, Delestre replied, “yes, we are in great form right now, and the French team are feeling very, very happy!”
Photo: FEI/Stefano Secci