In the most thrilling jump-off of the season so far, wild card rider Abdel Said from Egypt left many of the sport’s greatest stars in his wake when winning today’s fourth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016/2017 Western European League at Verona, Italy. It isn’t easy to get an invitation to compete at the top shows when you are 142nd in the world rankings, but the 27-year-old set an impossible target when third to go in the 13-horse jump-off with his feisty mare Hope van Scherpen Donder, and not even world no. 2, Simon Delestre from France, could catch him.
Delestre won the Verona leg last year and is no shrinking violet when it comes to speed against the clock. Last to go with Chesall Zimequest the 35-year-old rider gave it everything he had, but as he said afterwards, “Abdel was almost invincible today! I was two seconds slower, but I’ve no regrets because I’ve picked up good points towards the Final!” He is now just six points behind Western European League leader Romain Duguet from Switzerland going to the fifth leg in Stuttgart, Germany next Sunday, and a ticket to the Longines Final in Omaha, Nebraska (USA) next March already looks well within the Frenchman’s grasp.
There were 10 clears from the first 21 riders over Uliano Vezzani’s track, but then only three more of the 37 starters managed to make the cut into the jump-off. And despite the best efforts of three of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games gold-medal-winning team from France – Philippe Rozier, Penelope Leprevost and Kevin Staut – it was the younger generation that really shone when 24-year-old Swiss rider Martin Fuchs produced a careful clear with Clooney to slot into third while 25-year-old Swede, Douglas Lindelow, did likewise with Zacramento to finish fourth.
Said’s fearless gallop and breathtaking turns brought him through the beam in 37.96 seconds. “My mare has won three Grand Prix but not at this level. She’s only nine and she doesn’t have mileage like most of the horses in today’s class, but I trusted her” said the rider who runs a coaching and training business near Antwerp, Belgium.
He was determined to make the best of his wild card opportunity today. “I don’t have any big sponsors but I have some very good students and I produce many nice young horses – I produced this mare since she was seven. I hope this win shows people I am serious, and that today’s success will open a few doors for me!” he added.
Abdel Said EGY (1st): When I was young I trained with Emile Hendrickx for eight years, at the same time I studied in Holland, and then I got my first job with Jos Lansink when I was 19. Then I started my own business when I was 21, I’m now 27, I started from nothing, no groom just a truck my parents bought for me. Seven years down the road have a farm near Antwerp and we are progressing, slowly but surely, most of the horses I try to own myself, I buy them young, build them up and produce them myself and hope it works out.”
Simon Delestre FRA (2nd): “Today for sure there was a little bit of pressure because of my win here last year, but I had a different horse then, it was Ryan. However Chesall is also a special horse. When I walked the course it looked difficult, but when it started there were a few clears and I was worried there would be too many clears. But in end it was perfect and we had a fantastic jump-off.”
John Roche, FEI Jumping Director: “Congratulations to the Verona organising team under President Danesi for an amazing event. Also congratulations to the course designer, Uliano Vezzani, for producing an amazing course and fantastic sport. Our thanks go to Fixdesign as presenting sponsor and to Longines without whom all this not would to be possible and to whom we are forever grateful.”
Martin Fuchs SUI (3rd): “I think the course designer Uliano Vezzani showed again today that he is smarter than most of us riders! When we started there were many clears, and many iders were upset the he didn’t reduce the time allowed after the first few riders, but he showed us with 13 clears that the course was just what it had to be!”
Abdel Said EGY (1st): “I was here two years ago and this is one of my favourite shows. I didn’t come last year, but I got a wild card from John Roche (FEI Jumping Director), they go to small countries to give them a chance get to shows like this and I’m very grateful. I’d like to thank Uliano because he is my favourite course designer. He built two Grand Prix courses I competed over and I won both of them so I want to take him home with us!
Photos: FEI/Stefano Secchi