|Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED) and BMC van Grunsven Simon Take Verona (FEI Photo)|
German riders dominated at the first three legs at Oslo (NOR), Helsinki (FIN) and Lyon (FRA) so far this season, but the flying Dutchman set an impossible target when second to go in today's thrilling 10-horse jump-off and couldn't be caught despite the best efforts of the world-class field that followed him. His winning margin was a narrow one however as Germany's Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, winner with Checkmate just a week ago in Lyon, came dangerously close to making it a back-to-back double with a superb performance from the 17 year old Shutterfly who was only fractionally slower against the clock. And Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Casall La Silla finished third in the star-studded line-up.
Dubbeldam was crowned Olympic champion in Sydney (AUS) in 2000. Michaels-Beerbaum's many successes include three Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping titles and, most recently, team Jumping gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA, while Bengtsson took individual silver at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Also in the top ten today were Carsten-Otto Nagel (4th) who was a member of that German gold medal winning side last month, Ireland's billy Twomey (5th) who finished individually 11th in Kentucky, and the man who continues to wear the Rolex armband as No. 1 Rider in the World Rankings, Kevin Staut from France (6th). This truly was a line-up of champions.
THE RIGHT BALANCE
Course designer, Rolf Ludi from Switzerland, found the right balance with his first-round track that reduced the jump-off list to one-quarter of his 40 original starters. The bogey fences were the double at fence six and the triple combination at fence 11 - the first element of the former claiming a number of victims but the middle element of the latter - an oxer with water-tray - proving even more influential. It was the first element of the triple combination that put four faults on the board for Germany's Marco Kutscher and Cornet Obolensky - the stallion however showing himself to be right back on form on only his second outing after a long break.
A total of 14 horse-and-rider combinations returned with just a single fence-error in the first round, but unluckiest of all was Belgium's Niels Bruynseels who was denied a place in the timed round by a single time fault with Nasa. There were two retirements - Switzerland's Werner Muff with Quax and Italy's Emanuele Fiorelli with Kanebo.
It was Norway's Nina Braaten who first tackled the seven-fence, eight-effort jump-off track and she opted for a careful clear with her handsome gelding Blue Loyd who broke the beam in 44.70 seconds, but Dubbeldam blew that apart when next in with his 11 year old horse who answered his rider's every call to race through the timers a full nine seconds quicker - in 35.61. The Dutchman never took a pull the whole way around the track and his heart-stopping run from the penultimate wall to the final oxer really put the pressure on the remaining eight to follow him.
Nagel and his lovely grey mare Corradina are normally super-sharp in the timed round but with 37.22 seconds on the board slipped into second place when next to go, while Simon Delestre's Napoli du Ry was a little overcome by the excitement of the moment and with two fences down the French partnership were no threat to the leaders.
Ireland's Billy Twomey then set off with his tough and consistent mare Tinka's Serenade who gave it everything she had to leave all the fences up in the time of 37.35 seconds, but the key to this second-round track was the turn to the two remaining elements of the triple-combination at the halfway point, and this was where Steve Guerdat's trip unravelled when he missed his strike with Jalisca Solier who paddled through the water-tray oxer and had to be re-presented.
|Rolf-Goran BENGTSSON SWE riding CASALL LA SILLA 3rd place. (FEI Photo)|
Ludger Beerbaum was only just pipped by fellow-German Christian Ahlmann in the race against the clock at the opening leg of the Western European League in Oslo three weeks ago and, again riding the 11 year old stallion Chaman, looked competitive until hitting the last remaining element of the former triple combination, so with just three left to go Dubbeldam was still out in front. He couldn't feel secure however because they were three of the biggest names in the sport, so it was still all to play for.
Frenchman Kevin Staut, who continues to wear the green and gold armband indicating his status as No. 1 rider in the current World Rankings, was possibly denied a faster finishing time by the boisterous antics of his stallion Le Prestige St Lois de Hus who, once again, insisted on throwing big bucks as he returned clear in a time of 38.93 seconds. Staut however is determined to allow the talented horse his freedom of expression. As he said in Lyon last week the horse is more competitive when he is bucking "and he's enjoying himself anyway!" he pointed out. Their time would still be good enough to earn some very valuable qualifying points at the end of the day.
Bengtsson however looked truly threatening when galloping down the final line with Casall La Silla, but with the clock showing 35.93 seconds the lead remained unchanged and only Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and the great Shutterfly now stood between Dubbeldam and that winner's Rolex watch. Shutterfly's return to the ring always creates a flutter of excitement, and belying his mature years he showed the class that earned him those three Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping titles and the respect and admiration of riders and spectators all around the world. And he was only 0.06 seconds off the winning time when having to settle for runner-up spot today.
|Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) riding Shutterfly 2nd Place. (FEI Photo)|
"My last show with Shutterfly was five months ago, so I am just delighted to be here" said Michaels-Beerbaum afterwards. "I didn't know whether I would ride him in today's class, I was planning on Checkmate. But actually it was Jeroen who said Shutterfly jumped so well on the first day you must ride him - that's why I slowed down and let Jeroen win! It is a great day for me and for Shutterfly. In 2002, he was second here and so it is quite amazing to come here eight years later and be second again!” she added.
Dubbeldam meanwhile was also more than pleased. “I have had this horse three years and to start with he was over-careful and he took time to get his confidence but I wasn't thinking about that as we galloped to the last today! I knew Meredith and Rolf were coming after me and I had taken one more stride between the second and third than they would, so I had to for it down that last line!”
|Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED) riding BMC van Grunsven Simon - Winner receives his awards from Dr Gian Riccardo Marini President of Rolex Italy. (FEI Photo)|
Today's result has rocketed the 37 year old Dutch rider into 11th place on the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League leaderboard which is now headed by Kevin Staut who, with a total of 43 points, is well on his way to the series final in Leipzig, Germany next April. Christian Ahlmann, winner so far this season at both Oslo and Helsinki, lies second ahead of Michaels-Beerbaum in third and the next leg of the series takes place in two weeks' time in Stuttgart, Germany.
1, BMC Van Grunsven Simon (Jeroen Dubbeldam) NED 0/035.61;
2, Shutterfly (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 0/0 35.67;
3, Casall La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 0/0 35.93;
4, Corradina (Carsten-Otto Nagel) GER 00 37.22;
5, Tinka's Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 0/0 37.35;
6, Le Prestige St Lois de Hus (Kevin Staut) FRA 0/0 38.93;
7, Blue Loyd (Nina Braaten) NOR 0/0 44.70;
8, Chaman (Ludger Beerbaum) 0/4 35.87;
9. Napoli du Ry (Simon Delestre) FRA 0/8 38.09;
10, Jalisca Solier (Steve Guerdat) SUI 0/8 44.14.
Full Results at www.jumpingverona.it