The Porsche that was offered as the top prize in Sunday’s CSI5* Grand Prix at Knokke Hippique made sure it was a very motivated group of riders that had lined up for the feature class of the event, and in the end it was a home hero that could put the keys in the ignition. Fifty riders lined up to compete for one of the most sought after prizes showjumping has seen in a long time, and everybody had the same wish – to get into that driver’s seat.
In the end the group of fifty had been cut down to fourteen riders, that all managed to produce a clear over the first round 1.60 track build by Uliano Vezzani. The elements that caught out most were the Rolex triple combination placed as 9abc, and the black vertical-vertical combination with a wavy plank in on four forward strides on a line from an oxer – or five extremely short as some also attempted in the hope to keep the two uprights in the cups.
Peder Fredricson opened the class on H&M All In (Kashmir van’t Schuttershof x Fortune), a horse that goes from strength to strength – and also posted the first clear of the competition. In the jump-off, the Swedish rider yet again delivered – but kept the tempo quite steady to stop the clock at 46.86 seconds to eventually end eight.
Michael Whitaker was definitely ready for a new car, and produced a fantastic second round on Viking (Jacomar x Almox Prints) – that also jumped convincing in the first round. The British rider went for the top gear from the first fence, and as the shortened track invited mostly for full speed on a lot of long and open stretches that is what Whitaker went for. Getting a great turn from the third last vertical to the penultimate oxer, Michael went flat out to the last upright and took the lead with a time of 42.80 seconds.
It looked quite hard to beat, but with so many good and fast riders to come nothing was ever going to be certain. Both home rider Gregory Wathelet and Switzerland’s Paul Estermann had to see a pole fall to the ground, while Frederic David went clear in a time of 48.41 aboard Equador van’t Roosakker (Nabab de Reve x Chin Chin).
Belgium’s own Constant van Paesschen challenged Michael for the car, and slotted into second on Citizenguard Taalex (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve x Alexis Z) with the tiniest of margins as he was only 0.02 seconds behind on the time. Marcus Ehning had to see two poles fall, while very sadly Janika Sprunger was forced to pass on the jump-off as her horse Aris CMS (Nassau) was not completely fit.
The temperature rose and the silence spread as two more Belgians were up. First, Jos Verlooy gave it a proper go on Domino (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve x Azur de Paulstra), but at 43.05 the 19 year old rider had to settle into a temporary third. Then it was time for Jerome Guery and Papillon Z (Perhaps x Cassini I), the couple that also won the Longines Grand Prix in Lummen earlier this spring. The two have really found a match in each other, and the grey stallion was fighting all the way for his rider. Guery got a fantastic turn both into the combination that was the third jump and to the following oxer close to the VIP – while he was a bit lucky to survive the penultimate oxer as he came very deep in. But, today Papillon Z seemed to understand what was at stake and jumped his heart out to shave the time down to 42.37 seconds – to wild cheers from the home crowds that filled every little space there was around the huge ring in Knokke.
None of those four to come could catch Guery, his performance was in a league of its own. Closest came Harrie Smolders who keeps on impressing on Don VHP (Diamant de Semilly x Voltaire), it rode a lot faster than it looked – but the stallion covers a lot of ground in one stride and when he crossed the finish line the time was as quick as 42.62 which was good enough for second. Not even the reigning Olympic Champions Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets (Kannan x Narcos II) could do anything about Guery and Papillon Z today, and the super-duo had to settle for fifth place this time around with Smolders, Whitaker and van Paesschen between them and the winning couple – with Guery fulfilling the dream of most riders today as he not only got to go first in the lap of honour, but also got to take the Porsche for a spin in the ring afterwards.
“I saw Michael go at the beginning of the jump-off and he was so fast, and I did not really think it was possible to beat him. So, I took a lot of risk especially on the last line – it was good motivation with the Porsche as the first prize! It was an amazing win,” Guery said on the press conference after – smiling from ear to ear on one of the best days of his career.
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