In a 20-horse jump-off it took a crazy Italian who entered his first World Cup qualifier, to win the opening leg of the 2016/2017 Longines FEI World Cup Western European League. As first to go, Alberto Zorzi put on a performance that not even the best riders in the world could match, leaving Marcus Ehning and Pieter Devos 0,41 and 1,17 seconds behind him to take second and third place respectively.
It soon became clear that the World Cup opening would see a lot of clear rounds. As the first twenty riders had entered the ring, seven had already been clear around Louis Konickx’s 13 fence-track. The few faults that came were spread all around the track and the time allowed was generous as even the riders who chose the extra stride on the line from two to three and from the oxer at fence four down to the triple combination, kept inside the time.
With half the field qualified for the jump-off it was made to be a fast performance and as first to go, Alberto Zorzi and Fair Light van't Heike (Vigo d'Arsouilles x Darco), set the standard with the time 36,93 after a crazy fast round with tight turns and full speed from start to finish.
The jump-off counted seven fences including the combination that came as fence three. After the combination it was a quick turn back to a vertical before the riders could choose a tight inside turn to the Agria-oxer that caught many of the riders. Finally they had to make another turn back to a big white oxer followed by a bend line down to the last Longines fence.
The riders gave the audience a good show as most of them fought hard to catch Zorzi’s time. For most of them the speed came on the expense of a fence down which was the case for Cian O’Connor, in-form rider Niels Bruynseels and Zorzi’s fellow countryman Lorenzo de Luca.
Yesterday’s winner of the Grand Prix, Pieter Devos (BEL) came in as number seven aboard Dream of India Greenfield (Gem of India x Night and Day) and was the first rider to go clear after Zorzi. It looked fast, but the time 38,10 was no threat to the Italian rider. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) and Comanche 28 (Coupe de Coeur 2 x Baloubet du Rouet) were also clear, but their time 41,53 seconds finally placed them seventh.
Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) had brought his 17-year-old superstar Casall Ask (Caretino x Lavall I) to the World Cup opening after an impressive Longines Global Champions Tour season and the dream-team did not disappoint. Their turn from the combination was from another world, but as they crossed the finish-line they were still 1,45 seconds behind and it began to look like Zorzi’s time actually would be impossible to beat.
As Marcus Ehning (GER) entered the ring towards the end of the jump-off with his home-bred 11-year-old Funky Fred (For Pleasure x Pilot), the pressure was on. If someone was to get the time under 36,93 seconds it could be Ehning. As always Ehning showed why he belongs in the top ten, and compared to the ones before him he came close, but 37,34 was only good enough for second place.
Two more top riders were still to go. Silver-medallist from the Olympics in Rio, Peder Fredricson (SWE), guided H&M Flip's Little Sparrow (Cardento 933 x Robin Z 723) safely around the course to finish with two time faults, while reigning World Cup Champion Steve Guerdat ended on a clean sheet with Bianca (Balou de Rouet x Cardento) and the time 38,35 that placed them fifth.
“This is a dream for me, and I am very happy,” Zorzi stated after his win. “For one and a half year I have worked for Stall Tops and he (Jan) has given me a lot of opportunities. I can ride the Global Tour and he gives me a lot of horses,“ Zorzi said about his boss, Jan Tops.
Text © World of Showjumping // Picture © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
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