The Longines FEI World Cup Western European League looks set for an explosive start of the 2016/2017 season, with the top three finishers at last year’s final all signed up for the opening event in Oslo, Norway next week. Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat will be chasing down his third title in a row, runner-up Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands will be hoping to move up one step on the podium this time around and Germany’s Daniel Deusser, who was third at the thrilling final in Gothenburg, will be one of the biggest threats throughout the entire season. Like Guerdat, the 2014 champion is something of a World Cup specialist, and on flying form right now he will be gunning down those maximum points when the action gets underway on 16 October.
The Western European League includes thirteen qualifying rounds, and it’s going to be fast and furious with nine legs taking place before the end of the year. Helsinki (FIN) and Lyon (FRA) swiftly follow Oslo in October, and then it’s on to Verona (ITA), Stuttgart (GER) and Madrid (ESP) in November. A brand new fixture at La Coruna (ESP) gets the action underway in December while the popular Christmas shows at London Olympia (GBR) and Mechelen (BEL) lead into a short break before competition resumes in Leipzig (GER) in January. This will be followed by Zurich (SUI), Bordeaux (FRA) and Gothenburg (SWE), and the last few events are always guaranteed to be electrifying.
The selection of the Centurylink Centre in Omaha, Nebraska (USA) for the 2016/2017 final brings a whole new dimension to the series and racks up the traditional inter-continental rivalry between Europe and the USA. In the early years of the FEI World Cup series the Americans were all but unstoppable when taking seven of the first nine titles. But once the Europeans got a grip they proved difficult to contain and German riders became the ones to beat. That was until Rich Fellers and the incredible stallion Flexible hoisted the US flag once again in 2012 only to be immediately followed onto the top step of the podium by fellow-American Beezie Madden. This brought the US tally of wins to nine and put them on level pegging with the Germans until Deusser put Germany back out in front again. It seems very likely however that the host nation will be determined to redress that imbalance when the final returns to US territory next March.
The vibrant city of Omaha, a midwestern sport-loving gem that staged several Olympic trials ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, offers a variety of attractions including top restaurants, hotels and museums, and will be a fascinating back-drop to a week of great sport during which course designer Alan Wade from Ireland will test the best in the battle for the 2016/2017 title. In this indoor contest the ability to ride at speed is key to success, and US riders are particularly skilled at that. But there’s a long way to go before the curtain is raised for the competitions that will decide the fate of the much-coveted FEI World Cup trophy and the €1.3m in prizemoney.
A total of fifteen leagues are taking place across the globe, stretching from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South East and Central Asia and China, across North and South America, the Middle East and on to Caucasia and Central and Western Europe. In all, 109 qualifying events will have been staged before the 2017 final begins.
The start list for Oslo includes world no. 2 Simon Delestre from France along with his compatriots Penelope Leprevost and Kevin Staut from the gold-medal-winning team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Harrie Smolders brings his Olympic ride, the lovely stallion Emerald, while team bronze medalists Daniel Deusser and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum are in the crack German line-out along with Marcus Ehning, and the latter two are amongst the elite group of riders who have claimed the prestigious FEI World Cup title three times.
The first three-time champion was the man who claimed the inaugural honors back in 1979, Austria’s Hugo Simon, but Rodrigo Pessoa holds a particularly special place in the history of the series. The Brazilian is the only rider to record a hat-trick over three successive years, between 1998 and 2000, partnering the same brilliant stallion – Baloubet du Rouet – who continues to wield his extraordinary influence across the sport through the performances of his many successful offspring.
The Swedish flag will be flying high in Oslo, as individual Olympic silver medalist Peder Fredricson brings out the super-exciting H&M All In who was one of the most spectacular horses in Rio.
And there will be three members of the same family flying the Norwegian flag: Johan-Sebastian and Victoria Gulliksen along with their father Geir, but they will all have to be right on top of their game to see off the efforts of so many of the biggest names in the sport.
The defending champion, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat, brings the horse with which he won his latest title – Corbinian – which suggests he’ll be going out there with all guns blazing as the race to Omaha begins.
Source: Press release from FEI written by Louise Parkes // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson
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