The 2016 Longines FEI World Cup Final had it all, including a crescendo conclusion orchestrated by last year’s Champion Steve Guerdat who hit all the right notes to take his second consecutive World Cup-title – this time riding the 10-year-old Corbinian (Cornet Obolensky x Pilot).
It was a thriller to the end. First of all, because of Santiago Varela’s genius courses throughout the weekend and secondly because the world’s best riders delivered some fantastic rounds that kept the tension at the top until the very end. It certainly helped that the Gothenburg-crowds are second-to-none, and create a unique atmosphere where you can go from hearing a pin drop to nothing but deafening applause from one second to another. The goose-bump-factor was there all the way.
Santiago Varela’s first round track was a brilliant one, and caused faults in clever ways without discouraging the horses. It counted thirteen fences and included a triple combination halfway which was followed by six short strides, for some an uncalculated five and a half, to a set of wavy planks – and one fence later also a combination at 9ab.
It was the wavy planks on the short side opposite of the in-gate that turned out to be one of the two heartbreakers in round one. Again and again it fell, as some of the riders came too close on six strides or simply aimed their horses at the highest point rather than one of the lower ones causing it to fall.
The other element to cause trouble was the oxer-vertical combination that followed on a right turn distance from the Longines oxer, and with some of the horses falling a bit over in the direction of the turn they lost their straightness and made mistakes on one of the two elements. Simon Delestre’s World Cup dreams ended at this very point, as Qlassic Bois Margot ( l'Arc de Triomphe x Galoubet A) had both elements down. Also Marcus Ehning dropped down from overall second to fifth after adding four faults to his score when Cornado NRW (Cornet Obolensky x Acobat) clipped a rail on the vertical.
Maximum unlucky was Chris Chugg – who stole the crowds’ hearts during the week in Gothenburg – when he came too close on the last oxer on the only 8-year-old Cristalline (Cristallo x Caretello B) to have it down. In terms of unlucky, the same went for US rider Callan Solem who delivered a tremendous round only to see the top pole on the first vertical hit the sand.
In the end nine of the 26 riders went clear, and all in a very convincing way. The first one came from Max Kühner on the only 9-year-old Clarimo-son Chardonnay 29, then followed championship-specialists Maikel van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdi TN N.O.P. (Quidam de Revel x Landgraf I).
Christian Ahlmann made it all look simple and soft on the now 16-year-old Taloubet Z (Galoubet A x Polydor), before Denis Lynch yet again produced a clear round on All Star 5 (Argentinus x Alme) that kept on showing off his endless scope. Like, his compatriot Ahlmann – Marco Kutscher showed some serious brilliant riding skills to go clear again on the relatively inexperienced Chacco-Blue-daughter Chaccorina taking over the lead with his score of six penalties.
That was not to last for long though, as Penelope Leprevost revenged her four-fault round from Saturday with a determined performance that kept her on a five-penalty-score pushing her up into the lead.
The pressure was on for the riders in the top five, and only clear rounds would do. For Nicola Philippaerts, it was not to be however as two rails fell and equally his position on the overall standing.
A rider that has impressed from day one in Gothenburg has been Harrie Smolders, who has gotten the best out of the amazing stallion Emerald N.O.P. (Diamant De Semilly x Carthago) every day. And today was no exception as the two yet again went clear, slotting in ahead of Leprevost. One rider later, the Dutch jockey got company on top by another German as Daniel Deusser produced a beautiful and classic clear on his 2014 World Cup Champion Cornet D’Amour (Cornet Obolensky x Damiani).
Expectations were high when Marcus Ehning came into the ring with a score of only two penalties, but in a round that was perfect in all other ways the top pole on the vertical at 9b fell. The two had to add four faults, with their chances of a place on the podium fading.
Steve Guerdat’s last round showed his greatness as a rider and as a horseman. Urging Corbinian – that did his first ever championship – to take out his very best at every single fence, Guerdat was almost pumping his partner up with confidence around the track to make him go clear yet again. Crossing the finish line, it almost looked like Guerdat had a hard time believing what they had just done: Keeping the lead.
Heading into the last round, it was as tight as it could be on top. Less than a rail down separated Guerdat from Smolders and Deusser that sat just behind him in second and third on a three-penalty-score, while Leprevost was breathing them all in the neck with her five penalties. Even for Kutscher and Ehning the podium was still in sight, with a score of six penalties. There was no room for error.
Varela’s second track certainly did not play it down. It asked some serious questions, and it turned out only a few were able to answer them. And, it was all about the distances. The line from the vertical at six followed by a distance on six or seven strides to the triple combination at 7abc (oxer-plank-vertical) caused plenty of mistakes, as did the final line with an oxer at fence ten followed by a distance of 23 meters into a vertical-oxer combination that measured eight meters in between before another upright waited as the final challenge on four forward strides or five supporting. Those who chose six strides into the combination needed a horse with serious scope to reach out, and those who came in on five a careful one for the vertical leading in.
A magical moment appeared when Chris Chugg and Cristalline delivered the first clear round as no. seven in the ring, causing the entire Scandinavium to rise to their feet in a standing ovation. It was hard to keep the eyes dry, as Chugg dropped the reins and celebrated his talented horse that has showed such a huge heart during the entire week of competition to eventually finish in an incredible 10th position overall.
France’s Simon Delestre revenged his first round with a clear, as did Callan Solem who really gave VDL Wizzard (Gentleman x Ahorn) a great ride to finish as the best American rider as 7th overall.
It was Christian Ahlmann who produced the first double clear of the day though, making it all look like a walk in the park on Taloubet Z to finish on his score of eight faults that he carried coming into the competition. Denis Lynch matched the German rider’s round after All Star 5 yet again went clear to finish on a score of eight penalties. Marco Kutscher’s Chaccorina on the other hand ran empty, and with three down it was game over for the German couple.
Marcus Ehning kept Germany in the game though, when he rode a picture-perfect round on Cornado NRW to go into the lead with a penalty score of six. The heat was on for those to come, a rail down for Penelope, Daniel or Harrie meant Marcus would pass them on the score board.
That was the case for Leprevost, who’s Vagabond de la Pomme hit the back pole of the oxer at five to finish on nine penalties overall at the same time sending the final French podium hopes down the drain.
Harrie Smolders opened for the top three, and threw the gauntlet down to his two remaining competitors as he yet again produced a spectacular clear round on Emerald N.O.P. When Daniel Deusser answered in the same way on Cornet D’Amour, it was all down to Guerdat – and only a clear round would be good enough otherwise Smolders and Deusser would do a jump-off for the title.
Despite a fully seated Scandinavium, it was as silent as in a grave when Guerdat set off with Corbinian. Could he really make this quite inexperienced 10-year-old, with no big wins in comparison with the likes of Emerald and Cornet D’Amour, do another clear? The crowds bit their nails for every jump, holding their breath as Guerdat chose to go for seven strides into the demanding red triple combination. When they cleared that, and also the penultimate combination it was like time stood still – would he keep that final upright intact? The proof was in the sound level in the Scandinavium arena: Guerdat had done it again – becoming World Cup Champion for a second year in a row.
Text © World of Showjumping // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson
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