Simon Delestre won the eighth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup in the Western European League in Mechelen today. As last to go in an entertaining nine horse jump-off aboard Qlassic Bois Margot (l'Arc de Triomphe x Galoubet A), the 33 year old Frenchman beat the early target set by Britain's Joe Clee on Utamaro d'Ecaussines (Diamant de Semilly x Quidam de Revel). Third place went to Sweden's Douglas Lindelöw on Casello (Casall x Carolus I).
The first round track set by Belgian course designer, Lucien Somers, presented a tough test for the 39 starters, with the double at fence seven and the triple combination at fence 12 proving particularly influential. "The triple was very difficult - the double of oxers with one stride followed by a vertical at the end of the course meant you needed a fit horse with a lot of scope today," Delestre commented afterwards.
Clee really threw down the gauntlet when first to go in the jump-off with the 10 year old stallion who gave it everything he had to set a strong target in 32.42 seconds. And the 36 year old rider who is married to the youngest daughter of the late Eric Wauters, in whose memory the popular Belgian fixture is staged, then had to stand back and watch the rest try to better that.
America's Lucy Davis and Barron lost their chance at the very first fence, but Sweden's Douglas Lindelöw left all the timber intact when steering Casello home in 35.07, and he wouldn't regret being a little cautious when this eventually proved good enough for third place.
The packed stadium of spectators gasped with dismay when the first of the two Belgian contenders, Judy-Ann Melchior and her grey mare Cold as Ice Z (Artos Z x Carthago Z), also fell foul of the opening vertical, but they were gripping their seats with excitement as Jos Verlooy galloped down to the last well up on the clock with Domino (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Azur Depaulstra). One of the new wave of super-talented young Belgians blazing a trail on the international circuit right now, the rider who turned 19 just two weeks ago decided to take a stride out to the final oxer however and paid the price as it came crashing down for four faults in 34.60 seconds. He couldn't forgive himself afterwards. "I made a terrible mistake and I'm so disappointed. I will never get the chance to win a competition like this again!" he insisted, but of course a young man of his calibre has a great future ahead of him.
He had shown that Clee's target time could be beaten, and although French stars Kevin Staut and Roger Yves Bost each left a fence on the floor, and Germany's Christian Ahlmann played the percentage game with a safe but slow clear from Cornado ll (Cornet Obolensky x Acobat) which would earn them fourth place in the final analysis, Delestre and his black stallion never looked like they were ready to compromise.
The precision of their opening round suggested they are a pair right on form, and when the Frenchman asked for a colossal effort at the last, the horse never flinched, galloping through the timers more than two seconds faster than Clee to put the result beyond doubt.
"I thought Joe was very quick and I wasn't sure I could do a better time but I tried my best without going crazy. It was a good jump-off track for my horse, we could take one stride out in every line and he's always very quick, but I was sure to be careful because twice before in the qualifiers this season I have been really fast but picked up four faults!" said Delestre afterwards.
Talking about his stallion he continued "Qlassic is special in many ways, he's full of energy, but not stupid energy, and he's usually very careful. He can be sensitive sometimes if things are not going well, but we understand each other. He's best when he's been jumping over a few days. On Thursday we jumped a class, and then we went in a jump-off but we went slowly. He needs a few times in the ring to be happy, and today he was really ready!" he added.
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