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“I went in there and wanted to do my best” – Beth Underhill pays back by beating them all in the Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule

Sunday, 08 May 2022
CSIO5* Jumping International La Baule 2022

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Canada’s Beth Underhill and the 13-year-old stallion Dieu Merci van T&L won Sunday’s CSIO5* 1.60m Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Canada’s Beth Underhill and the 13-year-old stallion Dieu Merci van T&L (Toulon x Corrado I) won Sunday’s CSIO5* 1.60m Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule, worth a total of 500,000 Euro. 

The 59-year-old Canadian rider joined Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable at the end of last year, taking over the riding duties on some of his top horses – including Dieu Merci van T&L. The relatively new partnership seems to be a match made in heaven: After jumping double clear in Friday’s Nations Cup to help Canada finish third, Underhill and the powerful stallion impressed again on Sunday with another two flawless rounds – besting a field of fifty world-class horse-and-rider combinations in one of the most prestigious Grand Prix classes on the circuit. 

It was a day of great sport in La Baule, with the François André Stadium packed with spectators on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Gregory Bodo’s fourteen-fence track was masterfully built, and in particular it was the open water at 4, the combination at 6ab, the triple combination at 11abc and the penultimate plank that caused the most faults – while the time allowed of 80 seconds also played it’s part.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Beth Underhill and Dieu Merci van T&L en route to victory. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Eventually, only seven of the fifty riders managed to answer all the questions asked by Bodo to clear the track. Joining them for the second round were four riders on time faults from round one, as well as the two fastest four-faulters. 

Only two riders managed to jump double clears; the first was Brazil’s Yuri Mansur, who with Vitiki (Valentino x For Expo) had delivered perhaps the most beautiful first round of the Grand Prix – effortlessly guiding his wonderful chestnut around the demanding track. Although a bit of luck was involved in round two with a tap on the first oxer, it was another great performance by Mansur who stopped the clock at 45 seconds over the shortened track to take the lead. 

It was short-lived though. One rider later, Beth Underhill entered the arena and the Canadian rider set off with determination. Dieu Merci van T&L easily covers a lot of ground with his powerful canter, and Underhill encouraged him for every stride – bringing the time down to 43.77 seconds as she crossed the finish line. 

None of those to come could catch Underhill and Mansur. However, home hero Pierre Marie Friant and the 14-year-old gelding Urdy d’Astree (Bouffon du Murier x Pamphile) gave it a good shot and stood for the biggest surprise of the day when being the best on behalf of the host nation with a rail down on the penultimate oxer in round two and the very quick time of 41.66 seconds. This put him tied in third with Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Nevados S (Calvados Z x Romualdo), who carried four faults with them from round one, to jump clear in round two in a time of 41.66 seconds. Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat and Venard de Cerisy (Open Up Semilly x Djalisco du Guet) finished fifth, also they with four faults from round one, and a clear the second time out in 41.77.  

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ The podium in the Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule: Beth Underhill won, ahead of Yuri Mansur in second, while Pierre Marie Friant and Gregory Wathelet tied in third. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“It’s my first time in La Baule, and it’s been a very memorable week,” Underhill smiled after her win. “I have not known Dieu Merci van T&L for very long; I have been with him for approximately two months so this is my third 1.60m class with him. I have been learning as I go, but he suits my style – he has a big gallop and he thrives on pace, which suits me, so I feel like we have gelled quite quickly.”

“It’s funny, I came this morning, and I was walking through the vendors and I came up to the other side of the ring and I saw the plaques of all the previous winners. I saw Eric twice with Hickstead, and with Powerplay, and I thought ‘Would it not be wonderful to be part of that?’, that group of riders and teams,” Underhill said. 

“Then, as I was going into the ring for the jump-off, Eric said to me ‘It’s yours to take’. Eric just stood up so much recently and I know it’s been bittersweet for him to be here, because he loves La Baule so much – and he has helped all of us as Canadians so much, and myself. So, it meant a lot; I went in there and I wanted to do my best,” Underhill said of Lamaze, who announced his retirement from the sport at the end of March after having been battling brain cancer since 2017 – and who since has stepped into the role as Canadian Chef d'Equipe

“I’m still in shock that I won, but I’m absolutely thrilled, and I’m so grateful to be here – for the organisers here for inviting Canada, it meant so much for us to be here,” Underhill said. “I thought the courses were brilliant, our horses all learned so much, and we as riders learned so much, and for Rolex who have been such sponsors for the sport for so many years – giving us the opportunity to have our sport at this level. We’re very grateful.”

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