On an afternoon of pure magic in the jumping stadium at Verona, Italy, Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya produced a stunning victory in the fourth leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Western European League.
Yesterday’s competition was special for several reasons, not least because the Spaniard was riding a horse who is s just eight years old, and because Italy’s Luca Moneta was so proud and yet so humble when filling runner-up spot.
The excitement generated during the 12-horse jump-off was electrifying as horses and riders rose to the occasion to produce a piece of pure theatre that had spectators gripping their seats. As third-place finisher, Sweden’s Malin Baryard-Johnsson said afterwards, “the sport was amazing, I haven’t competed in a class as exciting as this in a very, very long time!”.
The result has left Moya well on the road to the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Gothenburg, Sweden next April. Already at the head of the leaderboard before the class began, he has now accumulated a massive 58 points, so has no more worries about qualification.
Rolf Ludi’s first-round track was no walk in the park, with the triple combination at fence seven and the double at fence nine consistently hitting the floor. And the FEI vertical at fence eight proved tricky, as many discovered. Approached on a bending line, and on a tidy four-stride distance from the previous triple combination, it came up very quickly indeed for horses that were running on the forehand, and Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander looked like she might try to take it on in three strides with Guccio only to crash through it before retiring.
A total of five horses were retired in the first round, but 12 still found the key and it was Great Britain’s Robert Smith and Voila who led the way against the clock.
The jump-off course would reward the bravest of the brave, and there was no shortage of courage from the outset. Smith returned clear in 46.91 seconds to set the target but Moneta then set the arena alight with a thrilling run with Neptune Brecourt.
As the Italian explained afterwards this horse can be a bit of a handful, but the 11-year-old French-bred is quick and clean in his jumping and, giving huge leaps all the way around, he galloped down the last line from the Rolex oxer to the final vertical to break the beam more than a second sooner, in 45.63, to take the lead.
The only other home representative to make it through was Lucia Vizzini who was next into the ring, but with three fences down for Loro Piana Quinta Roo they went out of contention before Baryard-Johnsson took centre stage.
And the Swede set off with H&M Tornesch like there was no tomorrow, standing a long way off the oxer at fence 10 which was now the third obstacle on the course but soaring over effortlessly. Riding with complete confidence, the diminutive Swede simply let her big Dutch stallion gallop freely around the remainder of the track and it was no surprise when she posted a seriously competitive time of 46.43 seconds as they cleared the finish line.
Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum was next to leave the course intact, but opted for a cautious tour with the lovely Bella Donna in 52.10. It was obvious the time could be bettered when Britain’s Michael Whitaker broke the beam in 44.72, but he paid the price for a very tight turn to the first element of the former triple combination which was now reduced to just two jumping efforts.
If his trip looked quick, it paled to insignificance when Germany’s Marcus Ehning produced the smoothest of rounds with Copin de Broy that should have left the rest gasping for air. But even this super-cool master who cleared the line in an incredible 41.73 seconds after finding a new and shorter route to the triple bar at fence four, fell foul of Ludi’s clever track when hitting the vertical two fences later.
Fourth-last to go, flying Frenchman Kevin Staut looked like snatching the advantage with the fast-running Reveur de Hurtebise HDC until hitting the very final fence. And when Germany’s Christian Ahlmann and Talboubet Z, the World Cup champions at the end of the 2010/2011 season, hit the first element at fence seven it seemed that Moneta might just secure a wonderful home win.
But, second-last to go, Moya and his eight year old chestnut stallion Zipper produced a stunning round, the horse powering over his fences and never flinching under pressure despite his tender years to stop the clock on 43.20 to take the lead. And when Germany’s Marco Kutscher double-faulted with the considerably-more-experienced 14 year old Cash, it was all over.
Moya was understandably ecstatic afterwards. “I started with Zipper at the end of March in 1.40m competitions and he jumped in the Queen’s Cup in Madrid but he doesn’t have a lot of experience and he was wonderful today. He is a horse with a lot of blood and he hasn’t always been easy. I have had a lot of control problems, but it’s amazing when you compete a difficult horse and you get him to work with you instead of against you like he did today – and he is still so young!” he said.
For Moneta it was an emotional evening. “I am so happy,” said the man who hails from just north of Milan, “not just for the place I have won in this Grand Prix but because I’ve been trying for a very long time to build a relationship with this special horse.
“Some people didn’t believe in him, they thought I was crazy to continue trying with him, but on Friday here in Verona I said to myself ‘I’m so happy because he’s not fighting against me’ – it wasn’t perfect but it felt like we were finding a connection. And today he offered me his very best – for me that is huge!” he explained with quiet delight.
This was an important day for all the leading riders. Malin Baryard-Johnsson pointed out that “it’s been a hard year” for her. “My horse was injured just two weeks before the Olympic Games, and that was my big goal for the year,” she said.
“My first big show since before the Olympics was at Lyon last weekend but today it felt much better and it was very exciting to get into the jump-off – the sport was fantastic for everyone, including the riders!” she added.
The series now moves on to Stuttgart, Germany next weekend with Moya heading the league table by a long margin. His ninth placing has moved Kevin Staut up to second, but with 38 points the Frenchman still has more work to do and the same applies for Dutchman Jeroen Dubbeldam who won the opening leg at Oslo, Norway in style and who is lying third with 35 points to his credit.
• Five of the 40 horses that started in today’hecompetition were sired by Baloubet du Rouet, the only horse in the history of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series to win the title three years in a row. With his rider, Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa, Baloubet reigned supreme in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Result: 1, Zipper (Sergio Alvarez Moya) ESP 0/0 43.20; 2, Neptune Brecourt (Luca Maria Moneta) ITA 0/0 45.63; 3, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/0 46.43; 4, Voila (Robert Smith) GBR 0/0 46.91; 5, Bella Donna (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 0/0 52.10; 6, Copin van de Broy (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/4 41.73; 7, Taloubet Z (Christian Ahlmann) GER 0/4 42.80; 8, GIG Amai (Michael Whitaker) GBR 0/4 44.72; 9, Reveue de Hurtebise HDC (Kevin Staut) FRA 0/4 44.99; 10, Rackel Chavannaise (Manuel Anon) ESP 0/4 46.51; 11, Cash (Marco Kutscher) GER 0/8 48.55; 12, Loro Piana Quinta Roo (Lucia Vizzini) ITA 0/12 51.22; 13, Mylord Carthago (Penelope Leprevost) FRA 4/63.30; 14, West Side V Meerputhoeve (Clarissa Crotta) SUI 4/64.23; 15, LB Callas Sitte Z (Christina Liebherr) SUI 4/64.43; 16, Challenge VD Begijnakker (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 4/65.56; 17, Chaman (Ludger Beerbaum) GER 4/65.83; 18, Palloubet D’Halong (Janika Sprunger) SUI 4/66.23; 19, Old Chap Tame (Eugenie Angot) FRA 4/66.51; 20, Bonzai van de Warande (Juan Carlos Garcia) ITA 4/67.49.
Standings after Round 4 at Verona:
1. Sergio Alvarez Moya ESP – 58
2. Kevin Staut FRA – 38
3. Jeroen Dubbeldam NED – 35
4. Pius Schwizer SUI – 32
5. Scott Brash GBR – 25
6. Eric Van der Vleuten NED – 23
6. William Funnell GBR – 23
8. Christian Ahlmann GER – 22
9. Roger-Yves Bost FRA – 20
9. Manuel Anon ESP – 20
9. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER – 20
12. Beat Mandli SUI – 18
12. Ludo Philippaerts BEL – 18
14. Luca Maria Moneta ITA – 17
15. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE – 15
15. Paul Estermann SUI – 15
17. Marie Hecart FRA – 14
18. Robert Smith GBR – 13
18. Tim Gredley GBR – 13
20. Marco Kutscher GER – 12