Henrik von Eckermann secured an important first win in the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series when coming out on top in the eighth leg of the 2012/2013 Western European League at Mechelen in Belgium on Sunday.
And it was a particularly good day for Swedish riders as the 31 year old’s compatriot Jens Fredricson finished third behind runner-up Francois Mathy Jr from Belgium.
From a starting field of 40, a total of nine made the cut into the second-round jump-off in which von Eckermann clearly demonstrated the qualities that saw German legend, Ludger Beerbaum, offer him the opportunity to join his team nine years ago. With great skill, and astute judgement, the Swede steered Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s mare, Gotha FRH, to success over a jump-off course that tested balance, control and turning skills. “I hope to keep the ride on her for a while now!”, he said of the 11-year-old horse who has been campaigned by Beerbaum in recent years.
The Nekkerhal at Mechelen presents its own unique challenges as the arena is 90 metres long but only 29 metres wide, leading to something of a conundrum for the course building team. But Lucien Somers came up with a clever 13-fence track that included a double at fence seven, consisting of a triple bar followed by a vertical, and a tricky triple combination at fence 10 that had a tight two-stride distance between the opening verticals and then a longer stretch to the oxer on the way out. The latter accounted for the largest number of penalties in the first round, but when riders coped better than expected at the double at seven which was further complicated by a demanding distance to the following oxer, it turned out to be the water-tray oxer at fence two that was the next most troublesome obstacle on the course.
A total of 20 horse-and-rider combinations faulted just once in round one, and amongst them was the man who currently lies top of the Rolex World Rankings list and the horse with which he won the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping title in 2011, Germany’s Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z.
Of the 12 Belgians on the start-list just two went through to the jump-off against the clock and it was Francois Mathy Jr who was pathfinder with D’Atlantique Royal. The daunting prospect of trying to outsmart so many of the big names who would follow him didn’t faze this 42-year-old who really put it up to the rest of them with a sharp round from his nine-year-old Darco gelding as they broke the beam with a clear in 35.89 seconds. Initially it seemed that might not be too tough to beat, mainly because they had made it look relatively easy, but the jump-off course asked for a snaking series of tight turns and many just couldn’t cut them tight enough. Fellow-Belgian and former World Champion Jos Lansink hit the FEI vertical at fence three to offer no serious opposition but, third to go, Jens Fredricson and Lunatic looked really quick only to stop the clock in 36.08 seconds.
Frenchman Kevin Staut eased up a little after his exciting eight-year-old mare hit the first of the two remaining elements of the triple combination, and when Olympic champion Steve Guerdat gave it his best shot with the big grey mare Nasa but was almost two seconds off the pace then Mathy was looking better all the time.
Next in was von Eckermann however, and it was all about to change. When he rode Gotha in the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping qualifier in Geneva, Switzerland last month it didn’t quite go to plan, but this time it was a very different picture indeed. The mare seemed to relish every moment, and she kept a perfect rhythm as she galloped down to the second fence to quickly establish a fractional advantage there before whirling round to the FEI vertical and swinging quickly back to the water-tray oxer that had claimed so many victims in the opening round. Another great turn to the oxer before the two remaining parts of the triple combination increased their fractional lead, and the gallop down to the final triple bar saw them across the line in 35.29 seconds to take over at the top of the order.
Great Britain’s Laura Renwick showed that she is emerging as a force to be reckoned with, producing a great round from the courageous Oz de Breve who broke the beam in 37.00 seconds having swung a little wide on some of the turns. But when both Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer (Verdi III) and Frenchman Simon Delestre (Valentino Velvet) both left two on the floor it would be von Eckermann taking centre stage as the prize-giving got under way.
Thrilled with his result, the Swedish rider has now firmly fixed his sights on a place at the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping final which will take place on his home turf at Gothenburg next April.
“The goal for this season is the World Cup Final,” von Eckermann said afterwards, but he still has plenty of work to do. “These are my first points, so I have to get some more to get to the final,” he explained. And of course he will need a good horse to make that happen.
Asked if he will continue to ride Gotha FRH he replied, “that all depends on Ludger (Beerbaum) and Madeleine Winter-Schulze, but it is very probable that I can keep on riding her”.
He talked about the relationship he has re-established with the mare, whom he rode throughout her six and seven-year-old seasons before Beerbaum then took up the reins. “I always liked Gotha, and to be honest I’m more of a “mares” rider anyway!” he said. “When she’s on my side she does a bit extra for me!” he added.
“One of my horses is probably sold, and that is why Ludger and Madeleine allowed me to ride her,” he continued. “This weekend I had a very good feeling with her. I rode her in two small classes and she felt really good in the World Cup class. For the jump-off I know that I’m not the fastest rider, but Gotha is fast and she can turn so short that I could win here – she was fantastic!” he said.
No doubt he will be hoping to add to the maximum 20 points he collected when the next leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series gets under way at Leipzig, Germany in three weeks’ time.
Result: 1, Gotha FRH (Henrik von Eckermann) SWE 0/0 35.29; 2, D’Atlantique Royal (Francois Mathy Jr) BEL 0/0 35.89; 3, Lunatic (Jens Fredricson) SWE 0/0 36.08; 4, Oz de Breve (Laura Renwick) GBR 0/0 37.00; 5, Nasa (Steve Guerdat) SUI 0/0 37.77; 6, Estoy Aqui de Muze (Kevin Staut) FRA 0/4 37.55; 7, Cavalor Valentina van’t Heike (Jos Lansink) BEL 0/4 40.19; 8,Valentino Velvet (Simon Delestre) FRA 0/8 36.81; 9, Verdi III (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/8 38.32; 10, Taloubet Z (Christian Ahlmann) GER 4/64.79; 11, Diablesse de Muze (Joe Clee) GBR 4/66.45; 12, Nuage Bleu (Pilar Cordon) ESP 4/67.13; 13, Cortez (Nicola Philippaerts) BEL 4/ 67.68; 14, Regina Z (Harrie Smolders) NED 4/67.91; 15, Vincente (Jessica Kuerten) iRL 4/68.04; 16, Magnus Romeo (Hans-Dieter Dreher) GER 4/69.08; 17, Bufero vh Panishof (Dirk Demeersman) BEL 4/69.48; 18, Hello Sanctos (Scott Brash) GBR 4/ 69.51; 19, Cabrio vd Heffinck (Olivier Philippaerts) BEL 4/70.53; 20, Challenge vd Begijnakker (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 4/70.72.
Standings after Round 8 at Mechelen:
1. Sergio Alvarez Moya ESP – 75
2. Kevin Staut FRA – 69
3. Pius Schwizer SUI – 46
4. Roger-Yves Bost FRA – 39
5. Jens Fredricson SWE – 37
6. Christian Ahlmann GER – 37
7. Marcus Ehning GER – 36
8. Jeroen Dubbeldam NED – 35
9. Luciana Diniz POR – 33
10. Penelope Leprevost FRA – 33
11. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE – 32
12. Steve Guerdat SUI – 30
13. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER – 29
14. Scott Brash GBR – 26
15. Marc Houtzager NED – 25
16. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS – 24
17. Denis Lynch IRL – 24
18. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER – 23
19. Maikel van der Vleuten NED – 23
20. William Funnell GBR – 23
21. Marco Kutscher GER – 23