Germany’s Hans-Dieter Dreher and the stallion Magnus Romeo secured the biggest victory of their career together when they took out the World Cup leg in Bordeaux, France, on Saturday night.
In a dramatic eight-horse jump-off in the 11th leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping Western European League 2012/2013 series, they pipped the increasingly impressive partnership of Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann and Gotha FRH for the honours, while host nation representative, Penelope Leprevost, slotted into third with Nayana.
The result has also earned the winning rider a spot at the final in Gothenburg, Sweden at the end of April. “This will be my first time to make it to the Final, so I’m very happy about that, and my horse is in super form!” Dreher said.
He described the first-round track set by Italy’s Uliano Vezzani as “fair and not too big”, but it certainly presented plenty of problems for many of the 39 starters. As Leprevost said afterwards, “when we walked the course it didn’t seem too difficult, but with Uliano you always know there is something to think about!”, and so it turned out.
Great Britain’s Laura Renwick retired Oz de Breve after collecting 20 faults, and Dutchman Jeroen Dubbeldam, winner of the opening leg of the series in Oslo, Norway last October, decided to call it a day when Utascha SFN ground to a halt in front of the first element of the triple combination at fence 10. They weren’t the only ones to run into trouble here when the right-hand turn on the approach didn’t bring them in on a good stride. Germany’s Christian Ahlmann seemed to be cruising to a lovely clear until Codex One also stopped at the same spot. But while the World No. 1 rider just patted the stallion and continued on, French veteran, Michel Robert, chose to retire after dropping four fences with the mare Oh d’Eole.
Vezzani never stopped testing them the whole way around the 13-fence course, and almost every fence was dislodged at some stage during the competition. The line from the oxer at three to the vertical of white poles at four seemed relatively innocuous but both obstacles fell frequently, while the following planks also saw plenty of action before horses were turned down the long side of the arena to tackle the triple bar at six and the double at seven. Ridden on a forward five or holding six strides, the distance between these two obstacles left many horses reaching for the second element of the double, and, three fences later, there was also a long stretch for some to the final element of the triple combination.
The oxer at 11 had a minimal spread but hit the floor regularly as it seemed to take some horses by surprise, including the lovely 10-year-old grey stallion Cornado NRW, who bears a striking resemblance to his sire Cornet Obolensky and who made his only error here in an otherwise copybook round for three-time World Cup Jumping champion Marcus Ehning from Germany. And the penultimate water-tray vertical also proved influential.
With eight through to the race against the clock however, Vezzani could rest assured that his course-design skills had delivered the perfect finale.
The jump-off began with a 12-fault result for Italy’s Emanuele Gaudiano and Chicago, but von Eckermann followed that with a flawless round from Gotha that really put it up to the rest of them. Starting out over the triple bar at six, horses now had a long, straight line to the second element of the former double at seven before turning left-handed to the vertical at eight and the following oxer at nine. A right-hand turn led to the last two elements of the triple combination, and then it was on to the tricky oxer at 11 before galloping almost the full length of the arena to the final oxer at 13.
The Swedish rider seemed a little cautious on his approach to the skinny oxer at 11, but as he let Gotha float down on her own stride to the last she broke the beam in 34.77 seconds to set the target. The USA’s Richard Spooner was next in with Cristallo who, just two weeks ago, was eliminated in Zurich for stopping twice at the very first fence. But the 15 year old gelding was in a completely different mood this time and hit just the one remaining element of the double at seven for four faults in 34.94 seconds which would eventually be good enough for sixth place.
Penelope Leprevost was the only host-nation contender in the closing stages, and the crowd went wild as she produced a brilliant performance from the 11-year-old mare, Nayana, to slot in behind Von Eckermann in a time of 34.92 seconds. Ireland’s Denis Lynch was significantly faster with the big gelding Abbervail van het Dingeshof, but their dare-devil gallop down to the last proved costly as although the clock showed what would be the quickest time of the day, 33.97 seconds, they collected four faults and there were now just three left to go.
Next in, Dreher and Magnus Romeo rose to the occasion. “As I began my first turn I realised my horse really wanted to go!” he said afterwards. This pair have an unusual style, Dreher sitting back over his fences while Magnus Romeo reaches out with his toes as he carefully negotiates each obstacle, but it is a winning formula that has paid dividends many times before, and as they set the new target at 34.25 seconds that was always going to be difficult to beat.
Second-last into the ring, Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer was understandably a little careful with the talented 10-year-old Picsou du Chene, who is quickly proving another great addition to his new string. Home and clear in 36.30 seconds, they were always going to pick up some valuable points, but until last man in, Gerco Schroder, took his turn, Schwizer couldn’t be quite sure exactly how many points that would be, and Dreher could not be sure of the win.
Schroder’s stallion, London, had jumped spectacularly in the first round and it seemed very possible indeed that the Olympic individual silver medal winning partnership might snatch a last-minute victory. But the Dutchman, and the packed stadium of spectators, were aghast when the stallion wouldn’t go down to the first fence, apparently objecting to something in the corner of the arena and spinning in a circle before Schroder eventually sent him about his business to return with six faults in 50.04 seconds. It would be Dreher’s night.
Talking about the Argentinian-born Magnus Romeo, the German winner said “I’ve had him two-and-a-half years now, and he’s a bit difficult to ride, he’s a stallion and you have to let him be himself, you cannot dominate him. But when he is in the form like he was today, when he was fighting for me all the way, then he is fantastic!”
Dreher likes Vezzani’s course-building style, “because my previous big win was the Grand Prix at Chantilly when he was building there”, and, he added, “ so it seems France is a good place for me!”
All of the top three riders said they liked the big gallop to the last fence. “It’s always difficult to find the right distance on a long gallop,” said runner-up von Eckermann who, like Dreher, will be making his debut at the Final in Gothenburg.
Third-placed Leprevost, whose eight-year old daughter won the Shetland Grand Prix at Bordeaux earlier in the day, is hoping to take Nayana to the final and plans to compete at the last qualifier at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands next month as well as Paris along the way.
Dreher, who intends to take things slowly with Magnus Romeo ahead of the final, is feeling confident after the win. “Uliano will be building in Gothenburg, so I’m hoping I will have a real chance when I get there!” said the rider, having recorded the biggest success of his career on the eve of his 41st birthday.
Result: 1, Magnus Romeo (Hans-Dieter Dreher) GER 0/0 34.25; 2, Gotha FRH (Henrik von Eckermann) SWE 0/0 34.77; 3, Nayana (Penelope Leprevost) FRA 0/0 34.92; 4, Picsou du Chene (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/0 36.30; 5, Abbervail van het Dingeshof (Denis Lynch) IRL 0/4 33.97; 6, Cristallo (Richard Spooner) USA 0/4 34.94; 7, London (Gerco Schroder) NED 0/6 50.04; 8, Chicago (Emanuele Gaudiano) ITA 0/12 36.04; 9, Nino des Buissonnets (Steve Guerdat) SUI 4/69.67; 10, Valentino Velvet (Simon Delestre) FRA 4/70.33; 11, Casall la Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 4/70.57; 12, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois (Roger-Yves Bost) FRA 4/71.68; 13, Cornado NRW (Marcus Ehning) GER 4/72.24; 14, Spartacus TN (Marco Kutscher) GER 4/73.47; 15, Louis (Beat Mandli) SUI 4/73.83; 16, Old Chap Tame (Eugenie Angot) FRA 4/74.00; 17, Challenge vd Begijnakker (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 8/70.11; 18, Carlo (Sergio Alvarez Moya) ESP 8/70.67; 19, Akita (Philippe Rozier) FRA 8/70.88; 20, Lacontino (Luciana Diniz) POR 8/71.59.
Standings after Round 11:
1. Sergio Alvarez Moya ESP - 75
2. Christian Ahlmann GER - 72
3. Pius Schwizer SUI - 70
4. Kevin Staut FRA - 69
5. Luciana Diniz POR - 61
6. Denis Lynch IRL - 53
7. Henrik von Eckermann SWE - 50
8. Jens Fredricson SWE - 48
9. Penelope Leprevost FRA - 48
10. Roger-Yves Bost FRA - 47
11. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER - 46
12. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER - 46
13. Marcus Ehning GER - 44
14. Steve Guerdat SUI - 44
15. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE - 43
16. Marc Houtzager NED - 41
17. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE - 40
18. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS - 37
19. Gerco Schroder NED - 36
20. Jeroen Dubbeldam NED - 35