The 12th annual FEI World Jumping Challenge Final 2013 came to an exciting conclusion on Sunday at the Caracas Country Club in Venezuela where Isabel Sanchez from the Dominican Republic emerged victorious.
This year’s event attracted 21 competitors from 10 different regional zones, and 16 federations were represented. The flags of Algeria, Argentina, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Libya, Mauritius, New Zealand, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe flew high at this truly international event, and the action-packed five-day fixture saw a very close finish, with Thailand’s Siengsaw Lertratanachi just pipped for gold while Philippe Burckel from Mauritius claimed bronze.
It was the perfect birthday celebration for gold medallist Sanchez who turned 20 last Thursday. The FEI World Jumping Challenge series is open to riders of all ages, and the oldest competitor at this year’s event was 40-year-old Alt Lounis Brahim from Algeria while the youngest was Tunisian 16-year-old, Amel Meziane.
Category A riders qualify at their own regional events, and the final is always staged outdoors and using borrowed horses. It begins with a warm-up class and then moves on through two qualifying rounds before the Consolation Competition and Semi-Final on the penultimate afternoon.
The result is decided on the last day in a challenging four-way change-horse competition. The format provides a true test of horsemanship as each rider must quickly form a good relationship with an unknown mount, and must then demonstrate further flexibility on the final day when horses are exchanged.
The series and final are designed to provide top-quality competition for less experienced competitors from remote regions, helping them to develop their skills and guiding them towards positive future involvement in equestrian sport. Its success is highlighted by the results achieved by graduates such as 2012 bronze medallist Emanuel Andrade from Venezuela who enjoyed another tremendous season at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida (USA) over the past winter.
Partnered with Carnida Z, Isabel Sanchez was seventh in this year’s first qualifier which was won by 2010 champion Santiago Diaz Ortega from Colombia who also won the opening competition on his road to success three years ago. Riding Cachafaz, the 24-year old pipped Philippe Burkel from Mauritius by almost three seconds while New Zealand’s Rebekah Van Tiel slotted into third ahead of Singapore’s Janine Khoo. There were three eliminations at this early stage while Venezuela’s Gustavo Machado withdrew, but 19 lined up in the second qualifier in which Khoo came out on top with After Eight Z.
There were only six clear rounds in this competition, and Algeria’s Alt Lounis Brahim made a superb recovery from elimination the previous day to produce a foot-perfect performance with Rotterdam Z. The consistent Burckel lined up second with Benala while Van Tiel was once again third ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Bader Mohamed Alfard with Oscar du Pin. Sanchez slotted into eighth place with another four-fault result.
A win in the semi-final gave the eventual champion the chance she had been waiting for. With growing confidence she steered Carnida Z home in the fast time of 68.07 seconds to snatch pole position while, yet again, Burckel was runner-up and when Khoo finished third ahead of Lertratanachai it would be these four who would go through to the four-horse ride-off on the final day.
Paraguay’s Sofia Chaparro just missed out on a place in the ride-off when clear with Lendell but almost three seconds slower than Lertratanachai. However the 17-year-old was rightly pleased with her own performance and that of the horse allocated to her. “Although lots of people thought my horse was difficult, I improved each day and I just fell in love with him!” Chaparro said.
The Farewell Consolation class went to a three-way jump-off against the clock with a super-fast clear round clinching it for Saudi Arabia’s Bandar Sami Binmahfouz and La Fe Falke ahead of Libya’s Georges Bittar (Too Much) in second and Argentina’s Victoria Jiminez (T Star) in third place.
There was also a national final for Venezuelan riders in which Leopoldo Paoli and Country Boy were convincing winners ahead of Noel Vanososte (Ida) in second and Juan Andres Sauce (Tampa Graff) in third.
Back at the sharp end, the change-horse final began with clear rounds for all four riders on their own horses. And Burckel was the only one to make a mistake in the second round when swapping his own Benala for Khoo’s ride, After Eight Z.
But with the tension mounting, Khoo was eliminated in round three when partnered with Templario who had earned a place in the closing stages for Lertratanachai and who had jumped clear for both the Thai rider and Sanchez. Burckel began to slip with just a single fence down with Sanchez’s Carnida Z, but Lertratanachai stood firm with another clear, this time partnering Khoo’s After Eight Z. So the Thai rider and Sanchez were on level pegging going into the fourth and last round carrying zero scores.
And in the end it was so very close, a jump-off between these two prevented only by the single time fault collected by Lertratanachi on her final tour of the track with Sanchez’s week-long partner, Carnida Z. This time Sanchez rode Khoo’s After Eight Z and, again, breezed home with another fault-free effort to seal it, her time of 53.48 seconds almost two seconds quicker than that of her Thai rival. Burckel picked up eight faults with Templario, but this was still good enough for bronze as his finishing total was 16 while, despite a superb recovery when steering Benala home clear at her last attempt, Khoo finished outside the medals due to her earlier elimination.
The Best Horse award went to the brilliant Benala who stayed clear for all four riders on the final day.
Tunisia’s Amel Meziane was awarded the prize for the most popular rider by her fellow competitors and said it was “a wonderful surprise – I am really happy!”.
The Course Designer was Hossein Shafiee from Iran.
Jacqueline Braissant, FEI Solidarity Director attended the event and said that for the first time in the history of the six Finals that have been staged, half of the participants were juniors, between 16 and 20 years of age, and among them were 11 girls.
“Most of these young riders are very active. Some of them are on their way to qualifying for the Youth Olympic Games 2014, some are aiming at the Bolivarian Games in Peru 2013 or the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2014. They showed a very high quality of riding. It is also to be noted that many of the coaches accompanying these riders went through the FEI Coach Education Programme,” she said.
FEI World Jumping Challenge Final 2013:
GOLD – Isabel Sanchez (DOM);
SILVER – Siengsaw Lertratanachi (THA);
BRONZE – Philippe Burckel (MRI).