Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer rode to an emphatic victory on Toulago in the latest World Cup jumping leg in Zurich at the weekend.
With just two further opportunities to make the cut for the final in April still remaining, the pressure is building to boiling point. But Schwizer’s result in the eighth leg of the Western European League qualifying series has moved him well within reach of the coveted qualification zone as the closing stages approach.
Runner-up was Belgian-based British rider Joe Clee with the talented Diablesse de Muze, while 2011 FEI World Cup champion Christian Ahlmann was third with Aragon Z. Nine went through to the jump-off against the clock, and Schwizer clinched it with a brilliant effort from his nine-year-old horse when third-last to go.
The first-round track proved quite a test despite its apparent simplicity. It required forward riding from beginning to end, and even more so once the time-allowed was lowered from 66 seconds to 63. Course designer Gerard Lachat was assisted by fellow-Swiss, Rolf Ludi, in creating a track that increased in difficulty as it progressed, and which demanded significant commitment from both horse and rider.
Switzerland’s Paul Estermann led the way in the jump-off with a four-fault effort from his lovely Irish-bred mare Castlefield Eclipse. And despite the fact that he lies 345 on the latest Longines rankings table, South Africa’s Oliver Lazarus showed he is quite comfortable in elite company when doing likewise with the 11-year-old Pour le Passage. From Capetown, and in the saddle since he was a very small child, this 26-year-old who has trained with German ace Ludger Beerbaum has learned his trade well, and his fast time of 34.47 seconds would eventually secure fourth place.
Great Britain’s Joe Clee is ranked 112, but once again this is indicative more of opportunity than talent as the Yorkshire-born 36-year-old really ratcheted up the pressure with a fabulous clear from the handsome Diablesse de Muze, setting the first true target in 34.79 seconds. And that wouldn’t be easy to beat.
Third-last to go, Schwizer and Toulago made no mistake, and their turn of speed was spectacular. And when Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Plot Blue hit the very first fence and the final partnership of Kevin Staut and Estoy Aqui de Muze HDC from France lowered the vertical which was now third on the track it was all over. Schwizer had it in the bag and it was time for a big Swiss celebration.
Toulago was bought at the PSI Auction as a six-year-old by Karin Haber. “I tried the horse for the first time on the Saturday morning of CSIO St Gallen last year and it has been a success ever since. We finished second in the Grand Prix at Humlikon, and 10th in the Global Champions Tour legs at Valkenswaard and Lausanne, so 2013 was a great year for us!” Schwizer said.
Second-placed Clee was also more than happy with his result. The 36-year-old Yorkshireman moved to Belgium ten years ago where he met his Dutch wife. “I worked in the South of England for a while and rode at national Grand Prix level there, but I came to Belgium ten years ago to try to make my way in the sport because it wasn’t easy to get the chances at home,” Clee explained. “It’s not easy in Europe either but I’m very fortunate to have the support of Ludwig and Jasmin Criel now for the last six years.”
Talking about his horse he said, “we saw Diablesse when she was just coming five and bought her – she’s now 11. We have quite a nice string of horses that we have produced ourselves, and I’m really ambitious for Diablesse so we will keep going and see where we can get with her. I’m really lucky with my owners because they are in it for the sport – it’s their hobby and their passion.”
The result moves winning rider, Schwizer, up to eighth place on the Western European League from which the top-18 will qualify for the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final at Lyon, France in April. Clee now lies 14th, but with 28 points still has a lot more to do if he is to hold his position because, over the last two legs at Bordeaux, France in two weeks’ time and in Gothenburg, Sweden two weeks later there will be many more top riders also chasing down those elusive qualifying points.
The next leg takes place at Bordeaux, France on Sunday, February 9.
Result: 1. Toulago (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/0 34.65; 2, Diablesse de Muze (Joe Clee) Great Britain 0/0 34.79; 3, Aragon Z (Christian Ahlmann) GER 0/0 35.46; 4, Pour le Poussage (Oliver Lazarus) RSA 0/4 34.47; 5, Pablo de Virton (Jane Richard Philips) SUI 0/4 35.34; 6, Estoy Aqui de Muze HDC (K Staut) FRA 0/4 35.87; 7, Castlefield Eclipse (Paul Estermann) SUI 0/4 38.38; 8, Lacrimoso 3 HDC (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 0/8 33.17; 9, Plot Blue (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/8 35.55; 10, VDL Zapatero (Jessica Kuerten) IRL 1/63.20; 10, Leonie W (Lars Nieberg) GER 1/63.20; 12, Tinka’s Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 1/63.57.
Western European League Standings after Round 7:
1. Patrice Delaveau FRA – 52
2. Scott Brash GBR – 52
3. Steve Guerdat SUI – 51
4. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS – 50
5. Kevin Staut FRA – 48
6. Marcus Ehning GER – 44
7. Maikel van der Vleuten NED – 40
8. Pius Schwizer SUI – 39
9. Lars Nieberg GER – 39
10. Tim Gredley GBR – 36
11. Christian Ahlmann GER – 35
12. Francois Mathy Jr BEL – 34
13. Luciana Diniz POR – 32
14. Joe Clee GBR – 28
15. Roger Yves Bost FRA – 28
16. Simon Delestre FRA – 28
17. Daniel Deusser GER – 27
18. Billy Twomey IRL – 27
19. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER – 26
20. Harrie Smolders NED – 23
21. Paul Estermann SUI – 23