Germany’s Marcus Ehning cruised to victory with Cornado NRW in the penultimate qualifying round of the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping 2014 Western European League series at the Parc des Expositions de Bordeaux in France.
Ehning’s horse, an 11-year-old son of his former super-star ride, Cornet Obolensky, was making his debut at this level of the sport but showed his extraordinary class when galloping home to snatch victory from the European Championship winning partnership of Roger Yves Bost and the brilliant mare Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois from France.
Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer steered his Zurich winner, Toulago, into third in the 13-horse jump-off while Ireland’s Billy Twomey and the veteran Tinka’s Serenade finished fourth ahead of Great Britain’s Michael Whitaker in fifth with Elle van de Kolmen.
Many riders were desperately chasing those elusive qualifying points for the Final, and for fourth-placed Twomey and Britain’s Joe Clee who lined up sixth with Diablesse de Muze it was relief at last as they have now clearly made the cut. But there are many more top riders still outside the top-18 qualification zone going into the last leg at Gothenburg, Sweden in three weeks’ time.
With a quality field of 37 that included 12 of the top 20 riders on the current Longines Rankings, course designer Uliano Vezzani was always going to face a challenge in weeding out the best from the rest. And for many, disappointment came in the shape of just a single first-round error over a track that had all the hallmarks of the Italian maestro.
It was neither complicated nor trappy, but many fences were at maximum height and each line needed to be accurately ridden to achieve the ultimate goal of a clear round. There were no major bogey fences, with poles falling all around the course.
The only major drama of the first round was the retirement of Steve Guerdat and Nasa when things went awry at the double at nine.
In the jump-off, British rider Clee, who finished second in Zurich two weeks ago, set the first target when clear in 38.20 but, two horses later, Ireland’s Billy Twomey shaved more than two seconds off that to take the lead with a superb run from the veteran 17-year-old mare Tinka’s Serenade. French supporters were hoping Patrice Delaveau, winner of the qualifiers at both Helsinki (FIN) and Leipzig (GER) this season, could deliver once again, but Carinjo HDC dropped a pole at the double of verticals three fences from home where Portugal’s Luciana Diniz and the fabulous Fit for Fun also faulted.
Pius Schwizer made no mistake as he steered his Zurich winner, the nine-year-old Toulago, to snatch the advantage with a brilliant round in 35.83 seconds and that really put it up to the remaining combinations. Ukraine’s Katharina Offel and Lacontino hit the penultimate vertical, and although Britain’s Michael Whitaker and Elle van de Kolmen were clean and clear their time of 37.37 wasn’t a threat to the leading pack.
But the round produced by the duo who claimed the individual title at the ECCO FEI European Championships in Herning, Denmark last summer certainly was. Roger Yves Bost set off at a cracking pace with his brave and brilliant mare and the French crowd jumped to their feet with delight when Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois galloped through the finish to re-set the target in 35.66 seconds. And when Ludger Beerbaum’s Chiara caught the back bar of the oxer halfway around the track then there were only two between the Frenchman and those coveted maximum points.
Marcus Ehning can never be discounted, and the three-time FEI World Cup Jumping champion set off on a mesmerising tour of the track with Cornado NRW, picking up fractions of seconds at every turn despite his hugely extravagant jump to break the beam in 35.45 seconds – just 0.21 seconds quicker than Bost. So when Ireland’s Cameron Hanley and Antello Z posted a clear in 39.39 it was done and dusted. Ehning was delighted with the result.
“This was my first World Cup qualifier with this horse and I’m really happy, not just with the win but with how much the horse is improving,” said the 39-year-old rider who is fourth on the Longines Rankings. “Over the last few months we have competed in three Grand Prix classes and finished third, second and first – he’s getting better and better all the time.”
Ehning has qualified three horses for the final, but said after his win that his first choice is Cornado.
Meanwhile Roger Yves Bost was stoic about finishing in runner-up spot. “Even though Marcus beat me I am happy because we did not go at full speed. My objective today was to qualify for Lyon and we have done that so I am extremely pleased! The plan is to take Myrtille to Lyon and also to the World Equestrian Games. Nippon is also qualified for Lyon, but it is more likely that I will take Myrtille,” he explained.
Ehning has now overtaken Patrice Delaveau at the top of the Western European Leaderboard while Schwizer lies third ahead of Britain’s Scott Brash in fourth and Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat in fifth. The battle between those further down the line who are still in contention for a top-18 finishing spot in order to qualify for the Final will be at fever pitch when the action resumes at the last qualifying leg in Gothenburg on March 2.
Result: 1, Cornado NRW (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 35.45; 2, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois (Roger Yves Bost) FRA 0/0 35.66; 3, Toulago (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/0 35.83; 4, Tinka’s Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 0/0 36.08; 5, Elle van de Kolmen (Michael Whitaker) GBR 0/0 37.93; 6, Diablesse de Muze (Joe Clee) GBR 0/0 38.20; 7, Antello Z (Cameron Hanley) IRL 0/0 39.39; 8, Carinjo HDC (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 0/4 35.43; 9, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) GER 0/36.05; 10, Lacontino (Katharina Offel) UKR 0/4 37.37; 11, Fit for Fun (Luciana Diniz) POR 0/4 38.25; 12, Cristallo ALM (Julien Epaillard) FRA 0/4 40.31; 13, Cash (Marco Kutscher) GER 0/8 38.62.
Western European League Standings after Round 9:
1. Marcus Ehning GER – 64
2. Patrice Delaveau FRA – 61
3. Pius Schwizer SUI – 54
4. Scott Brash GBR – 52
5. Steve Guerdat SUI – 51
6. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS – 50
7. Kevin Staut FRA – 48
8. Roger Yves Bost FRA – 45
9. Maikel van der Vleuten NED – 40
10. Billy Twomey IRL – 40
11. Joe Clee GBR – 39
12. Lars Nieberg GER – 39
13. Luciana Diniz POR – 38
14. Tim Gredley GBR – 36
15. Christian Ahlmann GER – 35
16. Francois Mathy Jr BEL – 34
17. Michael Whitaker GBR – 32
18. Simon Delestre FRA – 28
19. Daniel Deusser GER – 27
20. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER – 26