Edited Press Release
Julien Epaillard was a happy man after winning the fourth leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2021/2022 Western European League in Madrid, Spain. The 44-year-old French rider was one of just six to make it through to the second-round jump-off in which his exciting chestnut gelding, Billabong du Roumois, returned the quickest clear to grab those precious maximum points towards qualification for the 2022 Longines Final in Leipzig, Germany next April.
He admitted that his winning round didn’t quite go to plan. “I knew there were a lot of fast riders coming after me and it wasn’t the most beautiful jump-off I ever rode in my life, but it was big pressure and I also had a little bit of luck!” Epaillard said after pinning Germany’s David Will and C Vier into runner-up spot and Ireland’s Denis Lynch and GC Chopin’s Bushi into third.
It was the perfect end to an amazing week for the Frenchman, who won all three of the big classes at the Spanish fixture. On that form he was always going to be tough to beat.
Spanish course designer Javier Trenor presented a busy 13-fence first-round track with a tight time-allowed of 69 seconds, and it proved to be a significant challenge to the 68-strong starting field.
The triple combination at fence five with its short distance to the oxer final element was highly influential, but for Swiss stars Steve Guerdat (Venard de Cerisy) and Martin Fuchs (The Sinner) it was the end of the course that caught them out, Guerdat’s gelding clipping the penultimate oxer and Fuchs’ horse lowering the previous one to deny them a spot in the second-round decider.
A total of 13 horse-and-rider combinations collected four first-round faults, while with just a single time penalty each Spain’s Manuel Fernandez Saro (Jarlin de Torres) and rising young British star Jack Whitaker (Haya Loma N) slotted into seventh and eighth places respectively and collected some valuable qualifying points.
Led the way
Sweden’s Douglas Lindelow produced the first clear of the competition with Casquo Blue and led the way against the clock with a fence down in 43.34 seconds, but Epaillard always looked like he was going to be a lot quicker as he set off, next to go with the 10-year-old Billabong. This pair’s partnership is at an early stage however, and Billabong first rattled the oxer at fence two before lifting the front pole off the second element of the former triple combination, only for it to drop right back into the cups for no penalty, so when they raced through the finish in 41.24 seconds they went well out in front.
And, try as they would, they couldn’t be caught despite a sensational effort from three-time World Cup champion Marcus Ehning from Germany who posted the quickest round of the lot. Ireland’s Lynch had raced through the finish in 42.87 seconds before Ehning set off with his exciting young stallion Stargold whose enthusiasm for his job proved his undoing. Throwing a playful buck on landing after the third-last fence, he couldn’t make the perfect turn to the penultimate vertical which hit the floor for four faults in the super-fast time of 40.62 seconds.
Austria’s Max Kuhner and the nine-year-old Eic Coriolis de Isles also hit the same fence, stopping the clock in 45.25 seconds, and although last man in, Germany’s David Will, gave it a good shot with C Vier their time of 42.71 seconds was more than a second off Epaillard’s target, leaving the Frenchman with a crisp, clear victory.
Epaillard has only been riding Billabong since mid-summer this year, the Selle Francais competing under the saddle of the son of the horse’s breeder until then. The new partnership has really gelled over the last few months.
“He’s a super horse,” Epaillard said. “He won the CSI3* Grand Prix in Gorla Minore (ITA) and the CSI4* Grand Prix in Saint-Lô (FRA) last month, and now a five-star here today – he’s super competitive!”
His latest win was extra special because of his connection with Madrid. The French horseman, who also has a longtime base in Normandy, France, considers the Spanish city his second home. “I live between Madrid and Normandy, because my son goes to school in Madrid, and my wife is Spanish and lives here, so I split my time between the two places,” he explained.
Runner-up David Will was happy with his result. “As last to go in the jump-off, I wanted to try it all, but it is really difficult to beat Julien and this our first indoor show with C Vier,” he pointed out. He’ll be heading for the qualifier in Basel, Switzerland in January, while Lynch plans to go to the next leg in La Coruna, Spain in two weeks time. “I’ll also go London (in December). I take every show as it goes, but the goal is definitely Leipzig, and now that I have picked up some points early, it takes the pressure off a bit,” the Irishman added.
Epaillard has La Coruna and the late-December qualifier in Mechelen, Belgium in his sights, and with 23 points, he is lying sixth on the Western European League leaderboard. A third-place result has boosted Lynch to pole position, and with 37 points already accumulated he looks well set to make the cut to the Final.
First-leg winner, Kevin Jochems from The Netherlands, lies second and Sweden’s Jens Fredricson is currently in third ahead of Austria’s Kuhner in fourth and Germany’s Christian Kukuk in fifth place. But there’s still a long road to the Leipzig finale, with another seven qualifiers and a lot more excitement to come before the final line-up is decided.