Edited Press Release
On the final day of competition for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final Omaha 2023, on Saturday, April 8, it was world number one Henrik von Eckermann of Sweden who reigned supreme with King Edward.
After Round 1 on Wednesday and Round 2 on Thursday, the top 30 combinations advanced to Saturday’s deciding competition, with only 10 penalty points separating the leading 11 athletes. The final test featured two rounds over unique courses of a Table A format. After the first phase, the top 20 riders advanced to contest the second track, and with faults being cumulative, each fallen rail was significant.
“It’s not easy to test these guys, and I try to be as good as them,” stated the mastermind behind the week’s courses, FEI Level 4 Course Designer Bernardo Costa Cabral (POR). “It’s hard to create variation in rhythm, but it’s one of the tools that creates problems to the rider, but not to the horse. I’m going to say something very clichéd but it’s true; not one person can produce these kinds of jumps and tracks – it takes a whole team, and I have a great team behind me. Even if I trip up, they never let me fall down, and I am very happy with the result.”
In the first phase, the athletes were once again challenged to adjust stride length from bold gallops to collected steps ahead of delicate obstacles. An imposing triple bar at fence nine on a short four strides to a tall skinny vertical proved to be a tough test for many, as did the subsequent oxer-vertical-vertical triple combination toward the end of the course. Denis Lynch (IRL), Martin Fuchs (SUI), and Harrie Smolders (NED) managed to produce a clear first effort, putting pressure on the rest of the field. With rails coming from each of the top six combinations, the standings were shaken up once more.
“When I came out today, [King Edward] felt better than all the other days – he was fresh, and he was really jumping good,” shared von Eckermann of the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Edward 28 x Feo). “I jumped very little in the warm-up because he felt amazing. In the first-round tonight, I came in probably a little bit too far off the oxer [in the triple combination], protecting him a little too much from the front bar. I got a far jump in and then he had so much power, so it was difficult to get him back before the B vertical, and he had that one down. I should have gotten a little bit closer to the oxer, and with that rail, I was thinking maybe the chance of winning was gone. Then, with how the class kept on going, the chance to win kept on being there.”
Starting the second phase, less than two rails separated the top six competitors, and as was evident in each previous course, it was still anyone’s game. With the trophy in sight, riders were even more determined.
Sitting in 17th place, France’s Kevin Staut was the first to go fault-free, landing from the final vertical to loud cheers from the Omaha crowd. Then, Denis Lynch (IRL) put the exclamation point on his night with another clear aboard Brooklyn Heights. Andreas Schou (DEN) with Darc de Lux and Yuri Mansur (BRA) with Vitiki followed suit, giving huge praise for their horses as they exited the arena. Next to go, hometown hero Hunter Holloway had to deliver a score of zero with Pepita Con Spita to keep their hunt for the podium alive.
“I knew I really had to fight for that clear second round tonight, every bit of it,” she said of her ride with the 12-year-old Westphalian mare (DSP Con Spirit x Come On) owned by Hays Investment Corp. “That’s what I tried to do the whole way around – fight for that clear round, every second of it, every inch.”
Two rounds later, it was Harrie Smolders (NED) and Monaco N.O.P. who stepped into the spotlight. They ticked the back rail of fence nine, the orange Visit Omaha oxer, for four faults, but their nine-point total put them into the lead.
“Monaco is a truly amazing horse,” expressed Smolders of the 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cassini II x Contender) he owns with Evergate Stables that he’s been partnered with for seven years. “If you see his statistics, the consistency from him is amazing in the last few years. It feels like he’s still getting better and improving even at this age. I think today he probably jumped the best ever. To move up from seventh to second is a great day for me.”
Smolders had to watch with great anticipation as the 2022 World Champions, von Eckermann and King Edward, navigated the course. When all the jumps stayed in the cups, von Eckermann moved into pole position. Finally, last on course Pius Schwizer (SUI) lowered two jumps for eight faults, and with that, the night belonged to von Eckermann.
“I know him very well, and I trust him,” related von Eckermann of the sensational chestnut owned by Georg Kähny of Dufour Stables AG. “His consistency makes the difference between a really good horse and the superstar that he is. He can perform, and he’s just getting better and better. He’s a very small horse, but when he comes in the ring it feels like he’s growing five centimeters more, and that makes the difference. Some horses they come in and they get a bit shy, but with him it’s like starting an engine. When you sit on a horse like that, and you have this feeling that the horse is growing into it, it gives you self-confidence, and it’s an amazing feeling. That’s why he’s so great.
“Sometimes it’s good to sit down and just say we have it fantastic and be thankful for what we have because it’s not going to be forever,” continued von Eckermann. “I just try to enjoy the moment.”
While he wasn’t on top of the podium, Smolders was still proud of his horse’s performance and with their second-place result.
“I would have loved to go in a jump-off because Monaco was feeling amazing,” he reflected. “From his energy level and his focus, this was probably the day that I could compete against King Edward, but I don’t need to be ashamed to be second and have such a champion in front of us.”
Holloway was the leading U.S. athlete all week, making moves up the leaderboard with each round. Their tremendous third-place finish in front of the Midwest crowd on home soil was the storybook ending she was hoping for.
“I think I’ve always had pretty big goals, and this has always been a big goal of mine,” she stated. “To be sitting with riders like this, it’s obviously a great honor. I’m very excited and thrilled to be here. I think my horse performed great all week. My relationship with her has been great, and it’s only getting stronger and building. I feel like we’re just getting started, and I’m very excited for the future with her.”
The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final concluded a week of top equestrian sport at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska, marking the second year the venue has hosted the event. Now, it will be all eyes on Saudi Arabia for the FEI World Cup™ Finals Riyadh 2024.
Original press release from https://jumpmediallc.com/.
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