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March 13, 2009

Exell Tops FEI World Cup Driving Final

He becomes the fourth winner, taking the title for Australia.

In the eighth edition of the FEI World Cup Driving Final, victory went for the first time to a driver not from Europe, at least on paper. Australia’s Boyd Exell, based in Great Britain, became just the fourth winner of the final, following Michael Freund, Ijsbrand Chardon and Christoph Sandmann.

With wins at Budapest (Hungary) and Geneva (Switzerland) this season, he confirmed that he would be one of the favorites for the Final, held in Gothenburg, Sweden, Feb. 22. Nevertheless, hoping to win and actually winning are very different, as Exell knows.

“I am surprised and delighted at the same time about my win. Before the Final, I was hoping for a top two or three placing,” he said. “The hardest thing is to win when people expect it. I think I have proven now that I am able to perform under pressure.”

All six drivers qualified for the Final could have won it, and the result depended a great deal on the daily form. Certainly, Hungary’s Jozsef Dobrovitz (sixth) and Germany’s Sandmann (fourth) would have liked to have seen a different outcome.

Defending champion Sandmann entered the final with a disadvantage. After the warm-up class at CAI-W Leipzig (Germany) in January, his left wheeler, 15-year-old Rambo, suddenly died. When the horses were walking after the class, he had appeared unwell, and the veterinarian had not been able to help him. Sandmann, 2006 world team champion and individual bronze medalist, had bought Rambo as a 4-year-old, and he played an important role in Sandmann’s team and successes.

At Gothenburg the German driver had to rearrange his team. Due to an error in the warm-up, in which the starting order for the World Cup class is determined, Sandmann had to start in the World Cup class first. He opened the competition with a pretty fast round but 10 seconds slower than reigning world champion Chardon, who delivered the fastest time in the first round and stayed clear. Sandmann added 5 penalty seconds for a ball down.

Exell, who had also finished the first round clear but 1 second slower than Chardon, drove the second round almost 6 seconds faster than Chardon, winner of the qualifiers in Germany at Hanover and Leipzig, and he had just 1 fault.

“My plan was to go full speed in the second round. I knocked a cone down because we applied the turntable brake whilst we were still in the corner, but I didn’t lose any speed,” he said.

To prepare, Exell said he’d been training lots of figures of eight in the last two weeks. “This made my horses go much faster,” he said. “They have been working hard for me in the past years, and I am happy with the feeling I have with them now.”

With 225.94 seconds he convincingly took victory ahead of Chardon (235.94). The Dutch driver, put under pressure by the fast time of Exell, produced 2 faults and admitted that Exell was simply the best on the day.

“The first round went well, but I knew Exell was in good shape as well,” he said. “After my first knockdown I knew I had to drive even faster. I had to take risks, and that cost me another ball. It was nearly impossible to beat Exell’s time, but I am happy that I tried it anyway. I came here to win, but Boyd was simply better.”

Dutchman Koos de Ronde finished third (250.68) with 1 fault in the first round and 2 faults in the second round. “I knew that if I didn’t risk anything, I would still be third. I took the risk and it came out wrong. I didn’t get hold of a loop in my reins, and I hit a marathon obstacle element. But I am pleased anyway. I have had a very good World Cup season, and I haven’t come so far before in an FEI World Cup Driving Final.”

Fredrik Persson of Sweden started driving a new team of warmbloods in October and believes that the team is getting better with each show. The driver from Flyinge was extremely happy to compete in the Final and finish fifth.

But Dobrovitz was not at all happy. The winner of the legs at Stuttgart (Germany) and Stockholm (Sweden) did not know what went wrong, as he felt that his horses were in good shape. He knocked three balls down and finished in sixth place.

He was the only driver not satisfied with the course designed by Sweden’s Dan Henriksson. Dobrovitz said that the course lacked difficulty, and he had expected a more technical course for the Final. His fellow competitors thought that the course, which included long and speedy lines, was the best of the season. Spectators enjoyed the beautiful flower decorations and easy to follow obstacles. 

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