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January 5, 2007

Freund's Farewell Tour Continues With A Win At Stuttgart

Michael Freund's fairytale career at the Stuttgart German Masters continued when he captured his 13th consecutive title in 13 years of showing there, on Nov. 17-19.

It was also Freund's sixth consecutive victory in the driving World Cup-qualifier, which was established there in 2001.

It was a fitting end to Freund's years of showing at the Stuttgart venue. "This is something very special to me. In Stuttgart, I think that is the best advertising and highest recognition for us as drivers--that we can drive in front of a sold-out arena. This happens nowhere else," he said.

"Also after I have finished my active career as driver I will support the Stuttgart organ-izer. It is now time to realize some new ideas in the sport. I guess I have also the right people around me to do so."

After his win, Freund bid farewell from the Stuttgart show, since he's retiring from active competition. He drove an emotional pas de deux with fellow German driver Christoph Sandmann. And then Freund handed the reins of his team over to his 10-year-old son, Marco.

While Freund's win wasn't unexpected, it also didn't come easily. Freund started strong in the warm-up class, which determines the starting order of the World Cup class. He once again gave a perfect demonstration of his unique skills, driving with disregard for any risk. After two rounds, Freund had outclassed second-placed Sandmann by 13 seconds.

But all didn't go as well the next day. Sandmann was the only one of the seven drivers to pass the finish line with a clear first round and went into the lead with 132.87 seconds. Both Freund (135.98) and Hungary's Jozsef Dobrovitz (144.70) had one ball down but qualified for the winning round.

Freund was second to go over the shortened course and took every risk. He completely knocked down one element of the second marathon-style combined hazard, which cost him 5 seconds, but he was able to turn in an impressive time of 116.40 seconds, finishing with a total of 252.38 seconds.

The pressure was now on Sandmann, and he was not able to repeat his perfect first round. Knocking a ball off, he finished the second round in 126.17 seconds, becoming runner-up with an overall time of 259.04 seconds.

Sandmann was still happy with his second place. "I made it difficult for Michael, but I am really glad for him that he has won this competition once again for his farewell," he said.

Freund was pleased, but a bit shocked, at his historic triumph. "I always said, sooner or later someone else has to win here. After the first round and my fault in the second, I thought, 'this time it will happen,' " he said.

"I would have been happy if Christoph would have been the one to succeed me as winner. But, of course, I am happy that I have won again and that no-one else will add his name on the plate with the names of winners."

World Championship team silver medallist Gert Schrijvers started his fourth World Cup season with a fourth place. His 7-year-old Arab-Friesian horses went a little too slow, but the Belgian driver was pleased with their performance.

The Netherlands' Koos de Ronde also started his current World Cup season at Stuttgart and presented a special team of horses. To spare his outdoor team, he used two piebald horses from his father in the wheel, while a gray gelding from his mother and a bay warmblood from his brother formed the leaders.

"It was not the same team as normal and it did not go perfectly, but it was a great feeling to drive in front of a full house," he said. The team needs a little more experience and he announced he would try a different set-up at home.

Hungary's Atilla Bardos and Laszlo Juhasz came in sixth and seventh respectively. They also admitted that their horses did not have any experience in this kind of indoor competition. Juhasz remarked, "I was qualified outdoors with the same horses and I see that the others have changed their horses for this kind of competition and that their horses are faster than mine, but I only have this team."

After the World Cup-qualifying classes at Hannover (Germany) and Stuttgart, Sandmann leads the World Cup standings (14 points) over Freund (12) and Tomas Eriksson of Sweden (10).

On Saturday afternoon, a book on Michael Freund was presented: Michael Freund. Ein Leben f�r den Fahrsport (Michael Freund. A Life For The Driving Sport), which is published in the FN-Verlag, Warendorf, Germany. By Freund's best friend and driving expert Rudolf Temporini and illustrated by photographer Franz Steindl, the book represents Freund's life and career, including his philosophy about living and training.

"It is certainly no textbook for driving, but maybe the reader learns to get to know me better and the way I deal with things," Freund said.

Birgit Popp
 
Horse Sports