London, England – Dec. 21
Dutchman Maikel van der Vleuten followed in his father’s footsteps when winning the thrilling Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League qualifier at Olympia in London.
The hugely popular British fixture is always filled with Christmas cheer, and with host nation riders on an all-time high there were great expectations of home-side success. But the spectators still exploded with delight when the 25-year-old from the Netherlands left the rest in his wake with a fabulous last-to-go run from VDL Groep Sapphire B in the 11-horse jump-off to clinch maximum points and move up to third place on the league rankings.
Runner-up was Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jr., with the mare Polinska des Isles from the Team Harmony string of FEI President, Princess Haya, while 23-year-old Daniel Neilson really put his name up in lights as the best of the British contenders in third place with Varo M. Penelope Leprevost steered Nice Stephanie into fourth for France ahead of German veteran, Lars Nieberg, in fifth with Leonie W. And Longines No. 1 rider, Scott Brash, finished sixth ahead of fellow Briton Michael Whitaker in a class that kept the audience on the edges of their seats right to the very end.
Maikel van der Vleuten’s father, Eric, won this same competition at Olympia four years ago riding Tomboy, so, for his son, today’s victory was all the more pleasing. “For me it’s always been a dream to win a World Cup competition and this is my first so I’m very happy for me and my horse. I wasn’t here when my father won in 2009 but I saw it on television and we were so excited!” said the rider, who was a member of the silver-medal-winning Dutch team at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The 36-strong start-list was a star-studded affair, but course designer Bernardo Costa Cabral from Portugal presented a test that demanded unerring attention from the very best of them. It was rapid-fire from beginning to end, with fences coming up in quick succession, and many jumped brilliantly only to kick out the planks four fences from home which proved a bit of a bogey on the day. In the end, 11 horses finished Round 1 clear.
Max Kuhner of Germany led the way against the clock, and his mistake at the penultimate vertical, formerly the first obstacle on the track, would be replicated by many others, including London 2012 team gold medalist Peter Charles from Great Britain with Murka’s Odie de Frevent who was next to go.
Germany’s Lars Nieberg produced the first clear in 38.57 seconds when fourth into the ring with Leonie W and was still out in front when Switzerland’s Beat Mandli and Louis hit the second-last and Austria’s Stefan Eder and Chilli van Dijk NRW collected 8 faults.
It was Daniel Neilson who reset the target with a great round from the 11-year-old gelding Varo M. This is a young man who spent much of his teenage years in a boxing ring and always comes out fighting. Setting off at a cracking pace, he broke the beam in 37.19 seconds to go out in front, but his advantage was short-lived as Francois Mathy Jr and Polinska des Isles immediately squeezed him out when .07 seconds faster.
Until now the riders had all chosen to take the longer route around the oxer at Fence 5, which was the second fence on the new track, on the approach to the tricky penultimate vertical. But Britain’s Michael Whitaker and Viking shaved full seconds off the target when jumping the previous vertical at an incredible angle. However, the top pole rolled for 4 faults in 35.29 seconds leaving Mathy still out in front.
All But Unbeatable
Longines No. 1 rider, Britain’s Scott Brash, has been all but unbeatable of late, but as third-last to go, he had to settle for a minor placing this time out when Ursula Xll hit the second-last vertical. And although Penelope Leprevost and her lovely 9-year-old mare Nice Stephanie left the fences intact, the French pair’s chance to overtake the leader was hampered by a slip in front of the vertical three fences from the end of the course. Their time of 37.39 seconds would still be good enough for fourth place in the final analysis however.
Now only van der Vleuten stood between Mathy and those valuable maximum points, and the Dutchman didn’t crumble under pressure. He has a long-established relationship with his 14-year-old grey mare who has her own unique style of jumping, and they looked comfortably confident as they set off together on a really determined run which brought them through the timers in 37.07 seconds—just .05 seconds quicker than the Belgian.
The winning rider punched the air with delight when he registered his result. He described Sapphire B as “a naturally fast horse. You never have to overdo things with her, you never ride on a waiting distance, it’s always forward. She tries every time to jump the fences clear!” he said with a big smile.
Sapphire B was competed by a friend until the horse was 7 years old. “She has always been careful and has a very good mind, just the scope didn’t look that good when she was 6 or 7. Then she came to me and I started slowly in 1.35-meter and 1.40-meter classes and she kept developing the right way. She has developed into a super horse,” van der Vleuten said.
Runner-up Francois Mathy Jr., was delighted with Princess Haya’s 10-year-old mare who has been a consistent performer this year. “She jumped amazing and I’m really happy! We’ve had a super season, going really well all year in Nations Cups and grand prix classes and showing good form in the World Cups. I went to the United States to do some there as well,” explained the man who picked up qualifying points at both the Alltech National Horse Show (Ky.) and the Royal Winter Fair (Toronto, Canada) last month.
London’s result moved him into the seventh spot in the Western European League and he now has the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final at Lyon, France next April in his sights. “I’ve never been to a World Cup Final and my short-term goal is to get to Lyon,” he said today.
Third-placed Neilson was a real crowd-pleaser today and looks like a young man set for major stardom. The son of a potash miner, he played semi-professional football in Scotland and boxed for his county before opting to devote the majority of his time to horses.
“I have a good team of new horses now at my new base and I said at the start of the year that I was hoping to qualify to jump here [at Olympia]. I always made a plan to aim the horse at this class for the week but I try not to have too many expectations. I had a good feeling when I walked the course—fingers crossed and hoped for the best and he jumped super!” Neilson said.
Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League Standings After Round 5 at Olympia, London (GBR):
1. Scott Brash GBR – 52
2. Steve Guerdat SUI – 51
3. Maikel van der Vleuten NED – 40
4. Tim Gredley GBR – 36
5. Marcus Ehning GER – 36
6. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS – 35
7. Francois Mathy Jr BEL – 34
8. Luciana Diniz POR – 32
9. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER – 26
10. Patrice Delaveau FRA – 23
11. Simon Delestre FRA – 22
12. Harrie Smolders NED – 21
13. Christian Ahlmann GER – 20
14. Michael Whitaker GBR – 20
15. Pius Schwizer SUI – 19
16. Athina Onassis de Miranda BRA- 19
17. Nicola Philippaerts BEL – 18
18. Kevin Staut FRA – 17
19. Daniel Neilson GBR – 15
19. Luca Moneta ITA – 15
19. Ludger Beerbaum GER – 15
19. Shane Breen IRL – 15