This story has been updated with quotes from U.S. riders McLain Ward and Hunter Holloway.
Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs won the opening competition at the Longines FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final in Leipzig, Germany, today with a superb speed round aboard Chaplin.
Second-last to go in the field of 35 chasing down the title they all want to win, the 29-year-old rider—who was individual European champion in 2019, second at the last Longines Final in Gothenburg (Sweden) that same year, and who claimed team gold and individual silver at the FEI Jumping European Championships in 2021—scorched home to bump Austria’s Max Kühner to second and U.S.-based Irishman Conor Swail to third.
Kühner, going 24th in the order, took the lead with Elektric Blue P by stopping the clock on 66.19 seconds, and Swail produced a great round with the aptly-named Count Me In to slot in behind him in 67.06 seconds.
But Fuchs pushed them both down the line with a daring ride that saw him home in 65.11 seconds and gave him the advantage going into tomorrow’s second Final competition.
Frank Rothenberger’s 13-fence track was not over-big for this opening speed leg but there was plenty to catch them out according to the winning rider. “It was definitely tricky, not the biggest course we’ve ridden in the past few weeks or months but it was very nicely built with some difficulties at the end with the combination out of the corner and the last line with a very short three strides to a high plank and an option of five or six strides to the last oxer,” Fuchs explained.
“It was a great ride; Chaplin jumped fantastic, and the risk paid off,” the Swiss rider said of the 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (Verdi TN—Jaltha B, Concorde) owned by Luigi Baleri.
The many twists and turns had to be ridden accurately for a good result, and the double at fence 9 coming off a right-hand bend claimed a number of victims, while the last line consisting of a big triple bar followed by three short strides to a tall plank and the choice of strides to the final oxer proved the undoing of many.
However it was a slip on the turn to the oxer at fence 6 that saw Fuchs’ compatriot and defending Longines FEI Jumping World Cup champion, Steve Guerdat, lose his distance a little. When that fence fell and Guerdat’s mount Victorio Des Frotards also hit the final two, he added 9 seconds to his time to finish well down the line in 25th place. (Under the class’s Table C scoring, each rail adds 3 seconds to a rider’s time. See our “What You Need To Know: 2022 FEI World Cup Finals” article for an explanation of the scoring.)
Just eight horse-and-rider combinations posted clear rounds and Germany’s David Will, whose start was delayed when C Vier lost a shoe in the warm-up, produced one of these to slot in behind Swail in fourth place in a time of 67.48. But as Fuchs pointed out at the post-competition press conference, the quickest round of the day came from America’s McLain Ward and Contagious.
Always so competitive, the 2017 FEI World Cup champion broke the beam in 64.94 seconds with his Tokyo Olympic Games partner Contagious. but a tiny miscommunication coming into the oxer at fence 7 saw that fall, so with 3 to add their time of 67.94 left them in fifth place.
Ward commented that the rail was his, but his horse jumped a fantastic round with two more days of competition to come.
“I thought Contagious performed brilliantly,” he said. “He was right there for me, and I got a better jump into the line than I had expected and tried to be a little careful not to get to the next fence too early and added a stride, which was a foolish mistake, but we’re still in the mix and I’m really happy with his performance.
“It’s a challenge and it’s a championship, so you have to perform,” he continued. “The courses are going to get bigger and harder, and I hope that we can stay close with that mistake and continue to perform well.”
Fuchs commented that he knew Ward’s would be the time to beat: “McLain was faster than I was today but he had a rail down and my plan was to be a bit quicker than him in case I had a rail down so I’d still be placed in the top five. So looking now at the result I was 0.2 seconds slower than the plan!”
This is a first World Cup Final for both Will and Swail. The Irishman said today that he has qualified for the Final a few times “but never felt I had the horse to do it to be honest.” However with Count Me in he looks to be in with a real chance.
“He is extremely careful and he’s got a big heart so we had a good start today, he jumped beautifully and it went very well for me. I have [had] the horse since May last year. He has so much quality, he’s really careful, he doesn’t make many mistakes and it makes it easier for the rider when you know they are not going to make many faults. He has a great temperament, he’s careful, fast, he’s such a great horse and we have a great relationship together,” Swail said.
In her first senior championship, Hunter Holloway finished in the money in eighth place aboard Hays Investment Corp.’s Pepita Con Spita, with a time of 65.65 seconds and one rail for a final score of 68.65 seconds.
Holloway will look to stay within striking distance of the top 10 for the remainder of the competition and feels the atmosphere and arena suit the style of Pepita Con Spita.
“I’m really proud of my horse,” she said. “We had a little mistake at the triple bar, but I thought the course suited her very well and I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend. She felt great and there’s a lot left in the tank, so I’m pleased with where we’re sitting since our aim was to be inside of the top ten after the first day.”
Here are the other U.S. riders’ placings:
22nd: Bull Run’s Prince Of Peace/Kristen Vanderveen, 74.68 seconds (65.68 seconds, three rails)
23rd: Elusive/Aaron Vale, 74.79 seconds (68.79 seconds, two rails)
26th: Robin De Ponthual/Schuyler Riley, 75.54 seconds (69.54 seconds, two rails)
28th: Berlinda/Alessandra Volpi, 78.56 seconds (69.56 seconds, three rails)
29th: Mylord Cornet/Misti Cassar, 82.52 seconds (76.52 seconds, two rails)
30th: Brego R’N B/Katherine Dinan, 83.12 seconds (74.12 seconds, three rails)
Margie Engle, who was expected to ride Dicas in what would have been her 18th FEI World Cup Jumping Finals, withdrew before the competition began “due to non-COVID related health concerns,” the U.S. Equestrian Federation announced Wednesday.
So what about tomorrow’s jump-off class? Fuchs said, “it’s another round and it’s going to be a very big one, I’m going to swap my horses so I’ll be riding The Sinner. Since Chaplin is a bit older I didn’t want to do the whole Championship just on him and I’ll give it my best. The Sinner has been in good shape over the past few weeks and on Sunday I’ll ride Chaplin again for the final.”
Tomorrow’s competition begins at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. EDT).
Click here for complete results from Thursday’s class.
Competition continues today with the FEI Dressage World Cup Final Short Grand Prix, which was delayed by one hour to begin at 7 p.m. local time, 1 p.m. Eastern time.