Monday, Jun. 3, 2024

Jung Bests The Field At The HSBC FEI World Cup Final

He and his fellow German riders dominate in Strzegom, Poland.

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He and his fellow German riders dominate in Strzegom, Poland.

Rising star Michael Jung may be young, having just turned 27, but he’s been scoring victories left and right this year like it’s old hat. He notched a big win in the Wiesbaden CIC*** (Germany) in early June, and heads turned when he triumphed again at his four-star debut, the Luhmühlen CCI****, later that month.

So it came as a surprise, but not exactly a shock, when he and La Biosthetique-Sam FBW led their third victory gallop in as many months at the HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing Final in Strzegom, Poland, Aug. 21-23. German riders took five of the top eight placings in the CIC***, but none could best Jung.

“I was quite nervous, because I wanted to do the horse justice,” Jung said of his 9-year-old gelding.

Thirty horses from 14 nations journeyed to the Lower Silesia region of Southwestern Poland, near the Czech Republic border, to contest the final, and with many more experienced pairs in the running, Jung wasn’t favored to win.

His dressage mark of 35.6 was impressive, but it was only good enough for fifth place on the first day of competition. That placing didn’t bother Jung, though, who had nabbed his Luhmühlen win after finishing 14th on the flat. The competition in Poland was equally stiff, but doors would soon open in his favor once again.

Riders turned in one stunning dressage test after another in Strzegom’s lush grass arena surrounded by massive shade trees. With butterflies fluttering over the crowd and giant, colorful flowers surrounding the stadium, the setting resembled a Disney movie as much as a horse show. And, looking every bit the classic conquering hero aboard the stunning gray gelding Flint Curtis, British phenom Oliver Townend rode predictably into the initial lead with an enviable mark of 29.6.

Unfortunately, however, his weekend didn’t finish with a fairytale ending.

After a prolonged dry period in Strzegom, Friday evening’s heavy rains left the cross-country track resembling wet asphalt the next morning. The conditions put an early end to Townend’s championship ambitions, as Flint Curtis slipped on the turn to fence 8 and was eliminated for the fall.

The course caused unexpected problems for other top-10 pairs as well. A stop at a narrow brush into The Sunken Road at fence 18 relegated sixth-placed German rider Dirk Schrade and his horse King Artus to the bottom half of the field, while New Zealand’s veteran, Mark Todd, who was previously in seventh with Gandalf, was eliminated. The pair had been having a stellar go until they approached the first of the angled Hong Kong Hedges at fence 20, where the horse shuffled his feet and sent Todd out of the tack.

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By day’s end, six other competitors had joined Townend and Todd on the list of non-completions; an additional two riders—Australian Lucinda Fredericks aboard Headley Britannia and Irish rider Camilla Speirs with Portersize Just A Jiff—had chosen to withdraw on Saturday morning.

“It was an exciting day,” said Lucinda’s husband, Clayton Fredericks, who eventually finished third aboard Ben Along Time. “I had a long wait, and to see so many good riders make mistakes just added to the tension.”

No one beat the optimum time of 7:15, but Jung executed a close shave and incurred a mere .8 faults. His fellow German rider, Frank Ostholt, had the second-fastest round with Air Jordan 2, accumulating 2.4 time penalties.

“I made a stupid mistake with Air Jordan at Luhmühlen,” Ostholt said, referring to a stop on cross-country there. “So I was a little nervous this time, because he’s such a super horse that I wanted to show him at his best. It was a tough course, and you had to go for it.”

Ostholt, who had been second after the dressage, took over the lead on Saturday evening. But after Jung applied the pressure with a flawless and beautiful double-clear round on Sunday, Ostholt made another costly error.

It seemed as though the leader was going to answer Jung’s challenge until Air Jordan 2 lowered one rail at the middle element of the triple combination, in turn lowering himself to second place by a margin of .6 points.

“Of course I’m now wondering what could have been—whether I could have gone faster across country or approached the treble differently—but I have to be happy with second place,” said Ostholt. “Although I’m not really!”

Ostholt and Air Jordan 2 are an experienced pair with a four-star victory, an Olympic team gold medal and several championship experiences to their credit. The 33-year-old rider serves as the head of the German National Equitation Centre at Warendorf and is married to Swedish event rider Sara Algotsson. He and Air Jordan 2, a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding, should be a force to be reckoned with when they join Jung and La Biosthetique-Sam FBW on the German team at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championship at Fontainebleau, France, in September.

This will be the first German team appearance for Jung, who was the 2003 Young Rider European Individual Champion. Their win in Poland certainly cemented the talented young pair’s reputation as more than just a one-hit wonder.

“I came here having won at Luhmühlen and Wiesbaden, so obviously I knew I had a good chance, but so much can go wrong,” Jung admitted on Sunday. “I’m very happy that it all turned out so well!”

Davidson Dealt Out

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Buck Davidson, Riegelsville, Pa., decided to contest the World Cup Final just a week before the event, and although his mount My Boy Bobby didn’t bring home a top placing for the United States, he had no regrets about his 13th-placed finish.

“Bobby,” owned by Carl and Cassandra Segal, tied for eighth in the dressage (39.6) but was among the unlucky on cross-country day. Davidson said the gelding lost at least one shoe at the second fence, and by the finish, two were missing.

“I don’t think I’ve ever ridden in conditions so slippery,” he said. “It was slippery on the straightaways. And I thought, ‘Geez, I really picked the wrong studs.’ But when I finished, I obviously realized what had gone wrong.”

Bobby’s missing right hind and left front shoes undoubtedly contributed to the slip he suffered on the tight left-hand turn to fence 15ABC, a large bounce into water. The gelding managed to make it through the double, but he jumped out too far to the right to make the third obstacle of the combination.

Davidson had walked the hairpin right-handed turn to the skinny C element in five strides, but his unplanned landing spot forced him on to a shorter four-stride line.

“He got there, but I think he was just a little bit too much on the angle, and then he was jumping straight into the crowd, and he just stopped,” he said. “I think he just didn’t understand it, which was too bad, but it certainly wasn’t his fault. I’m bummed that happened, but it does happen every once in awhile. Sometimes you just have bad luck.”

Davidson couldn’t praise the horse enough for every other element of his performance, however. He said Bobby felt even stronger than at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, where they placed third in April.

Despite an uncharacteristically lackluster warm-up in the dressage, the gelding showed his A game in front of the judges, and he handled the remainder of the cross-country questions with aplomb.

“He went amazingly,” Davidson said. “He went better than he went at Kentucky, better than he’s gone all year, the best he’s ever gone for me.”

One rail in show jumping put Davidson and Bobby on a final score of 79.6.

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