Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Olympia Agrees With Oki Doki And Zoer

The Dutch pair top a star-studded class in London.

With five previous winners and six of the world’s top 10 in the class the Olympia Grand Prix at the centenary London International Olympia Horse Show, Dec. 17-22 in London, England, was always going to be an exciting class.
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The Dutch pair top a star-studded class in London.

With five previous winners and six of the world’s top 10 in the class the Olympia Grand Prix at the centenary London International Olympia Horse Show, Dec. 17-22 in London, England, was always going to be an exciting class.

And in the nine-horse jump-off, every fraction of a second counted. Albert Zoer, second-last to go, came home the winner by a .07-second margin over the in-form Robert Whitaker, who set a sizzling pace (39.27 seconds) early on aboard Lacroix 9.

Zoer’s horse, the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood Oki Doki (by Jodokus), is currently one of the top horses in the world, with team gold medals in the European and World Championships. On current form he should be the Netherlands’ best hope for an Olympic show jumping medal next year, and to this end Sjef Jansen, partner of Dutch dressage star Anky van Grunsven, has bought Oki Doki to ensure he remains in the Netherlands.

Zoer thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Olympia. “The British crowds are the best in the world,” he said. “They get behind all the riders in every class, and we are all grateful.”

Robert Whitaker, son of John Whitaker and nephew to Michael Whitaker, won his first international class at this show at the tender age of 17. Now 24, he was the youngest competitor in the grand prix but rode with all the experience of his world-famous family.

Going second in the jump-off, he produced a clear round with two tight inside turns for a fast time, putting the pressure on those who followed. Predictably, in chasing Whitaker’s time, most of them knocked at least one pole down.

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 “He’s just jumping out of his skin,” Robert said of Lacroix 9, a 12-year-old, Holsteiner gelding.  “I don’t think I could have gone any quicker. The rideability of this horse is just really good. He helps you to do the turns and be really quick everywhere—a fantastic horse.”

With three wins, three seconds and numerous other placings through the week, Whitaker went on to become the show’s leading rider, and took the H&M Master’s class to round off the show.

Third place in the grand prix, with the only other clear round in the jump-off in a safe, slow time (46.64 seconds), went to Norway’s Tony André Hansen with Camiro. His usual grand prix ride, ET Royal Volo, has been out of action for 18 months with a leg injury, but at Olympia she began to regain form, winning a speed class.

“This is only her fourth show back, but I’m hoping she’ll take some of the pressure off my top ride, Camiro,” said Hansen.

Hansen, who has a second string to his bow as a singer with the Norwegian rock band, Ovatia, was a member of the first Norwegian team to qualify for the Olympics—they finished seventh at the European Championships last year and clinched the last qualifying place for Hong Kong.

Females took their turn to dominate in the Rolex FEI World Cup Qualifier. Four of the seven horses in the jump-off were mares (Castle Forbes Libertina, Butterfly Flip, Fresh Direct Corlato and Suncal Portofino). Swedish star Malin Baryard-Johnsson, on the 16-year-old Butterfly Flip, set the early target with a clear round in 39.09 seconds.

But Irish rider Jessica Kürten has been on a winning streak lately, and she showed true to form when she flew around with Castle Forbes Libertina, leaving out strides in more than one place. She knocked more than half a second off of Baryard-Johnsson’s time.

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Kürten then had to bite her nails as she watched crowd favorite Nick Skelton produce a last-ditch challenge with the Oldenburg stallion, Arko III, his 2004 Olympic and 2006 World Equestrian Games mount.  But the veterans just failed to catch her, finishing second by the slim margin of 0.23 seconds.

Skelton gave the crowd a bit of a thrill, taking the same risk that Kürten and John Whitaker had by leaving out a stride to the last fence.

“But I gave up a bit two strides out and thought I wouldn’t make it. I sat back, braced myself for the crash, and Arko was really good to me to clear it,” he said. “Arko is a better outdoor horse than an indoor horse. He’s very sensitive to the crowd, to the noise, to the tension, to the big occasion and can get wound up.”

Kürten’s winning effort was all the more applaudable considering she was suffering from stomach upset.  “I was relieved to get into the jump-off as I wasn’t feeling well, but then the adrenaline took over and I decided to go for it. I was relieved to jump clear because the mare was getting very strong and I wasn’t feeling very strong myself. She’s not the most bendable horse, but she is extremely fast and I knew I had to take a risk with Nick coming after me.”

Kürten now leads the Rolex FEI World Cup European League rankings, with six rounds done and six more to go before the final in Gothenburg, Sweden, in April.

Grand prix winners Zoer and Oki Doki finished sixth with a rail and a slow time. Michael Whitaker, riding Suncal Portofino, had the worst draw—first to go in the jump-off—and finished seventh after attempting to set a tight time and paying the penalty with two fences down.

Debby Lush

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