In the seventh of 13 stops on the way to the FEI World Cup Final at the end of April, Britain’s Nick Skelton won $28,785 aboard the 11-year-old, Oldenburg stallion Arko III in the $115,479 Wernesgr?rand Prix CSI-W, held Jan. 23 in Leipzig, Germany.
As the second starter in the seven-horse jump-off, Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst of Germany set the mark aboard the Holsteiner mare Candy with a clear round in 37.45 seconds. As the second-to-last starter, his compatriot Lars Nieberg was the first to best this mark aboard the Landadel daughter Lucie (0-0/37.01). But for Nieberg, who had won the Grand Prix of CSI Neustadt/Dosse (Germany) aboard the 9-year-old, Hessen stallion For Keeps (by For Pleasure) just one week earlier, victory was not guaranteed.
Skelton, the final rider, blazed over the seven fences in just 36.74 seconds, almost .30 seconds faster than Nieberg. Local hero Holger Wulschner, of former East Germany, posted the fastest time (35.64 seconds) aboard the 9-year-old, Holsteiner gelding Clausen, but he had one pole down to place fourth.
Ludger Beerbaum, who before Leipzig had only 1 World Cup point, nearly had the victory, but Goldfever knocked the third-to-last jump-off fence down, then landed awkwardly, such that he was falling on his front legs. Beerbaum managed to stay in the saddle, and the stallion got back on his feet and cleared the last fence. With a time of 37.44 seconds, they placed fifth.
The almost 8,000 spectators in the main arena of the Leipzig fair hall celebrated Skelton enthusiastically. With a total of 56,000 spectators over four days, the horse show and the fair PartnerPferd attracted as many spectators as it had for the World Cup Final in 2002.
With his victory, Skelton improved to third place in the World Cup rankings. Before the class, the British rider had asked former World Cup director Max Ammann how many points he would need to be certain of qualifying for the final at Las Vegas in April. Ammann had answered 45; therefore Skelton had needed 21 additional points, and he earned 20 for his victory. Since he can only participate in three of the remaining six qualifiers–Arko will spend five weeks at Gilbert B?ann’s stallion station having his semen collected–Skelton was keen to get the most points possible, and he succeeded. With 44 points, the 48-year-old rider should have his qualification for the Final in his pocket.
For Skelton, Arko has brought the fun of the sport back again. After a life-threatening accident and neck injury in 2001, Skelton had given up his active career. “A horse like Arko you get only very rarely to ride,” said Skelton after his victory. “I am really happy with him, since I am riding only three horses per day. I do not want to say that I am fragile, but I am not as fit as before the accident anymore.”
Skelton, winner of the 1995 World Cup Final, said his chances are good again this year. “Arko is a very consistent horse, and the format with three competition days suits him well,” he said. “I suppose we have all chances at Las Vegas.”
Less lucky was Peter Wylde, who, with just 1 World Cup point prior to Leipzig, urgently needed to win some more. After winning the pre-qualifier on Friday aboard the 12-year-old, Westphalian gelding Pinocchio, his chances looked good. And two thirds of the initial round went very well for the U.S. combination, but at the second element of the double combination, an oxer, Pinocchio took down the front pole with his hind legs. With his four-penalty ride,
Wylde shared eighth place with nine more riders, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly, who had a fault at the last element of the triple combination, the European Champions Christian Ahlmann and Coester and Marco Kutscher and Controe. With 6 World Cup points, Wylde ranks 56th.
Markus Renzel took a surprising victory in the Delitzscher Championat of Leipzig aboard the Polydor son, Peu A Peu. The 32-year-old show jumper, who took away one kilo of gold as a prize, left behind him top riders like the runner-up, 2002 World Cup Champion Otto Becker aboard Grandilot. French rider Hubert Bourdy aboard Eve des Etisses took third.
Victory in the World Cup leg for the four-in-hand drivers went once again to Germany’s title defender, Michael Freund. The crowd favorite won over Switzerland’s Werner Ulrich and Australia’s Boyd Exell. Due to the popularity of this class, the Leipzig organizers decided to schedule it on Sunday, along with the show jumping World Cup competition.