Photo Caption: Marcus Ehning receives his prize of a Longines watch from Alain Henry, Longines France after the German rider won the penultimate qualifying leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League at Bordeaux, France tonight with Cornado NRW. Photo: FEI/Fred Chehu. Story by Louis Parkes.
Germany's Marcus Ehning cruised to victory with Cornado NRW tonight in the penultimate qualifying round of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2014 Western European League series at the Parc des Expositions de Bordeaux in France. Ehning's horse, an 11-year-old son of his former super-star ride, Cornet Obolensky, was making his debut at this level of the sport but showed his extraordinary class when galloping home to snatch victory from the European Championship winning partnership of Roger Yves Bost and the brilliant mare Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois from France.
Switzerland's Pius Schwizer steered his Zurich winner, Toulago, into third in the 13-horse jump-off while Ireland's Billy Twomey and the veteran Tinka's Serenade finished fourth ahead of Great Britain's Michael Whitaker in fifth with Elle van de Kolmen.
Many riders were desperately chasing those elusive qualifying points for the Final tonight, and for fourth-placed Twomey and Britain's Joe Clee who lined up sixth with Diablesse de Muze it was relief at last as they have now clearly made the cut. However there are many more top riders still outside the top-18 qualification zone going into the last leg at Gothenburg, Sweden in three weeks' time where the pressure will be at boiling point.
With a quality field of 37 that included 12 of the top 20 riders on the current Longines Rankings, course designer Uliano Vezzani was always going to face a challenge in weeding out the best from the rest tonight. And for many, disappointment came in the shape of just a single first-round error over a track that had all the hallmarks of the Italian maestro.
It was neither complicated nor trappy, but many fences were at maximum height and each line needed to be accurately ridden to achieve the ultimate goal of a clear round. There were no major bogey fences, with poles falling all around the course which started over a vertical and moved on a bending line to an oxer at fence two and a water-tray vertical at three before a turn-back to the vertical at four which invited riders to jump at an angle in order to get a quicker line to the oxer at five. The two-stride opening distance in the triple combination was not over-generous so the following verticals quite often hit the floor before riders kicked on to the oxer at fence seven and the water-tray oxer at eight which was followed by a double - vertical to oxer - at nine. A long left-handed sweep led to the oxer at fence ten and the vertical at 11 before riders turned down the long side of the arena one last time to be faced by tall, thin red planks and then the final oxer.
The only major drama of the first round was the retirement of Steve Guerdat and Nasa when things went awry at the double at nine.
Door wide open
Pathfinders against the clock were Germany's Marco Kutscher and Cash who left the door wide open with two fences down. The new track was all about turn-backs as it snaked its way through three looping lines across the ring. The turn from the oxer at fence two to the water-tray oxer at eight was pivotal to success, but Kutscher's first mistake came at the following oxer after which riders had to circle right-handed back to the second two elements of the former triple combination which had now both been raised. Then it was a left-handed circle to the vertical at fence four before the long gallop to the final oxer..
British rider Clee, who finished second in Zurich two weeks ago, set the first target when clear in 38.20 but, two horses later, Ireland's Billy Twomey shaved more than two seconds off that to take the lead with a superb run from the veteran 17-year-old mare Tinka's Serenade. The French supporters were hoping Patrice Delaveau, winner of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifiers at both Helsinki (FIN) and Leipzig (GER) this season, could deliver once again, but Carinjo HDC dropped a pole at the double of verticals three fences from home where Portugal's Luciana Diniz and the fabulous Fit for Fun also faulted.
Pius Schwizer made no mistake however as he steered his Zurich winner, the nine-year-old Toulago, to snatch the advantage with a brilliant round in 35.83 seconds and that really put it up to the remaining combinations. Ukraine's Katharina Offel and Lacontino hit the penultimate vertical, and although Britain's Michael Whitaker and Elle van de Kolmen were clean and clear their time of 37.37 wasn't a threat to the leading pack.
But the round produced by the duo who claimed the individual title at the ECCO FEI European Championships in Herning, Denmark last summer certainly was. Roger Yves Bost set off at a cracking pace with his brave and brilliant mare and the French crowd jumped to their feet with delight when Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois galloped through the finish to re-set the target in 35.66 seconds. It seemed now that it must be all over, and when Ludger Beerbaum's Chiara caught the back bar of the oxer halfway around the track then there were only two between the Frenchman and those coveted maximum points.
Marcus Ehning can never be discounted however, and the three-time FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion set off on a mesmerising tour of the track with Cornado NRW picking up fractions of seconds at every turn despite his hugely extravagant jump to break the beam in 35.45 seconds - just 0.21 seconds quicker than Bost. So when Ireland's Cameron Hanley and Antello Z posted a clear in 39.39 it was done and dusted. Ehning was delighted with the result.
First World Cup
"This was my first World Cup qualifier with this horse and I'm really happy, not just with the win but with how much the horse is improving" said the 39-year-old rider who currently lies fourth on the Longines Rankings. "Over the last few months we have competed in three Grand Prix classes and finished third, second and first - he's getting better and better all the time" he added.
He couldn't disguise his excitement at the potential of Cornado NRW after the big grey won a class in Verona, Italy last November when he described the stallion as "a special one". He said then "we have been together now for two years, and he has more power, more quality and more gallop to show - it is important to take time to develop a horse like this. He's definitely one for the future". After his success tonight, it seems the future has already arrived.
Asked tonight if he thought Cornado would be his horse for the forthcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy, Ehning replied "I don't know yet, I'm just happy with how things are right now" but he has decided to take him to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Lyon in April. "I have three horses qualified for the Final but my first choice is Cornado" Ehning pointed out.
Meanwhile Roger Yves Bost was stoic about finishing in runner-up spot. "Even though Marcus beat me I am happy because we did not go at full speed. My objective today was to qualify for Lyon and we have done that so I am extremely pleased! The plan is to take Myrtille to Lyon and also to the World Equestrian Games. Nippon is also qualified for Lyon, but it is more likely that I will take Myrtille" he explained.
Ehning has now overtaken Patrice Delaveau at the top of the Western European Leaderboard while Schwizer lies third ahead of Britain's Scott Brash in fourth and Switzerland's Steve Guerdat in fifth. The battle between those further down the line who are still in contention for a top-18 finishing spot in order to qualify for the Final will be at fever pitch when the action resumes at the last qualifying leg in Gothenburg on 2 March.
Result: 1, Cornado NRW (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 35.45; 2, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois (Roger Yves Bost) FRA 0/0 35.66; 3, Toulago (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/0 35.83; 4, Tinka's Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 0/0 36.08; 5, Elle van de Kolmen (Michael Whitaker) GBR 0/0 37.93; 6, Diablesse de Muze (Joe Clee) GBR 0/0 38.20; 7, Antello Z (Cameron Hanley) IRL 0/0 39.39; 8, Carinjo HDC (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 0/4 35.43; 9, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) GER 0/36.05; 10, Lacontino (Katharina Offel) UKR 0/4 37.37; 11, Fit for Fun (Luciana Diniz) POR 0/4 38.25; 12, Cristallo ALM (Julien Epaillard) FRA 0/4 40.31; 13, Cash (Marco Kutscher) GER 0/8 38.62.
Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League - Standings after Round 9 at Bordeaux (FRA):
1. Marcus Ehning GER - 64
2. Patrice Delaveau FRA - 61
3. Pius Schwizer SUI - 54
4. Scott Brash GBR - 52
5. Steve Guerdat SUI - 51
6. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS - 50
7. Kevin Staut FRA - 48
8. Roger Yves Bost FRA - 45
9. Maikel van der Vleuten NED - 40
10. Billy Twomey IRL - 40
11. Joe Clee GBR - 39
12. Lars Nieberg GER - 39
13. Luciana Diniz POR - 38
14. Tim Gredley GBR - 36
15. Christian Ahlmann GER - 35
16. Francois Mathy Jr BEL - 34
17. Michael Whitaker GBR - 32
18. Simon Delestre FRA - 28
19. Daniel Deusser GER - 27
20. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER - 26
Facts and Figures:
Bordeaux, France presented the penultimate qualifying leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2014 Western European League tonight.
37 starters from 15 countries, including 9 horse-and-rider combinations from the host nation of France.
Course designer was Italy's Uliano Vezzani.
13 went into the jump-off against the clock.
A total of 12 riders picked up just four faults in the first round.
Winning rider was Germany's Marcus Ehning with the 11-year-old grey stallion Cornado NRW, by Cornet Obolensky.
Tonight's victory has promoted the German rider to the top of the Western European League leaderboard.
Runner-up was the reigning FEI European Championship winning partnership of Roger Yves Bost from France and the mare Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois.
12 of the top 20 riders in the current Longines Rankings competed in tonight's qualifying leg.
The last qualifier in the Western European League series will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden on 2 March.
Marcus Ehning GER, when asked if he could compare Cornado NRW to his sire Cornet Obolensky - "they are both exceptional horses but they are very different".
Marcus Ehning GER - "Cornado is getting faster and faster in his turns and that's my kind of horse, I'm not normally fast in straight lines but I am quick on the turns".
Marcus Ehning GER, when asked about a foal he won at Bordeaux a few years ago - "he is now five years old and is jumping in Young Horse classes with Maria Gretzer in Sweden".
Marcus Ehning GER, during the press conference - "I would like to point out that we were not being disrespectful to the French public when we didn't take off our hats during the prizegiving ceremony - we were just obeying the new rules".
Pius Schwizer SUI when asked to explain his recent success with his young horse Toulago - "this is a nine year old horse and I am a good rider who has been doing the job of producing good young horses for 20 years now. That is my job!"