Photo Caption: On the podium at the FEI World Jumping Challenge Final 2014 in Kyalami (RSA) left to right: silver medallist Maria Gabriela Brugal (DOM), Alexa Stais (RSA) who finished fourth, Rainer Korber (RSA) who took bronze and gold medallist Charley Crockart (ZIM). (FEI/Tamara Blake Images).
Zimbabwe's Crockart pips Dominican Republic's Brugal in thrilling Final
By Louise Parkes
Zimbabwe's Charley Crockart emerged to claim gold at the FEI World Jumping Challenge Final 2014 staged at Kyalami Equestrian Park in South Africa at the weekend. This event is always guaranteed to come to an exciting conclusion with its four-rider change-horse final deciding the medals in exactly the same way as at the senior world championships. And once again this time around the closing stages certainly didn't disappoint, with all four finalists going into a jump-off against the clock on the last afternoon when Maria Gabriela Brugal from the Dominican Republic filled silver medal position and the host nation's Rainer Korber took the bronze.
Kyalami Equestrian Park is South Africa's premier equestrian venue and is located close to Johannesburg. Covering 21 hectares, it embraces 10 competition arenas for use by all disciplines, with the Bob Charter Arena being the showcase ring for major events including the world-famous South African Derby. The competition areas boast top-quality grass and fibre surfaces, and with grandstand seating the location is ideal for top-level equestrian meetings.
The purpose of this competition is to provide international competitive opportunities for less experienced riders living in comparatively remote countries, and the qualifying series takes place over 10 geographical zones. This year a total of 18 riders representing 11 nations - Dominican Republic, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Paraguay, Qatar, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe - came together for the week-long tournament that began with a draw for horses followed by training sessions and a warm-up competition.
Included in the start-list were five riders who participated in this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China - Malaysia's Praveen Nair, Qatar's Hamad Nasser Al Qadi, Morocco's Lilia Maamar, South Africa's Alexa Stais and Dominican Republic's Maria Gabriela Brugal.
Courses were designed by South Africa's Anne-Marie Hesslinger who placed her name in the history books when becoming the first-ever female course designer to officiate at an FEI World Jumping Challenge Final. And it was Venezuela's Daniel Ettedgui who came out on top in the opening training class in which he pipped eventual silver medallist Brugal, while Crockart finished third ahead of South Africa's Alexa Stais in fourth. Stais stalked the leading group from the outset, and only narrowly missed out on a podium placing on the final day.
The Ground Jury for the event included President and FEI Foreign Judge, Germany's Joachim Geilfus, Technical Delegate Rakhshan Radpour from Iran and Switzerland's Pierre-Alain Glatt who was FEI Veterinary Delegate.
The real business got underway when Crockart, partnering Franlaren Stud's Etoile du Soir, topped last Tuesday's first qualifier in which the 28-year-old Zimbabwean pipped the host nation's Rainer Korber riding Schwaike Bogena by almost a half-second while Dominican Republic's Brugal lined up third.
It was Korber who came out on top in the second qualifier which came down to a six-way jump-off against the clock the following day. And it was a great day for the home side when the 33-year-old rider stamped his authority all over the final scoresheet when going clear in 31.51 and fellow-South African Stais was runner-up when almost two seconds slower.
Third spot here went to Qatar's Hamad Nasser Al Qadi riding Seeis Darlington while South Africa's Mariska Hogg steered Truganini into fourth.
A total of 11 riders went through to the Semi-Final on Thursday, including three from the host nation, two from Dominican Republic and one each from Qatar, Morocco, Paraguay, New Zealand and Venezuela. In a four-way jump-off against the clock, Maria Gabriela Brugal reigned supreme when bringing Trubador home in the quickest time of 39.57 followed by Alexa Stais in second, Charley Crockart in third and Rainer Korber in fourth place. These four would then battle it out for the FEI World Jumping Challenge Final medals on Saturday afternoon.
Continued to impress
The last day began with the Farewell competition which was open to all rider/horse combinations not qualified for the top-four Final, and the form riders continued to impress with South Africa's Mariska Hogg finishing first with Truganini ahead of Venezuela's Daniel Ettedgui and I'm Back in runner-up spot and Dominican Republic's Beatric Ieromazzo in third with Schwaike Come on. Qatar's Hamad Nasser Al Qadi (Seeis Darlington) lined up fourth, while Morocco's Nezar Rebbah (Black Hawk) and Lilia Maamar (Schwaike Emi) finished fifth and sixth.
After fantastic performances throughout the week it was clear the four-way final would be a hard-fought affair, and the riders all remained on level pegging when each one of them collected just four faults apiece during the exciting rotation of horses.
Now the title would have to be decided by a jump-off against the clock, so, climbing back onboard the trusty steeds that had taken them so far already, it was South Africa's Korber who was first to go in the timed round, and he really put it up to the rest of them when posting a brilliant clear in 28 seconds with Schwaike Bogena. However Crockart shaved two full seconds off his target when next in with Etoile du Noir and when the second of the South Africans, Stais, left two on the floor with Anneli Drummond-Hay's Mesquite then only Brugal could keep Crockart off the top step of the winner's podium.
The Dominican Republic rider gave it a great shot with Gareth Neil's Trubadour but, breaking the beam in 27 seconds, she had to settle for the silver at the end of a superb week of jumping.
"It was an amazing final!", Crockart said afterwards. "At the beginning I thought my horse would never make it, but he became better and better and gave me everything! I am so thankful and so happy!" she added, grateful to everyone including her Zimbabwean supporters "and my Mom!"
This event is as much about participation as success, and Venezuela's Juan Andres Sauce admitted he had some reservations about abandoning his business commitments in order to take part this year. But even though he didn't end up on the podium, he thoroughly enjoyed himself.
"I was really hesitating to come over from Venezuela to compete in this Final" said the 46-year-old rider" but I finally decided to come and I don't regret it! It was not just about competing, it was about friendship, about meeting amazing, generous people and it was my best Final!" he said happily.
Reflecting on the event, Jacqueline Braissant, FEI Solidarity Director said, "I am thrilled! This Final was of a high standard. Everything went well, we had very well prepared and fit horses thanks to generous owners, good riders' spirit, fantastic facilities and a very experienced and competent Ground Jury. Our hosts were fantastic - this was just magic Africa!" she pointed out
"I think the FEI World Jumping Challenge Final, after having been organised six years in a row in South America, has found a new energy here in Kyalami. To have five young riders that have been competing in the Youth Olympic Games here says a lot about the importance of this series. Everyone agrees that besides the sport, this Final is about the values of respect, fair play, the welfare of the horse and simple solidarity" she concluded.
FEI World Jumping Challenge Final 2014: GOLD - Charley Crockart (ZIM); SILVER - Maria Gabriela Brugal (DOM); BRONZE - Rainer Korber (RSA).