On a truly thrilling night of top sport, and in front of a sold-out stadium of screaming spectators, Brazil’s Marlon Zanotelli and the 14-year-old chestnut gelding VDL Edgar M scorched to victory in the penultimate leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2022/2023 Western European League at Bordeaux in France tonight.
A world-class 38-strong line-up of stars always promised a cracking competition, and when almost half of them left course designer Jean Francois Morand’s first-round track in place then it came down to thrilling race against the clock.
And nothing was sure until the very end when Zanotelli pinned young Swiss challenger Édouard Schmitz into runner-up spot with Quno while double world champions, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann and the great King Edward, finished third.
Second of the 17 to go into the deciding round, Germany’s Daniel Deusser and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z made a tight inside turn after the second-last fence to set the early target in 37.25 seconds, while Ireland’s Denis Lynch and Brooklyn Heights were also clear but a little slower when taking the longer route.
Belgium’s Pieter Devos and Mom’s Toupie de la Roque also took the tight inside turn but crossing the line in 38.56 seconds didn’t threaten for the lead before Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson, winners on home ground in London (GBR) in December, then reset the target with a great run that broke the beam in 37.09.
That was immediately dismissed by Schmitz and Quno however. The pair who finished a superb second in Amsterdam (NED) last weekend were super-quick through the first three fences and turbo-charged on the long run down to the following oxer which proved the undoing of many others. There was an intake of breath from the sidelines when, rolling back to the two remaining elements of the triple combination, the 14-year-old gelding rattled them both. But they were still in place as they took that inside turn after the second-last and roared down to the final vertical to go way out in front in 35.72 seconds.
Jur Vrieling’s Long John Silver was never going to be rushed but delivered another lovely clear for the Dutchman in 46.64 seconds. However world champions von Eckermann and King Edward were giving it a good shot when stopping the clock on 36.45 having taken the wider route to the last which put them temporarily in second place.
Penelope Leprevost and Bingo del Tondou then posted a careful clear for France in 44.01 seconds before, third-last into the arena, Britain’s Harry Charles and Balou du Reventon slotted in behind von Eckermann when crossing the line in a sharp 36.78 seconds. And it seemed that Schmitz was untouchable for the win at this stage. But Zanotelli had other ideas.
“It was definitely a big advantage to start last”, the Brazilian rider said afterwards. Initially Edgar didn’t seem to be going nearly quickly enough, but when he arrived at the third fence in about 15 seconds it was clear his speed was deceptive.
“I’m very lucky to have Angelica there to watch and tell me exactly what to do, she knows Edgar so well and she knows me a little bit to,” Zanotelli explained.
His wife, Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli who won the second leg of the series in Helsinki (FIN) last October and who competed tonight for a total of 12 first-round faults, had seen the entire jump-off unfold.
“We made a plan with the strides and the rollbacks and everything and I just stuck to the plan. Luckily Edgar was amazing today, he’s been so consistent this year, and I’m just delighted with the result. And the public were fantastic!”, Zanotelli said after breaking the beam in the winning time of 35.39 seconds, just 0.33 ahead of Schmitz.
Talking about the 14-year-old Edgar he said, “I’m very lucky that family Gjelsten were able to buy him for the (Tokyo) Olympics and now for this season. He’s just everything a rider wants, he’s careful, he has scope and for me the most important part is that he’s so clever, so sensitive to the rider, so responsive and he’s getting quicker and quicker!”
It’s only a week since Schmitz and Quno finished a sensational second behind Frenchman Julien Epaillard at the previous qualifier in Amsterdam (NED) which boosted him to 16th on the Western European League leaderboard, but he knew he needed more points to guarantee a place at the Longines Final 2023 in Omaha (USA) in April and he certainly got those today.
“The first goal of the weekend was to get the qualification for the Final and with the points I have now it looks really good,” said Schmitz after another second-place finish sent him rocketing up to seventh with a healthy 52 points to his credit.
World champion von Eckermann said, “King will never disappoint me. How he felt today was amazing and the last time he felt like that was a the World Championship in Herning so I am very happy even if I am third today. It is my main goal to keep my horses happy and motivated and King is definitely a very special horse”. There is no-one in the world who argues with that, and today at Bordeaux the horse’s Flemish breeder, Wim Impens, was honoured with a coveted Longines WBFSH Breeder Award.
Meanwhile Zanotelli now finds himself with a total of 38 points and within sight of qualification for the Final. He cannot go to the last of Western European legs in Gothenburg (SWE) in three weeks’ time so he won’t be able to add any more points to his tally.
“I’m doing two weeks in Doha (QAT) and I want to give Edgar a little break now. I did a few of the World Cups this season and sometimes I was unlucky and didn’t get enough points but I just hope I have enough now, if not then that’s just the way it is. I have to respect my horses and my plan, but it would be a dream for me to jump in a World Cup Final that’s for sure!”, he said tonight.
The top 18 from the Western European League will make the cut and, as it stands with one leg yet to go, he lies 15th while von Eckermann lies regally at the head of affairs with a massive 102 points followed by Epaillard in second and Deusser in third.
But there’s plenty of room for further adjustment down the line when the Swedish fixture provides the very last roll of the dice on Sunday 26 February.