Dutchman Maikel van der Vleuten followed in his father’s footsteps when winning this afternoon’s thrilling Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League 2013/2014 qualifier at Olympia in London. The hugely popular British fixture is always filled with Christmas cheer, and with host nation riders on an all-time high at the moment there were great expectations of home-side success. But the spectators still exploded with delight when the 25-year-old from The Netherlands left the rest in his wake with a fabulous last-to-go run from VDL Groep Sapphire B in the 11-horse jump-off, to clinch maximum points and move up to third place on the league table.
Runner-up was Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jr with the mare Polinska des Isles from the Team Harmony string of FEI President, Princess Haya, while 23-year-old Daniel Neilson really put his name up in lights when best of the British contenders in third place with Varo M. Penelope Leprevost steered Nice Stephanie into fourth for France ahead of German veteran, Lars Nieberg, in fifth with Leonie W. And Longines No. 1 rider, Scott Brash, finished sixth ahead of fellow-Briton Michael Whitaker in a class that kept the audience on the edges of their seats right to the very end.
Maikel van der Vleuten’s father, Eric, won this same competition at Olympia four years ago riding Tomboy, so, for his son, today’s victory was all the more pleasing. “For me it’s always been a dream to win a World Cup competition and this is my first win so I’m very happy for me and my horse. I wasn’t here when my father won in 2009 but I saw it on television and we were so excited!” said the rider who was a member of the silver-medal-winning Dutch team at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The 36-strong start-list was a star-studded affair, but course designer Bernardo Costa Cabral from Portugal presented a test that demanded unerring attention from the very best of them. It was rapid-fire from beginning to end, with fences coming up in quick succession, and many jumped brilliantly only to kick out the planks four fences from home which proved a bit of a bogey on the day.
Key to a good round was the ability to maintain a rhythm and remain balanced while constantly changing direction, and the first clear came from the second of the German contingent, Max Kuhner, who steered the handsome 10-year-old gelding Clintop to a super-smooth tour of the 13-fence course.
The triple combination also proved influential, particularly for those a little onward-bound after the previous triple bar, while the oxer at fence nine hit the dirt on numerous occasions when the bending line and distance from the London Bus wall at eight didn’t come up right.
Kuhner led the way against the clock, and his mistake at the penultimate vertical, formerly the first obstacle on the track, would be replicated by many others including London 2012 team gold medallist Peter Charles from Great Britain with Murka’s Odie de Frevent who was next to go.
Germany’s Lars Nieberg produced the first clear in 38.57 when fourth into the ring with Leonie W and was still out in front when Switzerland’s Beat Mandli and Louis hit the second-last and Austria’s Stefan Eder and Chilli van Dijk NRW collected eight faults.
It was Daniel Neilson who reset the target with a great round from the 11-year-old gelding Varo M. This is a young man who spent much of his teenage years in a boxing ring and who always comes out fighting. Setting off at a cracking pace, he broke the beam in 37.19 seconds to go out in front, but his advantage was short-lived as Francois Mathy Jr and Polinska des Isles immediately squeezed him out when .07 seconds faster.
Until now the riders had all chosen to take the longer route, around the oxer at fence five which was the second fence on the new track, on the approach to the tricky penultimate vertical but Britain’s Michael Whitaker and Viking shaved full seconds off the target when jumping the previous vertical at an incredible angle. However the top pole rolled for four faults in 35.29 leaving Mathy still out in front.
All but unbeatable
Longines No. 1 rider, Britain’s Scott Brash, has been all but unbeatable of late, but, third-last to go, he had to settle for a minor placing this time out when Ursula Xll hit the vertical second-last. And although Penelope Leprevost and her lovely nine-year-old mare Nice Stephanie left the fences intact, the French pair’s chance to overtake the leader was hampered by a slip in front of the vertical three fences from the end of the course. Their time of 37.39 seconds would still be good enough for fourth place in the final analysis however.
Now only van der Vleuten stood between Mathy and those valuable maximum points, and the Dutchman didn’t crumble under pressure. He has a long-established relationship with his 14-year-old grey mare who has her own unique style of jumping, and they looked comfortably confident as they set off together on a really determined run which brought them through the timers in 37.07 seconds – just .05 seconds quicker than the Belgian.
The winning rider punched the air with delight when he registered his result. He described Sapphire B as “a naturally fast horse, you never have to overdo things with her, you never ride on a waiting distance, it’s always forward. She tries every time to jump the fences clear!” he said with a big smile.
Sapphire B was competed by a friend until the horse was seven years old. “She has always been careful and has a very good mind, just the scope didn’t look that good when she was six or seven. Then she came to me and I started slowly in 1.35m and 1.40m classes and she kept developing the right way. She has developed into a super horse” van der Vleuten said.
Runner-up, Francois Mathy Jr, was delighted with Princess Haya’s 10-year-old mare who has been a consistent performer this year. “She jumped amazing and I’m really happy!” We’ve had a super season, going really well all year in Nations Cups and Grand Prix classes and showing good form in the World Cups. I went to the US to do some there as well” explained the man who picked up qualifying points at both Lexington, USA and Toronto, Canada last month. Today’s result has moved him into seventh spot in the Western European League and he now has the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final at Lyon, France next April in his sights. “I’ve never been to a World Cup Final and my short-term goal is to get to Lyon” he said today. Less than ten points more will see him comfortably through, so he plans to compete at the next leg in Mechelen, Belgium on 30 December. “I was second there last year, and I will give her (Polinska des Isles) some time off later in January” he explained.
Third-placed Neilson was a real crowd-pleaser today and looks like a young man set for major stardom. The son of a potash miner, he played semi-professional football in Scotland and boxed for his county before opting to devote the majority of his time to horses. “I have a good team of new horses now at my new base and I said at the start of the year that I was hoping to qualify to jump here (at Olympia). “I always made a plan to aim the horse at this class for the week but I try not to have too many expectations. I had a good feeling when I walked the course – fingers crossed and hoped for the best and he jumped super!” Neilson said.
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche, described the Olympia fixture as “one of the crown jewels in the Longines FEI World Cup™ series”.
Maikel van der Vleuten’s delightful grey mare, VDL Groep Sapphire B, is also something of a jewel. And today she really sparkled.
For more information on the fifth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League 2013/2014 series at at Stuttgart, Germany visit www.olympiahorseshow.com or contact Press Officer Jo Peck, Email JoPeck@hpower.co.uk, Tel +44 1753 847 900.
The next leg will take place at Mechelen, Belgium on Monday 30 December. For all information on the Belgian fixture go to www.jumping-mechelen.com or contact Press Officer Edith de Reys, Email email@example.com Tel +32 475 659 281.
Result: 1, VDL Groep Sapphire B (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 37.07; 2, Polinska des Isles (Francois Mathy Jnr) BEL 0/0 37.12; 3, Varo M (Daniel Neilson) GBR 0/0 37.19; 4, Nice Stephanie (Penelope Leprevost) FRA 0/0 37.39; 5, Leonie W (Lars Nieberg) GER 0/0 38.57; 6, Ursula Xll (Scott Brash) GBR 0/4 35.23; 7, Viking (Michael Whitaker) GBR 0/4 35.29; 8, Lois (Beat Mandli) SUI 0/4 35.92; 9, Clintop (Max Kuhner) GER 0/4 37.26; 10, Marka’s Odie de Frevent (Peter Charles) GBR 0/4 37.78; 11, Chilli van Dijk NRW (Stefan Eder) AUT 0/8 35.86.
Facts and Figures:
36 horse-and-rider combinations started in today’s fifth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League series.
Today’s winning rider, 25-year-old Maikel van der Vleuten from The Netherlands, was following in the footsteps of his father, Eric van der Vleuten, who won the FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifier at Olympia, London in 2009 riding Tomboy.
Course designer today was Portugal’s Bernardo Costa Cabral.
Competitors from 15 nations – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, USA.
5 of the top six horses were mares.
Runner-up, Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jr, competed the 10-year-old mare Polinska des Isles which is part of the FEI President, Princess Haya’s, Team Harmony string.
Top British finisher was 23-year-old Daniel Neilson with Varo M who slotted into third place.
11 qualified for the second-round jump-off against the clock.
5 horse-and-rider combinations jumped double-clear.
Longines No. 1 rider, Great Britain’s Scott Brash, now heads the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League table after finishing sixth in today’s qualifying round.
Brash has overtaken Olympic champion Steve Guerdat from Switzerland ahead of the next leg which will take place in Mechelen, Belgium on Monday 30 December 2013.
Winning rider Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) talking about the jump-off: “It was all a bit of a rush, there was only three minutes break before it started and I was second-last to go in the first round! I thought about doing the same turn as Michael Whitaker did, but then didn’t take the risk. I’m very proud of this (win)!”
Maikel van der Vleuten: “I won’t go to Mechelen, I will give the horses a three or four week rest and then start again in Basel”.
Daniel Neilson GBR talking about the experience of competing today: “It was unbelievable, there’s no better! Olympia – there’s not a crowd like it, when you come into the arena and they’re all cheering it makes the hairs on your neck stand up! Great Britian has world number 1 and 2 (Scott Brash and Ben Maher) and it’s great for young riders like myself to see them. It makes you want to achieve what they’re doing!”
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche – “Congratulations to the top three….and to Simon Brooks-Ward and his team, and a special word of thanks from the FEI to H&M, and of course to Longines, without whom all this would not have been possible”.
Bernardo Costa Cabral, course designer – “I’m quite pleased with that course, every horse could cope with it, it’s all about details, alittle short, little wide, faults were spread all over the course. I aimed for 10 clears and I got 11, it was amazing. The time wasn’t too long, that keeps a little pressure on the riders to keep pushing on the turn to the last line, and that’s why the planks went down. It’s always great for us when the last one in wins!”