By Louise Parkes
There is huge excitement ahead of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping and Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2016 Finals which get underway at the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg, Sweden tomorrow (Friday 25 March). After a long and testing qualifying season, a total of 36 riders from 17 nations will line out in the battle for the coveted Longines Jumping title while 18 competitors from 10 countries will be contesting the Reem Acra Dressage crown.
And both Finals are ground-breaking, as Zhiwen (Daniel) Zhao will be the very first athlete to represent China in the Jumping Final while Judy Reynolds will be the first rider to fly the Irish flag in Dressage.
Gothenburg Horse Show celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and as the venue for the very first FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final back in 1979 it is a city that holds a very special place in the hearts of the athletes. It is also a very special venue for FEI First Vice-President John Madden who spoke tonight of his personal connection to the city and its world-famous Horse Show.
“I came here as a groom for the very first World Cup Final back in 1979, working for Katie Monahan who finished second. And the last time the Final was held in Gothenburg (2013) I was the husband of the winning rider, Beezie Madden! Sweden, and Gothenburg, is a like a second home” he said.
Dressage gets things off to a start tomorrow, with Denmark’s Agnete Kirk Thinggaard and JoJo Az first to ride down the centre line at 12.30 local time. At tonight’s stylish draw party staged in Gothenburg’s Concert Hall, the Dressage draw was conducted by Swedish star Patrik Kittel and his wife Lyndal Oatley who will represent Australia over the coming days. And Kittel had the broadest of smiles when he called out his own name out for the optimal no. 18 spot. Last to go, he will know exactly the score he has to beat when he takes his turn at 15.35.
And that score may well be the one laid down by The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud who recently concluded the Western European League on a winning note. “My horse (Glock’s Flirt) is feeling very good, he won the last qualifier in Den Bosch and had a few days off. This is an amazing show in Gothenburg, you always want to be at your best at the World Cup Final and my horse is in great shape” he explained. Asked what it would mean to take the title on Sunday he responded, “I don’t want to think about it, although I’m really going for it! It’s very exciting because there are several riders good enough to take the victory here, so I think it will be about the form on the day” he said.
The Jumping draw was conducted by the sole Swedish contender Henrik von Eckermann and by America’s Rich Fellers who claimed the title in 2012. Australia’s Edwina Alexander was drawn in the no. 1 spot, von Eckermann will be ninth to go and Fellers, who will contest yet another Final with the amazing stallion Flexible who has now turned 20 years of age, will be 24th into the arena.
Second-last of the 36 starters will be Frenchwoman Penelope Leprevost while the favoured last-to-go spot went to 2015 champion Steve Guerdat from Switzerland.
Guerdat is really excited about defending the title he won in dramatic circumstances with Albufuehren’s Paille in Las Vegas, USA last year. “The World Cup Final is always a competition I look forward to, and I love this show in Gothenburg” he said tonight. Asked if he thought he could make it a back-to-back double of Longines titles he said he was “not thinking that far ahead! I was blessed I could win it last year, I always have great results in the Final but I have a new horse (Corbinian) this time and we will have to see where we are. I have him two years but he is still only 11 and I’m not sure how he will react after going fast on the first day. But he has quality and I trust him and I hope for the best!” said the man who is also reigning Olympic champion.
Drawn 21st, Germany’s Markus Ehning will post a new FEI World Cup™ Jumping record if he can claim the title for a fourth time. Asked this evening what doing just that would mean to him, Ehning modestly replied, “every win is a special win – first I just want to go in the arena and see where we are. Being at the World Cup Final is a big goal, and I’m looking forward to being on the podium on Monday!” he said.
Fellers meanwhile believes he’s in with as good a chance as anyone else. “I feel as good as ever I have felt at any World Cup and my horse feels super. I’m at a point in my career where I just disregard age and go with the feel and at the moment that’s as good as ever so I’m optimistic!” he said.
It’s going to be a thriller from start to finish, so don’t miss a hoof-beat. If you can’t be there, then watch all the action LIVE on FEI TV, www.feitv.org !!