By Louise Parkes

March 2, 2016 — Lausanne (SUI) — Poland’s Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski came out on top at last weekend’s FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2015/2016 Central European League Final staged on home ground in Warsaw, while Azerbaijan’s Rahib Ismayilov won the Caucasus League title last November.

The excitement is reaching boiling point ahead of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016 Final which will kick off in Gothenburg, Sweden in three weeks’ time, and invitations have now been issued to the qualified riders in all Leagues. The final date for nominated entries is Friday 4 March, and already a host of stars are lining up to challenge defending champion, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat, who claimed the coveted trophy in Las Vegas (USA) a year ago.

Central Europe

The Central European League consisted of two Subleagues, and Hungarian riders dominated the Southern series with Mariann Hugyecz topping the leaderboard by a significant margin ahead of compatriots Balazs Horvath in second and Gabor Fuzer in third. Bulgaria’s Angel Niagolov loosened the Hungarian grip when slotting into fourth place, but Laszio Toth further cemented it when filling fifth ahead of Turkey’s Omer Karaevli in sixth spot.

Competitors from seven countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey – lined out in this series.

The Central European Northern League was a bigger affair, attracting 113 athletes from nine nations including Belarus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine. Beginning in June 2015, the series visited venues in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia, and Poland’s Michal Kazmierczak topped this leaderboard after the final round was staged on home soil in Poznan in December. Russia’s Alexandr Belekhov finished second ahead Czech Republic’s Ales Opatrny in third, while the eventual league champion, Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski, finished fourth on the league standings.

League Final

With three places at the 2016 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final up for grabs, last weekend’s Central European League Final was a hard-fought affair. A total of 17 athletes battled it out over three competitions, carrying the points they had accumulated from their best five results, and adding in the results of the three final classes to decide the overall league winner.

Skrzyczynski got off to the perfect start when claiming the honours, and the maximum 10 points available, in the opening Table C Speed class in which he steered the 11-year-old Polish-bred stallion, Ares, home in a time of 60.10 seconds to give him a 0.34 second advantage over runner-up, Philipp Schober from Germany (Zandigo TS). Poland’s Wojceich Wojcianiec slotted into third with Quasi de Kergane, and Russia’s Alexandr Belekhov stayed well in touch on the leaderboard when collecting nine points for seventh place.

Skrzyczynski had to settle for 20th place in Friday’s Table A class in which only five of the 42 starters qualified for the jump-off. With so many non-points-seeking athletes competing this was still good enough to add a further 11 points to his tally, but it was Lithuania’s Andrius Petrovas who clinched the maximum 20 on offer when lining up in fifth place while Northern Subleague winner, Michael Kazmierczak, shot way out in front on the leaderboard when adding 15 more to his total to leave him on a running total of 89.

Kazmierczak looked set to take the League title going into the final day, but five first-round faults with Que Pasa left him in a very vulnerable position. And when Skrzyczynski brought out his aptly-named 11-year-old gelding Crazy Quick to win the three-way jump-off against the clock, then that clinched it for the 37-year-old rider who has represented his country at both World and European Championships as well as at the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Gothenburg in 2013. With double points on offer, he completed on a total of 116 points ahead of Kazmierczak with 111.

Both of the Polish riders, and Hungary’s Mariannn Hugyecz who finished third on the league table, have all received invitations to the Longines 2016 Final.

Caucasus League

The Caucasus League consisted of three legs, the first two taking place in Tbilisi, Georgia in June and September 2015 and the third visiting Baku in Azerbaijan in November. A total of 11 athletes participated in this series, with seven collecting points. Azerbaijan was best represented, with seven athletes taking part, and their only opponents were four competitors flying the flag of Georgia.

Azerbaijan’s Rahib Ismayilov got off to a flying start when clinching two of the top three placings in the opening leg at Tbilisi. He steered his nominated ride, Aco’s First Boy, into pole position and his younger gelding, Carthanio, into third. Runner-up here was Georgia’s David Dundua with Don Amba.

However things didn’t go quite so smoothly for Ismayilov and Aco’s First Boy at the next leg in Tbilisi when they were eliminated in the first round along with four others. It wasn’t all bad news for the 44-year-old rider however, because he won the class with the nine-year-old Holsteiner Carthanio, despite a 16-fault first-round total. Georgia’s Giorgi Ckhartishvili collected nine points when finishing second, and added to four he collected at the previous leg, that left him heading the leaderboard on a total of 13 going into the third and final competition.

On home ground at Baku it was Azerbaijan’s Seyid Musayev and who galloped to victory with Nabab de Belou, but Ismayilov and Aco’s First Boy regrouped to finish fourth this time out, collecting five more points to bring their final total to 14. And that was good enough for him to overtake Ckhartishvili by a single point, and to claim the only available spot on offer to riders from this series for the much-anticipated Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2016 Final in Gothenburg.

Final standings of FEI World Cup™ Jumping Central European League here

Final standings of FEI World Cup™ Jumping Caucasus League here