How Dark Horse Evelina Tovek Edged Champ Harrie Smolders in Rome Grand Prix

Evelina Tovek PC: Stefano Grasso / LGCT

A fearless turn made all the difference, and gave Evelina Tovek of Sweden the biggest win of her career this weekend when she clinched the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome aboard Castello 194.

She was one of only three riders to make it to the jump-off with an exceedingly tricky course from Italian designer Uliano Vezzani, and the fresh-faced 24-year-old and her magnificent gray Westphalian gelding would be facing off with Olympic veteran and World Cup Final winner Marcus Ehning and soon-to-be-crowned king of the Global Champions Tour season, Harrie Smolders.

Marcus had a fiery trip around the ring, but his speed cost him, bringing down a rail. Harrie put in a lovely, assured round that guaranteed his season win, and possibly another Grand Prix feather to his cap. All that stood between him and major glory was a blonde young woman and her trusty gray friend.

No one would have blamed her a bit for crumpling under that amount of pressure. No one would have seen her as unfit to take it slow and easy and just leave the jumps up to finish in a safe third or second. Certainly, there was no need to take any crazy chances.

But Evelina took the advice of her trainer and fellow competitor, Henrik von Eckermann: Just go in and have fun.

Her round looked every bit the picture of fun, and a sharp, daring, thrilling turn in the halfway point shocked the crowd, won them over, and propelled her to a one-second advantage over the competition for the win.

“It’s the biggest win of my career – it’s amazing,” said Evelina after her win. “I know my horse is not so fast but has big strides, so I asked a lot from the canter and in the end it worked! Henrik said ‘just have fun’ before I went in. For me Castello is the perfect horse, no fence is a problem, and I’m really happy to have him.”

Evelina’s only other FEI victories include a CSI 3* earlier this year in Denmark, and a U25 class back in 2015.

It’s one of the great dramas of this sport that so many other contests lack. Compare it to the NFL or the NBA, and the analysts know who with shocking accuracy who will win a game, a season, a series. So often, it’s decided with paychecks and office deals in the off-season when a team announces its lineup.

In show jumping, anyone can walk into the ring, and have the ride of a lifetime. It seems that fairytale day came for Evelina, and we sincerely hope it’s not the last we see of this aspiring star at this level.

Evelina Tovek and Castello 194. PC: Stefano Grasso/LGCT

Go Evelina, and Go Jumping.