Thirty-six of the sport’s best horse and rider combinations came forward to contest the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Qualifier with the hope of securing valuable points to qualify for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in Riyadh in April 2024. With six past winners in the field, as well as the reigning individual European and Olympic champions, the scene was set for a world-class competition.
The first to jump clear in the opening round was Ireland’s Conor Swail, riding the 10-year old Casturano, who successfully navigated Guilherme Jorge’s technical course. The following eight riders to jump accumulated faults, with poles falling throughout the course, however the World No. 6, Julien Epaillard, secured a jump-off aboard Donatello d’Auge to the delight of the capacity crowd within ExCeL London.
Duarte Seabra, a former Eventer who will represent Portugal as an individual at the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, joined the elusive list of clear rounds going through to the jump-off. Brazilian rider, Pedro Junqueira Muylaert – making his debut at London International Horse Show in 2023 – was the fourth to jump clear, followed in close succession by the World No. 9, Max Kühner. The first British rider to qualify for the jump-off was Matt Sampson riding Ebolensky, the combination that won the London Grand Prix at the Show last year
The second half of the competition featured some of the biggest names in the sport, with Ireland’s in-form Daniel Coyle, Lorenzo de Luca – already a winner this week – and former World No. 1 Peder Fredricson adding to the list of riders going through to jump against the clock.
Much to the excitement of the home fans, last year’s winner Scott Brash secured his place in the second round aboard Hello Jefferson. In doing so, Brash kept his dreams of becoming only the third person to win back-to-back editions of this class alive, following in the footsteps of legends of the sport – Nick Skelton (1983 and 1984) and John Whitaker (1998 and 1999). Brash was joined in the jump-off by his 2012 Olympic gold medal winning teammate – the reigning individual Olympic champion – Ben Maher, who won this class back in 2011.
A total of 11 riders progressed to the shortened jump-off course with the hope of collecting the €42,500 winning prize. Second to go in the jump-off, Epaillard, who won this class back in 2017, set an impressive target jumping clear in a time of 39.29 seconds. Austria’s Kühner, was not able to repeat the scenes of last night when he pushed Epaillard back to second, coming home 0.28 seconds slower than the Frenchman. Sampson had the crowd on their feet, coming close to Epaillard’s time, however it was Ireland’s Coyle, with a remarkable run to the final fence who was able to take over pole position with a time of 37.99 seconds.
With three Olympic gold medalists left to go, the result was by no means secured. Sweden’s Fredricson came close, posting a time of 38.42 seconds, leaving it to Britain’s Brash and Maher to spoil the Irish party. Brash rode a beautifully smooth round, with tight turns and a brave gallop to the final Longines oxer to shave 0.19 seconds off the time and take the lead, guaranteeing a British winner. In the end, it was World No. 2, Maher, who stepped it up yet again with a textbook round to take the win aboard his nine-year-old gelding Enjeu de Grisien, with the home crowd giving a standing ovation.
Speaking about the class, Maher said; “It was always going to be a fast class with Julien Epaillard going early. He’s a very fast rider and it was one of those classes where it was a huge advantage to go at the end of the draw. I had my plan, regardless of what Scott or Daniel had done before me, and I took the jumps on the exact angles that I wanted. I felt the double was the hardest for us to jump, but then Enjeu de Grisien showed his athleticism by taking six strides to the next jump as opposed to the seven that Scott had taken before. I came in wide to the penultimate fence, so I could get the turn back to the last that I wanted, and everything just went my way today.
The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ is the class that everyone wants to win here. I feel for Scott because it is hard when you ride such a great round and then the next rider beats you, but it has been the other way around many times before! The crowd made the atmosphere electric, which was fantastic because the jump-off and the sport was certainly at its best today.”
Runner-up and last year’s FEI Jumping World Cup™ champion, Brash said; “Hello Jefferson has been my main horse for the last two years and I was very happy with him today. After Spruce Meadows I gave him a break, during which he lost a bit of muscle, and it took some time to get him going again. He jumped fairly well in Geneva last week, but felt back to his best form today so I am very delighted that he is back to where he can be.”
London International Horse Show first-timer, third in the FEI Jumping World Cup™, Coyle said; “Last year I won the North-American league with Legacy, who seems to become a different animal at this time of the year. If I can ride her correctly, she jumps so well – like she did today. To beat Ben and Scott you have to really nail it, and I probably could have cut the turns a little tighter, but after my round I just thought if I win, great, but if not, then it’s not meant to be. Ben and Scott were brilliant, and the crowd got to witness the best sport you can get. I have loved my first time competing at the London International Horse Show, and I will certainly be back.“