Philipp Weishaupt and Zineday. (FEI/Leanjo de Koster)
Team Germany overtook Sweden to rise to the top of the leaderboard on the second day of the FEI Jumping European Championship 2023 in Milan (ITA), but the difference between the top three sides is only fractional going into the team medal decider.
A tally of 9.31 gives Germany just 0.2 penalty points of an advantage over Sweden with 9.51, while the defending champions from Switzerland lie third with 9.92, followed closely by Ireland on a 10-point scoreline.
It could hardly be tighter, and it’s a recipe for a thriller right to the end.
Meanwhile, another superb performance from Sweden’s Jens Fredricson and Markan Cosmopolit has maintained their place at the top of the individual leaderboard.
A costly mistake at the very last fence saw Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei drop from overnight second spot to 15th place, so another super-smooth performance from Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt and Zineday has moved them up from third up to second, while Fuchs’ team-mate Steve Guerdat is now lying third with Dynamix de Belheme.
There are still four nations left in the race for one of the three qualifying spots on offer for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games – Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Spain. The Netherlands, France, and Great Britain will complete the line-up when only the top 10 countries will do battle in the final round of the team competition along with the top 50 individuals in the rankings so far.
Lost their grip
The Swedes lost their grip on pole position when, despite superb clears from both Fredricson and Henrik von Eckermann riding Iliana, they had to count one of the eight-fault results posted by both Wilma Hellström and Cicci BJN and their anchor partnership of Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Zuccero.
In contrast, Germany only had to add the four picked up by pathfinders Marcus Ehning and Stargold when both Weishaupt and Jana Wargers were foot-perfect over the considerably more testing 14-fence track. German anchor, Gerrit Nieberg, racked up 12 faults with Ben, but that would be their discard when the best three results per team were counted.
Only Guerdat jumped clear for Switzerland, so they had to add both of the four faults picked up by Fuchs and Bryan Balsiger partnering Dubai du Bois Pinchet, while Edouard Schmitz’s double-error with Gamin van’t Naastveldhof was their drop-score.
After clears for both Michael Duffy with Cinca 3 and Shane Sweetnam with James Kann Cruz, the Irish looked set to threaten the Swiss, but last-line rider Eoin McMahon and the mare Mila were one of many partnerships to fall victim to the big oxer three from home that followed the open water. Those four faults had to be counted, because Trevor Breen and Highland President left two on the floor. But there is only a whisper between the top four.
A total of 14 horse-and-rider combinations jumped clear and they were all full of praise for the tracks set for them so far this week.
“The course was super; all compliments to him (course designer Uliano Vezzani) also from yesterday,” said world number one Henrik von Eckermann after finishing his fault-free run.
“Today there are some big jumps out there, but they are not completely demanding on the horse. But you need to be able to ride accurately, to have all the gears to go forward, backwards for the last line, to the water, to the triple combination,” he said. “So it’s asking a lot from the rider and I think that’s how it should be. If you ride good you have good chances, and not only that it’s the last hole on the jump.
“I felt a little bit of pressure after Germany’s clear and Steve’s clear, and I wanted to give them (the rest of the Swedish team) a good feeling and I think I did. We still have the drop score in our pocket and I hope we don’t need to use it,” he said after coming out of the ring. Unfortunately, however, they did.
Weishaupt’s rides with Zineday have been flawless, and he’s clearly already eyeing up not just a team medal, but an individual one as well.
“So far, it’s only two days of competition but Zineday felt very good in the warm-up. I had an amazing feeling yesterday in the speed class; he was really relaxed and focused. And today he continued what he showed yesterday, his great performance, his great talent, and it was a pleasure to ride him and I hope we can keep that form for the next three rounds!” he said.
Talking about the nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding, he said his expectations were always high coming to Milan. “He was third in the Grand Prix of Aachen, and if you are selected for the German team, they expect you are capable of jumping that level so I was expecting this.”
He described Italy’s Uliano Vezzani as “a fantastic course designer!
“We had a fantastic speed class yesterday; it wasn’t the biggest jumps but he showed all his experience with the beautiful way he built. The footing was great and today; it was a great course again, very tricky and long; you needed control and scope but he did a great job!”
He described Zineday as “a bit special; he has his own head, so you have to leave him a little bit like he is, but he has just tremendous qualities.”
Jana Wargers’ clear was also copybook. “I’m very happy with my round and very happy that I was able to jump clear for the team. Limbridge is just fantastic,” she said of the 14-year-old gelding with which she finished ninth individually at the FEI Jumping World Championship 2022 last summer.
“He makes it so easy, and he lets me shine in every round and he never gives up. Today he showed again how special he is, and I’m very proud of him!” she said.
Meanwhile, Jens Fredricson’s dream week continues. He’s on a zero score, but Weishaupt is only 0.31 behind, followed by Guerdat, the flying Frenchman Julien Epaillard with Dubai du Cedre, von Eckermann in fifth, and Italy’s Emanuele Camille in sixth with Odense Odeveld. In the individual standings, there is less than a fence between the top 14, but there is a long way to go before the new individual champion is crowned.
It’s still pretty extraordinary to be leading the posse with a horse that was originally bought for the Swedish riding school in Strömsholm, but who proved too naughty to do his job there. So he eventually found Jens in the saddle, and together they finished third at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022 in Leipzig (GER) before helping to take the team world title in Herning (DEN) a few months later.
“I’m enjoying myself; it’s a fantastic show and my horse is in great form!” Fredricson said. To find himself in individual contention at a championship is a first-time experience, and he is relishing it.
“I’ve been around, I’ve been in some finals, but I’ve never really been up there. So to have a horse like this when you are 55 is special. He’s like a cat now; he can lengthen and shorten and he’s self-confident — he’s just a great horse!” he pointed out.
He didn’t have to listen to any rock music before he went in the ring. “Yesterday I needed to get in in a better mood so I was listening to Iron Maiden, but not today because I had almost too much energy, I was almost jumping around, so I think Beethoven would have been better!”
All Startlists and Results here.
by Louise Parkes