Von Eckermann Sets Swedish Hearts Racing, Whitaker Qualifies for Another Final in Gothenburg

Photo: Michael Whitaker with JB’s Hot Stuff. (FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst)

It was freezing cold outside but the temperature in the Scandinavium Arena was near boiling point when, for the second year in a row, Swedish superstar Henrik von Eckermann (36) and his brilliant mare, Mary Lou, galloped to victory in front of their home crowd at the last leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017/2017 Western European League in Gothenburg (SWE). Runner-up was Olivier Phillipaerts (24), the young Belgian whose previous visit to this Swedish city didn’t end so happily, while British veteran Michael Whitaker (57) finished third.

“When I saw the jump-off course I knew it would suit Mary Lou. You can totally trust her; you don’t need to take a pull anywhere, just let her run and use her pace and her long stride, and she was fantastic again today!” — Henrik von Eckermann SWE (1st)

From 36 starters, 11 found the key to Peter Lundstrom’s enormous first-round track, and it was the time of 41.59 seconds set by Frenchman Aldrick Cheronnet (Tanael des Bonnes) that von Eckermann was chasing when fourth to go against the clock. He blew that target right out of the water when scorching through the timers in 36.89 seconds, piling the pressure on the rest of the field. Whitaker and JB’s Hot Stuff came close when breaking the beam in 37.52 – “I thought I’d done it. She’s not big but she has a big heart and she’s fast – today she wasn’t fast enough but she always tries her best,” he said of his exciting new ride. However, the last man in would push him down to third.

Olivier Philippaerts made an early departure from last summer’s Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg when badly dislocating his shoulder in a fall from H&M Legend of Love during training. “My horses had three months off and this was probably good for my mare, but it takes time to get fit again and I was late starting in the World Cup series, so this is great!” he said when realising that this result means he is qualified for the 39th annual Final which will take place from 11 to 15 April.

Paris last hosted the series finale back in 1987, and Michael Whitaker competed there that year. “I think I’ve done about 25 Finals so it’s about time I won it!” he said. Von Eckermann also has the most coveted trophy of indoor showjumping clearly in his sights. “I finished third in Omaha (USA) last year and I don’t want to finish lower than that this time,” he said.

By Louise Parkes

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