Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs flew into the lead at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022 in Leipzig, Germany today where Austria’s Max Kühner and Elektric Blue P finished second ahead of Ireland’s Conor Swail and Count Me In in third.
Leaving all the poles in place in 65.11 seconds, Fuchs demoted Kühner from pole position when second-last to go in the field of 35 starters.
Frank Rothenberger’s 13-fence track was not over-big for this opening Speed leg but there was plenty to catch them out according to the winning rider. “It was definitely tricky, not the biggest course we’ve ridden in the past few weeks or months but it was very nicely built with some difficulties at the end with the combination out of the corner and the last line with a very short three strides to a high plank and an option of five or six strides to the last oxer”, Fuchs explained.
Twists and turns
The many twists and turns had to be ridden accurately for a good result, and the double at fence nine coming off a right-hand bend claimed a number of victims, while that last line consisting of a big triple bar followed by three short strides to a tall plank and the choice of strides to the final oxer proved the undoing of many.
However it was a slip on the turn to the oxer at fence six that saw Fuchs’ compatriot and defending Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ champion, Steve Guerdat, lose his distance a little, and when that fence fell and Victorio Des Frotards also hit the final two then he added nine seconds – three for each fence down – to his time to finish well down the line in 25th place.
Just eight horse-and-rider combinations posted clear rounds and Germany’s David Will, whose start was delayed when C Vier lost a shoe in the warm-up, produced one of these to slot in behind Ireland’s Swail in fourth place in a time of 67.48. But as Fuchs pointed out at the post-competition press conference, the quickest round of the day came from America’s McLain Ward and Contagious.
Always so competitive, the 2017 Longines champion broke the beam in 64.94 seconds but a tiny mis-communication coming into the oxer at fence seven saw that fall, so with three to add their time of 67.94 left them in fifth place.
Talking about his winning ride, Fuchs said “I had a good draw going in, second-last, so I got to see most of the other riders. I knew my horse Chaplin is very fast and super careful, so I had a plan and followed it and it all worked out. I did take risks to be fast but I didn’t take the last risk to go as fast as possible.
Despite a pole off the first element of the double at nine, 28-year-old Gerrit Nieberg and Ben ensured Germany is well-placed going into the second day. The son of former German team star Lars Nieberg lies sixth ahead of Sweden’s Jens Fredricson (Markan Cosmopolit) in seventh, America’s Hunter Holloway (Pepita Con Spita) in eighth, The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders (Monaco) in ninth and another of the five-strong German contingent – and winner of the Western European League qualifier in La Coruña (ESP) in December – 23-year-old Philipp Schulze Topphoff (Concordess NRW) in tenth place. The younger generation are well-represented in the top 10 this evening, eighth-placed American Holloway is only 24 years old.
First World Cup
This is a first World Cup Final for both Germany’s David Will and Ireland’s Conor Swail. The Irishman said today that he has qualified for the Final a few times “but never felt I had the horse to do it to be honest”. However with Count Me in he looks to be in with a real chance.
“He is extremely careful and he’s got a big heart so we had a good start today, he jumped beautifully and it went very well for me. I have the horse since May last year. He has so much quality, he’s really careful, he doesn’t make many mistakes and it makes it easier for the rider when you know they are not going to make many faults. He has a great temperament, he’s careful, fast, he’s such a great horse and we have a great relationship together”, he added.
His assessment of today’s course was that “it was not the biggest but there were a lot of tight turns and you had to be agile and quick doing a few of those rollbacks. The second-last caught out a lot of horses, so my horse did a nice enough job today”, he pointed out.
Tomorrow’s jump-off class
So what about tomorrow’s jump-off class? Fuchs said, “it’s another round and it’s going to be a very big one, I’m going to swop my horses so I’ll be riding The Sinner. Since Chaplin is a bit older I didn’t want to do the whole Championship just on him and I’ll give it my best. The Sinner has been in good shape over the past few weeks and on Sunday I’ll ride Chaplin again for the final”, confident that he will be very much still in the shake-up for the 2022 title on the last day.
Kühner was typically cautious after today’s competition but Swail, a big winner on the US circuit in recent months but with only one big result behind him with Count Me In during their time together since May of last year, is also quietly confident. “My horse can go fast no matter what height, I only have the one horse here but like Max’s horse the more he jumps in the ring the more relaxed and the better he gets, so if I can be in a good spot on Sunday then we can have a good shot”, he said without a flicker of doubt.
Ireland has never produced an FEI Jumping World Cup champion in the history of the Finals that date all the way back to 1979 although Trevor Coyle finished second with the great stallion Cruising in 1999 and Jessica Kuerten was runner-up with Castle Forbes Libertina in 2006. Bertram Allen (Molly Malone) finished third in 2015 and Eddie Macken (Carrolls of Dundalk) was joint-third at the inaugural Final. There’s something about Swail that suggests he’ll be there or thereabouts come Sunday afternoon when the new champion will be crowned.
But 29-year-old Fuchs, individual silver medallist at the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2018, European champion in 2019, team gold and individual silver medallist at last year’s FEI European Championships and runner-up at the last Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in 2019 is on the crest of a wave that doesn’t seem to be losing any momentum….
Tomorrow’s second competition begins at 14.00 local time, so don’t miss a hoofbeat….