Omaha, NE – April 6, 2023 – Together since 2020, they have jumped the 2020 Olympic Games fault free for a team gold medal. They’ve been named the individual 2022 World Champions. And are ranked no. 1 in the world. Now they’re looking to add an FEI World Cup™ Final title to their names.
“He’s an unbelievable, fantastic horse that has done so many great things,” Von Eckermann said of the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding. Most of those great things have even come with the Swede in the saddle. “Thanks to the owner, I can ride it.”
And ride it he does. The duo boasts an incredible 71% clear round rate at the 1.60m fence height, according to Jumpr App. And that’s not just luck; they’ve jumped 42 rounds at that height.
The pair did have luck on their side Wednesday night, however, drawing last to go of the 40 entries.
“In a course like this it’s good to see a few go,” he reflected on his fortunate position. “I saw Scott [Brash] and I knew I could be close. I had to cut to the triple-bar with one less and to the last with nine strides. He did it really good, even though I have to say it was heavy there in the end; the ground was not great. It was deep in the corners so you really had to try, but he’s an exceptional horse he could do it anyway.”
The opening round, set in a faults-converted format and designed by Bernardo Costa Cabral (POR), saw three seconds added to the final time with every pole dropped. A rail down meant riders went that much faster to make up the time.
Thirteenth in the order, Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello Jefferson led on a time of 59.23 seconds and when the crowd thought it couldn’t get quicker, it did. Von Eckermann’s clear-round time of 59.09 took just over a tenth of a second off. Less than half a second separates the top four on the leaderboard, all between 59.09 and 59.55 seconds.
Von Eckermann is chasing what would be a first FEI World Cup™ Final victory in Omaha aboard his trusted partner, but he’s had good luck at this very venue in the past.
“I came here in 2017 [with Toveks May Lou] after I left to go out on my own,” he remarked. “To be third was unbelievable for me and a fantastic experience. Of course, now I want to be better, so I’m trying my best and we’ll see what happens on Saturday.”
The Swedish Olympian said meeting King Edward was love at first sight. And the love runs deep, as he is every bit a pet at home with Von Eckermann and his wife Janika Sprunger (SWE).
“At home he’s like a dog. He’s very easygoing and he feels like you could take him in your home. Then when the show comes he gets a lot of nerves. He has incredible power. He’s a small horse but somehow he has an engine behind that is unbelievable and of course he’s very careful. We take him to the shows and keep him mentally happy and physically fit.”
Brash knew he left the door open a hair for someone to catch him.
“I thought my round was very good up until the double with the plank,” he said of the very tricky forward four strides into an oxer-vertical double combination with a careful plank on the way out. “He twisted over the plank and I didn’t really get a smooth run out. I knew I was a bit slower there and I was 10 [strides] to the last. I’m delighted with how my horse jumped.”
Hello Jefferson’s numbers don’t lie either, with a 67% top ten finish average at 1.65m and over 1.2 million euros in prize money in his five years in Brash’s stable.
In third was another powerhouse combination, Daniel Deusser (GER) and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z.
“To be honest, I’m very satisfied with my third place tonight,” Deusser, a previous FEI World Cup™ Final champion, said. “I walked the course and made my plan before the first one went in the ring. I saw Scott and knew it would be very difficult for me to beat him tonight. Henrik at the end of that class trying to win is always dangerous. For me tonight, I’m very happy and it was a good start into the week.”
Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, at 15 years old this year, is still performing in a stellar fashion. In ten rounds at 1.60m in 2022, the duo logged a 70% clear round average and phenomenal 90% top 10 finish average. At 1.70m, that number is a perfect 100. No task is too tall for Deusser nor Tobago Z.
Hometown hero Hunter Holloway felt right at home Wednesday night, putting in a well executed clear with Pepita Con Spita in 61.35 seconds for an eighth place finish. Fellow Americans Aaron Vale (Prescott) and 2017 World Cup Winner McLain Ward (Callas) are in 10th and 11th, respectively.
“This is home for me; I’m two hours from Kansas, where I’m from,” Holloway said. “They certainly give me a warm welcome here so it’s always appreciated. It feels like home. I couldn’t be happier with that horse. She gives her all every time and I’m very happy to be here.”
Show jumpers have two more tests ahead this week: the jump-off class Thursday evening and the two-round Final on Saturday evening, when the champion will be crowned. In a sport of millimeters and nanoseconds, the 2023 FEI World Cup™ Final could be anyone’s game.