On an afternoon filled with thrills and surprises, German star Marcus Ehning galloped to victory with his relatively new ride Coolio 42 at the sixth leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2023/2024 Western European League in Madrid, Spain today.
From a starting field of 39, a total of 10 made the cut into the second-round jump-off where the track set by Spanish course designer Javier Trenor created even more excitement.
Included in the final showdown were two from Spain, Mariano Martinez Bastida who is ranked 101st in the world and Teresa Blazquez-Abascal ranked 319th, and they didn’t disappoint when filling third and ninth places in the final analysis.
But it was Ehning, currently ranked 39th but holder of the number one slot on more than one occasion during his spectacular career, who would carry away the maximum 20 points when pinning reigning Olympic champion, Great Britain’s Ben Maher, into runner-up spot with Enjeu de Grisien.
Ehning is only 49, but his list of accomplishments goes back a long way including Olympic team gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, five European team titles and three World Cup victories, the first recorded with Anka in Las Vegas (USA) in 2003. Now, 21 years later, he looks well on his way to his 21st FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final.
Today’s Madrid success was not his first.
“Winning here for the third time means I am getting old, but I am still here!”, he said. “I really like the show in Madrid and I am happy to come back every year!”
There were four hot French contenders in the second-round decider and the first was pathfinder Jeanne Sadran who, at just 22 years old, is clearly a rising star. Showing great maturity she set the standard with a lovely tour of the twisting eight-fence jump-off course in 45.11 seconds with the 10-year-old stallion Dexter de Kerglenn who never looked under pressure.
Brazil’s Pedro Veniss was next to set off with the 14-year-old Boeckmanns Lord Pezi Junior but two fences down would leave them out of the reckoning before Martinez Bastida whipped his home crowd into a frenzy when clear with Belano vd Wijnhoeve Z. His time of 43.06 might have been faster, but he seemed to lose his line to the final oxer with a last-minute adjustment to the left and, as it would turn out, he wouldn’t be the only one to make an error of judgement there.
Next in, Frenchman Olivier Robert had a pole down with Igelesias DV but, fifth to go, Maher made no mistake, bringing the nine-year-old Enjeu de Grisien through the timers in 42.38 seconds to put it up to the rest of them.
Super-fast Frenchman, Julien Epaillard, was no threat to the British rider’s lead with two down with Donatello D’Auge. But Ehning followed with a fabulous tour of the track that shaved a quarter of a second off Maher’s target time, balancing his horse beautifully on the tricky turn to the penultimate vertical and on full power down to the final oxer to put a zero in 42.13 seconds on the board to go out in front.
Far from decided
With three to go it seemed the result was far from decided, but World number one, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann with the grey mare Calizi, left one on the floor in the quickest time of 41.02 seconds before the final Frenchman, and last weekend’s winner in Stuttgart (GER) Kevin Staut, set sail with the experienced 14-year-old mare Visconti du Telman.
And they were looking very dangerous indeed until, to the disbelief of the crowd, they also seemed to mistake the bending line to the final oxer at fence eight like the earlier Spanish pair who, however, managed to rectify the situation at the last minute. It was too late when Staut realised he was heading instead for fence 13, the second fence on the new track which he had already jumped, and it was elimination when Visconti took it on anyway and sent the standards and poles flying in every direction.
Staut shook his head with disbelief at what had just happened, leaving the arena with a wry smile on his face.
Last to go, Teresa Blasquez-Abascal and her 10-year-old mare Nasa de Toxandria gave it their best shot for two fences down in a good time of 44.95, more than pleased to have battled it out with some distinction against the very best in the sport.
For the winner, Ehning, today’s victory was particularly special. “I was very happy with my horse today. It is only his second World Cup so I am very pleased with him”, he said.
He only acquired Coolio in August, and already the pair are showing great promise together. The horse was produced from a youngster up to 5* level by fellow-German Marcel Marschall who competed him in the German side that finished third at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2023 at St Gallen in Switzerland in June. “I’m really happy to have him to ride alongside Stargold”, Ehning added today.
Maher, who won the Western European League qualifier in Verona, Italy two weeks ago wasn’t disappointed with his second-place finish this time out. He’s enjoying a spectacular end to the year with his string, and said of Enjeu de Grisien, “it’s just his second 5* Grand Prix and the first time at that level trying to go quick”.
Reflecting on his jump-off round he pointed out, “I did everything I could, there were one or two places that didn’t go exactly as I wanted but it was a difficult course in the jump-off. We saw some amazing riders make mistakes, and Marcus just got me there at the last jump I think!”
Maher missed much of the early-season shows this year after injuring himself in a fall, but that has left him with a huge amount of fire-power now, later in the season.
More indoor shows
“I’m doing more indoor shows than I have in the past. I had a quiet start to the year which enables me with the bigger team of horses to compete more this time of year. I’m lucky I can rotate them and pick which horse will suit which arena, and the whole team is riding with confidence and that’s showing in the results at the moment”, said the man who has now risen to the very top of the Western European League table ahead of the next leg of the series in La Coruna, Spain next weekend.
Ehning meanwhile is still talking low-key about his plans for the remainder of the winter season. After today’s victory he said, “I would like to continue like this, but it is not so easy!”
Qualifying for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2024 which will take place in Riyadh (KSA), next April is definitely on his agenda “I will try to qualify for the Final and at the moment I am in a good position, so I hope I keep having good results”, said the man who is one of just five three-time FEI World Cup champions and who gave one of his masterclasses in horsemanship to post yet another memorable victory today.