From the moment he began his bid to win a record 10th World Cup title in Lyon (FRA) last October, Boyd Exell (AUS) was ultimately focussed on the final in Bordeaux (FRA). It was that singular, steely vision that served him so well and saw him crowned champion once again. As the only driver to have three clear rounds over the two competitions, Boyd finished on his times and a total of 239.37.
The determination on his face was clear to see as he entered the buzzing arena on Sunday afternoon. As last to go of the seven drivers who came forward in reverse order of their results, after competition one the night before, the weight of expectation to produce another show of supremacy was on his shoulders. But pressure is fuel to Boyd and true to form, when he most needed to, he delivered another accurate and fast round. This meant he was the last to go in the all-important drive-off, while aware that his challengers, father and son legends Ijsbrand and Bram Chardon (NED), would show him no mercy.
“It’s a relief! When you have a fantastic team of horses and they manage to have a very good season, it means that you are able to deliver again in the final. In indoor driving, it’s high risk and high reward, or high risk and big loss. I don’t always expect to win although I always expect to be in the top three so I’m really pleased with my horses.”
As the defending champion, Bram was his nearest rival and admitted afterwards that in recent years he and Boyd seem to be trading titles. Although Bram and his four experienced Lipizzaners were consistently faster on time, they had costly 4 penalties to add after each round and it was those rolling balls which were the difference between retaining a title or watching a close rival win. On the cumulative scores, Bram finished in silver, 4.04 behind on 243.41.
“At the start I knew Boyd was very strong this year. I went back to one of my old leaders for this event and I had three very, very fast rounds but there were too many knock downs. I was able to put the pressure on Boyd but he was very clever in his performance and was consistent, as he has been, and so he is the deserving winner of the final. I won it last time and we seem to keep switching now – so next year it will be my turn!” said Chardon.
It was a pleasure to see the sheer joy on the face of Ijsbrand as he and his horses entered the arena for the drive-off. He seemed delighted to have sealed his place in final running, although was undoubtedly aware that he was unlikely to win a fourth title. As he visibly relaxed and enjoyed the moment, his horses embraced the course and although he too had a ball to add, by then he was assured of a podium place and finished in bronze on 253.39.
Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) had a great first round, but with 10.25 seconds to carry over from the previous night, had left himself a big gap to fill. Producing a clear round, he ended in a respectable fourth position, leapfrogging Belgium’s Dries Degrieck who gave an impressive drive against the clock, but wasn’t quite quick enough to maintain his overnight placing – despite going clear. The increasing tally of penalties which the drivers had to start with, 50% of the difference between their scores and Boyd’s, meant that those further down the running order had progressively even bigger mountains to climb than those towards the top.
It was not Koos de Ronde’s (NED) event and although on Sunday he put in the sort of drive we expect from him, confirming why he has been at the upper end of the sport for so many years, it wasn’t enough to raise him from sixth place. In seventh was French Wild Card Benjamin Aillaud, who rounded off a constructive first season with his Lusitanos horses.
In the press conference, sitting sandwiched between the Chardons, Boyd dedicated his win to his long-term supporter Sarah Garnett, who couldn’t be at the final. He stated that for the last 30 years she has been at every international competition with him – and he missed her this time. He also dedicated a special thank you to Eric Bouwman, the owner of his new right lead horse Maestoso Jupiter, who has added to the speed of the combination. Previously driven by Benjamin Aillaud, Jupiter has been an important part of a grouping which has produced consistently winning results and Boyd confessed to being too afraid to change a formula which has served him so well.
Giving the fans in the full house at the Parc des Expositions the entertainment they have come to enjoy, this was a vintage FEI Driving World Cup™ final which rounded off a wonderful Series and more than lived up to its expectation.
FULL RESULTS here.