Declared “King of Stockholm” by the announcer in the Friends Arena in Stockholm (SWE), Bram Chardon (NED) earned the honour after an incredible win in the 4th leg of the 2023-24 FEI Driving World Cup™.
Although it was Bram’s second event of the series following his wild card ticket in Maastricht (NED), it was his first opportunity as a qualified driver to earn ranking points towards a coveted place at the final in February.
Accurately steering his supple, on-point grey horses through the course while maintaining a business-like pace and keeping all the elements in place, Bram drove four clear rounds to finish on time-only scores. After winning competition one on Friday night by a well-judged but slim margin, he went even faster on Saturday to win the all-important second drive-off at the Sweden International Horse Show.
“This was a unique experience and I now understand why the drivers are so keen to come to Stockholm. The course was very nice, the organisers did everything to make us perform well and the public was spectacular! The other drivers put the pressure on, but I knew there was a little window after yesterday and I took 10 seconds off my time which was a bit of a surprise, but if the horses want to go, then you have to let them and you don’t hold them back.
“This was my first competition for the points, and I have collected the full ten points towards Bordeaux, so I am on my way – but I’m not there yet!” Bram Chardon said.
From his opening round time of 161.48 over Johan Jacobs (NED) 15-obstacle course, Bram finished Saturday’s drive-off on 151.01. His horses worked consistently as a united team and there were no questions or errors, unlike his final drive-off in Maastricht when an extra loop in the first marathon-style obstacle handed victory to his old adversary Boyd Exell (AUS).
Despite three wins in the first three events of the current series and having won in Stockholm for the last six years, a seventh win seemed likely, but it wasn’t to be Boyd’s weekend. He was only 0.6 seconds behind Bram in Friday’s drive-off and although the time difference between them was small, the psychological difference was large, as the tables turned in Bram’s favour.
With only the top three drivers in both drive-offs, Boyd made Saturday’s final round by a slim margin over Belgium’s Glenn Geerts. While Boyd is often at his most competitive when coming from behind, this weekend the pressure seemed to tell and he clipped cone number four followed by another ball in marathon obstacle number five, which added eight points to his decent time of 152.85.
Following him into the arena was Germany’s Michael Brauchle who is always fast. Putting the error of course from Friday night’s drive-off behind him, when he finished third despite an additional 24 points added to his time, on Saturday’s final round he left the balls in place and got the routes right. Speeding through the finish gates in a time of 160.29, he beat Boyd’s total by a mere 0.56. It was enough to give Michael a career-high second place and seven ranking points towards his quest to reach the final.
Mareike Harm (GER) and Glenn Geerts (BEL), two drivers who use their outdoor horses on the indoor circuit, traded fourth and fifth places between the two competitions. Both have been featured in short, behind-the-scenes films and both talk about the value of the close bonds they share with their horses.
Completing the line-up was wild card Fredrik Persson (SWE) who had a better first night than second but held his own admirably against the five qualified athletes.
It was a long, snowbound road to Stockholm for the Driving entourage who endured freezing conditions as winter arrived in Northern Europe. Despite the chill, the Christmas decorations in the Friends Arena helped to create a warm and festive family-friendly tone which added to the appreciative atmosphere amongst the 10,000 strong crowd.
Bram’s interviews during the prize-givings on both nights gave a glimpse into how much the wins at his first event in Stockholm meant. He said that next year it’s going to be a fight between him and his father Ijsbrand to decide who gets to drive there!
Next weekend the series moves to the glitzy CHI de Genève when Bram will be up against Koos de Ronde (NED), Dries Degrieck (BEL), Georg von Stein (GER), Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) and Anthony Horde (FRA). Geneva is a special show for Bram as he has won there for the last two years and after this weekend’s masterclass, it would be hard to bet against him repeating the success, earning another ten points and edging closer to the final.
As to what happens when Boyd and Bram next meet? We will have to wait and see…
Full Results here.