Ireland’s Richard Howley made it a magical double of back-to-back victories when, just a week after coming out on top at the opening leg in Oslo (NOR) last Sunday, he did it all again today at the second leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2023/2024 Western European League in Helsinki, Finland.
Once again there was a world-class field including many of those at the very top end of the rankings. But the 31-year-old rider who hails from Sligo in Ireland, lives in Yorkshire, England, and is ranked 114th simply left the rest floundering in his wake with another stunning performance from his 12-year-old gelding Consulent de Prelet Z in the eight-horse jump-off against the clock.
“I always want to win, and competing against the best riders you have to give all. My horse is very careful so I can ask him everything, I can move fast and collect him at the last minute. Obviously I never thought I would win both legs even if it is always the goal to win. I really want to try to go the the World Cup Final so this is my chance and we are very motivated,” said Howley.
With two maximum scores his running tally of 40 points looks to have already booked his ticket to the 2024 Final which will take place next April in Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Brazilian course designer Guilherme Jorge tested them with his 13-fence track that was all the more difficult because of the tight confines of the arena in Helsinki. And when Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca and the 11-year-old gelding Cappuccino 194 were the only partnership from the first group of 19 to come home on a clean sheet, it seemed not many more would make the cut. But Jorge got exactly what he expected.
“Eight clears is my favourite number for any class so I am very pleased!” he said.
“It is a World Cup qualifier with good prize money and I was comfortable with how the horses were jumping. Of course during the first half I wanted more clears, but they did come. In an indoor arena both horses and riders have to be focused and to have a plan. If something doesn’t go according to plan then the rider doesn’t have so much time to adapt”, he explained, adding that the generous time-allowed of 77 seconds was deliberate because he didn’t want to put any extra pressure on horses and riders.”
De Luca was first out in the jump-off with an eight-fault run and The Netherlands’ Leopold van Asten and VDL Groep Iron Z also left two on the floor before 2022 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ champion, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs, and the 10-year-old Commissar Z returned a four-fault result when clipping the second fence.
There was no mistake from the reigning series title-holder and double World Champion Henrik von Eckermann from Sweden however as he steered his exciting young mare Dzara Dorchival home clear in 36.86 to take the lead. Another former World Cup champion, Germany’s Daniel Deusser, also left all the timber intact with the 12-year-old Bingo Ste Hermelle to slot in behind the Swedish pair, but then 25-year-old rising German star Philipp Schulze Topphoff put in a mighty challenge which saw him overtake von Eckermann when stopping the clock in 36.77 seconds with the fabulous mare Carla NRW.
The penultimate partnership of Brazil’s Yuri Mansur and QH Alfons Santo Antonio double-faulted leaving only Howley to now challenge for the win as last man to go. And with supreme confidence he produced an extraordinary round that brought him home in 34.18 seconds, a full 2.59 seconds quicker than the young German whose round in 36.77 seconds had looked all but unbeatable.
It would the Irish national anthem ringing out across the arena for the second week in a row.
Talking about his winning horse Howley said, “He’s very careful and he’s got the end quality of jump and he’s super scopy. The most important thing is that I keep him trusting me and keep him confident in the build-up to these classes. And then when you ask the question he gives you everything. The horse is just a phenomenal character and he’s a real fighter!”
Howley’s own coolness under fire has been remarkable over the last two spectacular performances also.
Schulze Topphoff said he was very pleased with his second-place finish, but reckoned that he could have been faster. His mare Carla has a wonderful jumping technique, with her toes to her nose as she clears her fences with the greatest of ease.
“If I had followed her instinct I might have been faster!”, he said at the post-competition press conference. “I was a little slow at the beginning of the jump off and she is amazing and so careful. I have her since her first show the year when she was four. It was a little difficult at the start, she had a big stride and it took her time to find her balance but we gave her the time she needed to develop and I think she thanked us today!” said the young man who was only 23 years old when winning the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ qualifier at La Coruna (ESP) in 2021.
Howley said today that he owes his current success to the confidence his horse has established through consistency. “It’s from riding him well consistently, letting the horse gain belief in himself and belief in me that I’m not going to put him in a bad situation. Apart from that he’s also growing and developing, with every show he goes to he’s just getting better and better. He competed very well at the Global Tour this summer and now he’s come indoors and two out of two (qualifiers) he has won. I can’t expect more from him but I’m very grateful for what he does for me,” he said.
His next stop will be round three of the Western European League series in Lyon (FRA) in two weeks time, so don’t miss a hoofbeat…..
Full Results here.