On Sunday, June 11, Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts won the Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule at the end of a superb event and jump-off with 14 pairs in which suspense was maintained right to the finish. It was a wonderful way of ending an exceptional edition of Jumping International de La Baule – Officiel de France.

Philippaerts, who obtained the best time in the jump-off of the Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule with his 13-year-old mare Katanga v/h Dingeshof, had to wait in the paddock for the time of the last rider, Sweden’s Jens Fredricson, who completed his round in 36.38 seconds, just 3/100th slower than the Belgian. That was an enormous relief for him before receiving congratulations from all the other riders.

At almost 30 years of age, Philippaerts is ranked 49th in the world and takes over the Rolex title from Canada’s Beth Underhill, who won this class last year riding Dieu Merci van T&L. (Watch her 7th-place jump-off round with Nikka HERE.) Philippaerts is the third Belgian to see his name engraved on the winners’ plaque at the entry to the arena after Jos Lansink in 2009 and Jérôme Guéry in 2016.

“I’m very happy to have won here in La Baule, one of the most prestigious venues in our sport,” said a delighted Philippaerts. “It’s my first five-star win on Katanga and she really deserves it. She has often been very close to winning in major grands prix and she gave her all today. I am very proud of her. I saw the round by Henrik [von Eckermann, the leader at the time] and I knew it would be hard because I don’t always have complete control over her. Then, when Jens set off, I was a bit stressed because we’ve known each other for a long time, we’re friends and I must confess that I was very happy when I saw the timer stop.”

On the podium, before the Belgian national anthem sounded, Philippaerts heard a lot of Swedish spoken: in second place, Jens Fredricson on Markan Cosmopolit, and world number 1 Henrik von Eckermann on Iliana in third place. “When I started, I said to myself: if you don’t take any risks there won’t be any victory,’ Fredricson confided. “So go for it! I looked at the rounds of the other riders, and especially that of Rodrigo Pessoa [5th on Major Tom], and I eliminated some strides in certain places. I am very happy with my horse and the way I managed the jump-off, even if my coach always wants to win! I’ve beaten Henrik today but we are particularly pleased to have two Swedes on the podium, we help each other a lot and that shows that we have a great Swedish team.”

Accustomed to topping podiums, like on Saturday in the Prix Saur on Glamour Girl, the individual world champion and team and Olympic champion had to be satisfied with third place this time. “I didn’t do the jump-off I expected,” said Eckermann. “I left the door open. Even so, I am very happy with my mare, who is only a ten-year-old. She has reached a very high level and is still gaining experience, but she’s ready. Everyone knew King Edward, but I’m lucky to have a mare like her in the stable. I wasn’t very successful last year. but coming back to La Baule with a win on Saturday and a podium in the Grand Prix, well, it’s a great feeling.”

As for the home team, three French riders completed the jump-off, although none managed to get into the top five. Sixth on Bibici, Grégory Cottard was the best among them. “It’s difficult to start first in a jump-off. I did my best, and so did Bibici. We were up against a very high level of riders, the best in the world. Still, I am proud of my sixth place and we will continue to work hard to be better than the others one day.”

In the other CSIO 5* on Sunday ‒ the Prix GrandPrix (1.45 m, two legs) ‒ France had greater success with a win by ‘rocket man’ Julien Épaillard. The winner of a speed contest on Thursday on Hoover, the world number 2 repeated his performance, finishing ahead of Ireland’s Cian O’Connor (Germaine W) and Belgium’s Grégory Wathelet (Berline du Maillet Z). Underhill placed 9th in this class with the 10-year-old mare Dynastie de Beaufour, owned by the Rein family.

Pierre de Brissac (president of Jumping international de La Baule – Officiel de France), remarked, “This 2023 edition of the competition has been a great success. Yes, there are the figures: 45,000 spectators over 4 days, 132 riders, 248 horses, 40 partners, 50 exhibitors and a budget of over 1 million euros. We have reached our maximum capacity. We have also increased the dissemination of images, as well as streaming on our website, plus the usual specialist support from Cheval TV, Grand Prix and ClipMyHorse, and also large-scale media such as BeIN Sport, francetv.fr and Sport en France, which have broadcast the major events to their audiences. This enables us to get a higher profile. We have also developed our social media to get even closer to our audience.

“Apart from these ‘technical’ aspects, there has also been a lot of emotion in the air. The best riders in the world have given us some great contests and put on an excellent show. The Trophée des Légendes Platinium Sellier présenté par les Sports Équestres Militaires, a major novelty in this edition devised by Frédéric Cottier, was a particularly intense moment with the stands full to appreciate the exploits of four great champions. https://15love.hosting.augure.com/Augure_15Love/default.ashx?WCI=EmailViewer&id={6e9276af-f105-4eff-9e9a-b4a8b03eb38b}

“I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the success of the event: riders, trainers, all the partners who support us continuously, grooms, officials, volunteers, staff of the organisation, etc. and of course all the spectators who show their loyalty to our beautiful competition every year. So, I look forward to seeing you in 2024, when a strong Olympic air will blow over the La Baule course.”

Update on Explosion W

Cared for very quickly after having injured himself in the Rolex Grand Prix Ville de la Baule, Explosion W, Ben Maher’s Olympic champion horse, is okay. He was transported to his horsebox, where he was able to eat his hay peacefully before travelling back to the stable, well supported by all Ben Maher’s team. In any FEI event, priority is given to the safety and well-being of horses and competitors. The Jumping International de La Baule wishes Explosion W a good recovery.

Full results of Jumping International CSIO5*La Baule here.