The third-ranked athlete in the world and one of the fastest riders on the planet, Frenchman Julien Epaillard galloped to victory for the third time this season at the twelfth leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2022/2023 Western European League in Amsterdam (NED) today.
On an afternoon when Dutch course designer Quintin Maertens’ 13-fence first-round track defeated all but eight of the 36 starters, Epaillard went out in front when third-last to go against the clock with the 10-year-old Donatello d’Auge and couldn’t be caught. There was plenty for Switzerland’s Edouard Schmitz to smile about however when he slotted into runner-up spot with Quno, and huge emotion for Brazil’s Yuri Mansur when he claimed third with the stallion Vitiki.
Epaillard said, “the World Cup is looking good for me – one more win today and it’s my first 5* win with Donatello d’Auge so it’s really special for the family and the team. I’m very happy!”
He collected points in every one of the seven qualifiers in which he competed and has now taken over the lead on the Western European League table with a massive 92 points, helped by also grabbing maximum points for wins in Lyon (FRA) in October and Madrid (ESP) in November.
The bogey double of white planks to a rustic oxer proved the undoing of 18 combinations in the first round in which the triple combination two fences later also proved highly influential.
Switzerland’s Alain Jufer was first to go and clear in the opening round and, leading the way against the clock, was foot-perfect once again with the 12-year-old Dante MM who crossed the line in 44.79 seconds to set a good target.
However Great Britain’s Jodie Hall McAteer got off to a difficult start when Salt’n Peppa backed off the first fence and then got into a muddle at the remaining two elements of the triple combination at fence 10 – now three from home – before retiring.
Next in, Yuri Mansur raised the game when going into the lead in 44.42 seconds with Vitiki and when Jur Vrieling, the only one of the nine Dutch riders to make the cut from the first round, hit the first element of fence 10 the Brazilian was still out in front.
After her exciting first round with Equine America Papa Roach in which the gelding miraculously recovered from a mistake in the middle of the triple combination, Norway’s Victoria Gulliksen was very excited going into the jump-off because she had the Longines Final 2023 in her sights and was super-keen to collect those precious extra points she needed.
“It would be nice to have another clear round but I think I have been geared up so many times and making mistakes because I’m too geared up, so I’m going to try to keep focus and hope for the best!” she said, before doing just that and coming home clear in 46.91 seconds to her absolute delight.
When Epaillard entered the ring however the pressure was really piled on as he galloped the long lines and raced through the tight turns with the greatest of ease to set the new target at 42.04 seconds.
Second-last to go, Germany’s Daniel Deusser looked set to challenge with the brilliant Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, but the pair found a really deep distance to the first fence which threw them right out of their rhythm as it hit the floor, and although they made a superb recovery their chance was gone and only Schmitz could oust Epaillard from pole position. And he gave it a great try, matching the Frenchman’s time at the midway stage of the track but a little slower to the last to break the beam in 43.44 for second place.
Mansur finished third ahead of Jufer in fourth, Gulliksen in fifth, Vrieling in sixth, Deusser in seventh and Hall McAteer in eighth place.
“I’m obviously very happy for my second place, being part of a jump off like today is an honour. Of course it’s always frustrating to be only 0.5 seconds behind, but next time I’ll beat the old man!” 23-year-old Schmitz said with a laugh, referring to 45-year-old Epaillard at the post-competition press conference.
“For me today it worked because of luck, twice the plank and pole rolled but stayed on the cups. It’s horse sport and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, there’s not always an explanation”, he said wisely. And he really enjoyed the Jumping Amsterdam experience.
“It was amazing being here, the crowd was excited for everyone, it makes the horse sport even more special. We can thank everyone involved for making this event happen, it takes a village to make horse sport happen and I’m very proud to be part of it today,” he added.
Mansur was thrilled with third place with his great 15-year-old Vitiki. In 2018 the horse broke his off-fore pastern in a fall at Aachen (GER), but the stallion has made an excellent recovery.
“We had such a long and hard story, but the way he’s jumping this season is just unbelievable. This horse is always emotional for me…and it was a very long process to bring him back, and now he becomes what he used to be and he’s so special to me!” he said of Vitiki who was clearly enjoying every minute of his day today.
Needless to say, so was Julien Epaillard.
“It’s always a pleasure especially with this horse,” he said.
““Donatello was always one down in past events but he’s becoming more consistent. This weekend I did a different preparation with two smaller classes and I think it worked. Today he was really relaxed and he made an amazing jump off. The goal is to go to the World Cup Final, so he still needs a little bit more experience before Omaha,” he pointed out.
With just two qualifiers remaining, at Bordeaux (FRA) next weekend and Gothenburg (SWE) at the end of February, the pressure is intense for those still hoping to join him at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2023.
Epaillard has pinned reigning world champion, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann, back to second place on the Western European League standings following today’s result. Deusser lies third ahead of Kevin Staut from France in fourth, Germany’s Gerrit Nieberg in fifth, Great Britain’s Harry Charles in sixth and Victoria Gulliksen in seventh spot, and the top-18 from this qualifying series will book their tickets to the 43rd Final which will kick off on 4 April.