World number one Henrik von Eckermann and his super-steed King Edward showed the pure class that helped them earn Team gold for Sweden along with the Individual title at this summer’s ECCO FEI Jumping World Championships when posting a definitive victory at the fourth leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2022/2023 Western European League in Verona, Italy today.
On a tough day at the office, when only seven of the 40 starters found the key to the 13-fence first-round track set by Italian course designer Uliano Vezzani, the Swedish duo returned a jump-off performance that was smooth as silk to clinch it.
Austria’s Gerfried Puck produced the only other double-clear of the competition when last to go with the nine-year-old Equitron Naxcel V to fill second place while young British star, Harry Charles, lined up in third with Romeo 88 who was quickest of all but left the final fence on the floor second time out.
Vezzani’s first track was certainly testing, the biggest bogey being the double at fence five where the hedge underneath the opening vertical seemed to distract many horses who kicked out the top pole and sometimes faulted again at the following oxer.
The time-allowed of 79 seconds didn’t present too much difficulty, but with six of the 13 fences at maximum height there was no let-up on the course and the triple combination at fence nine stretched them out while the tight three-stride distance between the water-tray oxer at fence 11 and the vertical of planks at 12 required gymnastic ability before turning right-handed to the final oxer that often didn’t come up on a perfect stride.
The seven who made the cut into the deciding round were from seven different nations, and Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts was pathfinder with Katanga v/h Dingeshof. Hitting the first fence however the 29-year-old rider and his 12-year-old mare who finished individually eighth at the World Championships in Herning, Denmark crossed the line with four faults in 42.36 seconds. And then 23-year-old Charles scorched home in 39.95 seconds only to leave the door still open when kicking out the final oxer.
Third to go, The Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling had two down with the 11-year-old Fiumicino van de Kalevallei who had been really impressive first time out before von Eckermann and King Edward set off to a gasp of excitement from the crowd.
The pair who never touched a pole on the way to securing team gold and individual fourth place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and whose World Championship performances this year were nothing short of breathtaking made it look relatively easy as they cruised home clear to take the lead in 40.55 seconds. As Von Eckermann explained afterwards he’d seen those before him making mistakes and he wasn’t going to take any big risks. It was the right decision when Ireland’s Mark McAuley had two down when next in with his promising nine-year-old stallion Django Ste Hermelle, Mexico’s Fernando Martinez Sommer and High Five hit the second fence before stopping the clock on 43.99 seconds and last man in, Puck, opted for a careful clear to wrap it up.
The jumping exhibition the winning pair put on today was a joy to watch, their balance, symmetry and mutual understanding as they twisted and turned around the jump-off course demonstrating the essence of their extraordinary partnership. Von Eckermann was well pleased because it has taken a little time to get back on track after the World Championship.
“We gave King Edward a bit of a break and we struggled to get back to the good form we had. Verona was normally not in my plan but I felt he needed one more show because he did just four classes in three months and I have two big shows coming up. So I thought I’d take him here to get him going a little bit more and today he was fantastic again!”
“In the jump-off I had a good opportunity, I saw the other ones before me had faults so I thought OK, I don’t need to overdo it. I’ll go a little bit on the safe side and he jumped fantastic. King is a genius horse….he proves it again and again!”
Second-placed Puck was more than happy. “I’m really proud to be second to a horse and rider combination like King and Henrik and I hope my horse in the next years will be just as famous – he has all the potential for the future!” he said. And today’s result means he may change his plans for the coming months, “because after getting many points today maybe I will go to Madrid or La Coruna!” he pointed out.
His busy year has included “a small break in the summer as we bought a new stables and moved the horses. Then we went to San Giovanni and my horse was third in the 3* Grand Prix. Lyon was our first World Cup and 5* and we had one fence down, today was his second World Cup and he was clear so I am very happy!” he added.
Harry Charles was understandably disappointed that his super-fast time didn’t clinch it for him today but he was also happy about picking up valuable qualifying points on the road to the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2023 Final which will take place in Omaha, USA next April.
“When you get into the jump-off and come so close it’s a bit gutting but that’s how it goes. It’s a good start to the season and next week I go to Stuttgart with Romeo again so hopefully it will go a bit better there! I’ve got some points on the board and I’ll try to build on that,” said the talented 23-year-old who finished fourth at the 2022 Final in Leipzig and who helped Great Britain to world team bronze in Denmark this summer. He’s also been heading the U25 world rankings for the past year.
“That’s not as cool as Henrik being world number one, but maybe one day my turn will come!” the ambitious young rider pointed out this evening.
Meanwhile von Eckermann reflected on today’s competition.
“I always put pressure on myself no matter if I am world number 1 or not. I always try to win the big classes and I am very happy I won! The course was very good, seven clears and quite a lot on four faults. I prefer to have jump offs with seven riders rather than too many,” he pointed out.
Today’s victory has rocketed him up to fourth place on the the Western European League table behind first-round winner Bryan Balsiger from Switzerland in third, Jur Vrieling in second and Norway’s Victoria Gulliksen who continues to top the leaderboard going into the fifth of the 14 qualifying rounds at Stuttgart, Germany next Sunday.