Tuesday, 05 April 2022
It’s been 25 years since Great Britain won the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final, when Nick Skelton lifted the trophy in Gothenburg in 1995, but three combinations have travelled to Leipzig, Germany this year to try their hand at taking it back.
Today saw the competition get underway with a speed class designed by Germany’s Frank Rothenberger and Christian Weigand. The objective was simple – the fastest time would win the day, with three seconds added to the clock for every fence down. The task, on the other hand, was not. The demanding track of 1.60m fences forced riders to make a decision between going clear and going fast, with only the bravest attempting to achieve both.
The youngest competitor in today’s field, Jack Whitaker was the first British rider to step forward in today’s class with his father Michael Whitaker’s Equine America Valmy de la Lande, who Jack has previously described as ‘a bit of a lunatic’. Although a sight to behold when he’s on form, the energetic grey can get a bit sharp and difficult to handle on tight, technical tracks like the one today, so it seems that Jack was willing to forsake a few saved seconds in favour of a smooth round – which he achieved in fine style, pulling off only the second clear round of the competition so far.
The clock stopped for the pair on a time of 71.9 seconds, just under four seconds behind the leader. Such was the competitiveness of the field that this put them into 11th going into the halfway break.
While Jack might be in Leipzig for his first World Cup Final, the same can’t be said for his uncle John Whitaker – one of the most experienced riders in the field, the British showjumping legend is in Leipzig contesting his 22nd Final. Such is the John's longevitiy in the sport that he’s won the title twice before in his long career, most recently in 1991 with the iconic Milton. This afternoon, he brought forward the 14-year-old Equine America Unick du Francport, owned by himself and Clare Whitaker, who he rode to third place in the London leg of the series in December.
Third in after the break, their round started well, but one down in the combination at 9AB added three seconds to John and Equine America Unick du Francport’s time. The rest of the round was without error, although rubs at a couple of later fences had the crowds holding their breath. A final time of 71.91 went onto the scoreboard, putting them into 14th place at that stage.
Harry Charles – another of British showjumping’s bright young stars at just 22 years old – is one of just three riders in the unusual position of having two horses in Leipzig. Riders are permitted to do so, provided that both mounts have contested World Cup classes in the current series, and have the option of swapping mounts after the first round. Today, Harry chose to bring forward Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and Pembroke Holding’s super-speedy Stardust, with whom he won the London round of the World Cup series at the end of last year.
Harry and the bold bay mare flew round the course, making it look positively easy – no mean feat in a track that had caused problems for some of the world’s best competitors this afternoon. However, the slightest touch brought part of the 9AB combination down. This wasn’t enough to put the brakes on, however, and the pair crossed the line on a time of 66.42 seconds – the second fastest time of the day so far, but the additional three seconds from their costly fence down put them into 11th place with three riders still to go.
Harry will have the option of contesting tomorrow’s second round with his Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mount, Romeo 88, or continuing his campaign with Stardust.
Once all 35 competitors had taken their turn in the ring, it was Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs – second in the World Cup Final in 2019 – who came out on top, thanks to a blisteringly fast time of 65.11 seconds with Chaplin. Second-placed Max Kühner and Elektric Blue P, riding for Austria, were over a second slower on 66.19, while the podium was rounded out by Ireland’s Connor Swail and Count Me In on a time of 67.06.
Harry Charles and Stardust end the day as Britain’s highest-placed combination in 13th, while Jack and John Whitaker sit 18th and 19th respectively.
The competition continues tomorrow with a 1.55m jump-off class, which will be competitors’ final opportunity to gain points before Sunday’s final. The combination with the most points will head into the final on a score of zero, with the rest of the scoreboard adjusted accordingly.
Tomorrow’s class starts at 13:00 BST and coverage is available on FEI.TV, available via ClipMyHorse.TV.
The Dressage World Cup Final begins this evening with the Short Grand Prix, at 17:30 BST. Lottie Fry and Dark Legend, Britain’s sole dressage representatives, will ride their test at 18:18 BST.
All start lists and results for the FEI World Cup Final series are available here.