Christian Ahlmann won the opening leg of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League series at Oslo in Norway this afternoon where German riders scooped the top three places. And Ahlmann's victory was all-the-more creditable for the fact that the 36 year old rider suffered the tragic loss of one of his top horses, the nine year old stallion Calvados Z, earlier in the day.
"For sure today it wasn't easy for me to ride and to concentrate on my job", Ahlmann said after completing his victory gallop with his 10 year old stallion Taloubet Z, "but Taloubet really did his very best for me." It was the German master, Ludger Beerbaum, who slotted into second place ahead of Lars Nieberg in third. The first non-German in the line-up was fourth-placed Frenchman Kevin Staut, who headed Holland's Leon Thijssen in fifth place.
Just seven of the 40 starters jumped clear over the first-round track created by Norwegian course-designer Terje Olsen Nalum. Described by many of the riders as "not over-big" it proved plenty tough enough, with the lines from fences four to six and from fences nine to 11 both claiming a large number of victims. However the real surprise was the number of top riders who faulted at the very last oxer having completed an otherwise faultless tour of the 13-fence challenge.
Ireland's Jessica Kuerten, currently lying 10th on the Rolex World Rankings, was amongst these. Partnering the 10 year old chestnut mare Castle Forbes Cosma, she looked set for a fault-free first effort but, like many before her, she met the last on a very long stride and although Cosma did her best to clear the back rail it fell to keep the Irish combination out of the deciding round.
Against the Clock
Italy's Emanuele Gaudiano was pathfinder against the clock with the fizzy chestnut gelding Chicago which had been first to find the key in the opening round. The jump-off track included fences one to four followed by the second two elements of the former triple combination at fence seven, the triple bar which was previously fence nine and finally the oxer at fence 11. There was a long run to this, inviting error all the way, but it was the oxer at fence three which left Gaudiano carrying four faults in the time of 45.82 seconds after the Italian approached it at an angle and paid the price.
Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson suffered exactly the same fate at the same spot with the stallion H&M Tornesch and then added four more faults when catching the left-hand wing at the second element of the former combination, so Holland's Leon Thijssen shot straight to the top of the leaderboard when third to go. His 10 year old stallion, Tyson, who jumped like a cat on his first visit to the arena, produced another breath-taking clear in 47.99 seconds, but although this was always going to ensure a prominent finishing spot, the time looked vulnerable.
World No 1, Kevin Staut, immediately shaved more than four seconds off that target despite some cheeky bucking from his Quidam de Revel gelding Le Prestige de Hus, so Lars Nieberg was chasing the time of 43.79 as he set off with Levito. And the German rider reset the parameters with the coolest of clears in 43.33 seconds to put it up to the remaining two contenders.
His fellow-countrymen had a new plan however, and second-last to go, Ludger Beerbaum cut even more time off the clock when crossing the arena to approach the remaining two elements of fence seven on the left-rein rather than the right. Breaking the beam in 42.12 seconds with his 11 year old stallion Chaman he now held a handsome lead, but it didn't last long. The last two German riders had been discussing this new route-option prior to the jump-off and once he had seen Beerbaum make it work then Ahlmann was confident. "Ludger and I talked about this new line but neither of us were 100% sure if it was better - but when I saw him go I knew it was good", Ahlmann said afterwards.
Setting off with determination he knew exactly what he had to do and drove home his advantage with an extra-tight turn to fence seven which brought him home in 41.40 seconds for a clear victory.
"The course was big enough but fair, quite a few horses had just one fence down and the jump-off track was clever and quick", Ahlmann pointed out. He admitted that it had been a tough day despite his success however. His stallion, Calvados, died suddenly in his stable earlier in the day - "it was really, really sad" he said, adding that the horse was subsequently taken to the veterinary hospital at the University of Oslo for post mortem examination.
He was pleased with Taloubet's result - "this is his biggest win although he has competed well this season and placed during the Global Champions Tour", he explained. Beerbaum described the jump-off as "very fast" but believed he "could have gone faster!" And Ahlmann admitted that he reaped the benefit of seeing his fellow-countryman go ahead of him. "I was very positive about the jump-off and I was lucky to have a more experienced rider like Ludger going in front of me to show me the way", he said.
Nieberg placed third and when Gaudiano was disqualified, because blood was visible on his horse's flanks, Staut then slotted into fourth, Thijssen was fifth, Baryard-Johnsson was sixth and Belgium's Ludo Phlippaerts claimed seventh place with the fastest four faults from Nobel de Virton.
The 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series now moves on to Helsinki, Finland next Sunday, 24 October, with Ahlmann now top of the leaderboard having collected the maximum 20 qualifying points on his way to the final in Leipzig, Germany next April.
1, Taloubet (Christian Ahlmann) GER 0/0 41.40; 2, Chaman (Ludger Beerbaum) GER 0/0 42.12; 3, Levito (Lars Nieberg) GER 0/0 43.33; 4, Le Prestige de Hus (Kevin Staut) FRA 0/0 43.79; 5, Tyson (Leon Thijssen) NED 0/0 47.99; 6, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/8 47.97; 7, Nobel de Virton (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 4/ 72.38; 8, Cash (Marco Kutscher) GER 4/73.20; 9, Castle Forbes Cosma (Jessica Kuerten) IRL 4/75.31; 10, Souvenir (Philipp Weishaupt) GER 4/75.36.
Full Results at http://www.scg-nl.nl/
Facts and Figures:
Today's competition at Oslo, Norway was the first of 13 qualifying rounds in the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League series
There were 13 fences on the course.
Just 7 of the 40 starters jumped clear in the first round.
The lines from fences 4 to 6 and 9 to 11 created plenty of problems but many top horse-and-rider combinations went clear only to lower the very last in the first round, the oxer at fence 13.
German riders took the top three places in today's competition.
The youngest horses in the competition were the 8 year old chestnut gelding Chicago, ridden by Italy's Emanuele Gaudiano, and the 8 year old mare Ciske Van Overis ridden by Australia's Edwina Alexander.
The oldest horse was the 16 year old stallion Godsend du Reverdy ridden by Thomas Velin.
Ludger Beerbaum - "The course was good today, there could have been 12 clear rounds and it was not just one fence that kept falling, the problems were spread out around the course."
Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2010/2011 Western European League - Standings After Round 1 at Oslo (NOR):
1. Christian Ahlmann GER - 20
2. Ludger Beerbaum GER - 17
3. Lars Nieberg GER - 15
4. Kevin Staut FRA - 13
5. Leon Thijssen NED - 12
6. Malin Baryard-Johnsson - 11
7. Ludo Philippaerts BEL - 10
8. Marco Kutscher GER - 9
9. Jessica Kuerten IRL - 8
10. Philipp Weishaupt GER - 7
11. Edwina Alexander AUS - 6
12. Julien Epaillard FRA - 5
13. Daniel Deusser GER - 4
14. Nina Fagerstrom FIN - 3
15. Shane Breen IRL - 2
16. Nina Braaten NOR - 1
ROLEX FEI WORLD CUP™ JUMPING 2010/2011
CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR WESTERN EUROPEAN LEAGUE: 1, Oslo (Norway) 14-17 October; 2, Helsinki (Finland) 21-24 October; 3, Lyon (FRA) 27 Oct-1 November; 4, Verona (Italy) 4-7 November; 5, Stuttgart (Germany) 17-21 November; 6, Geneva (Switzerland) 9-12 December; 7, London-Olympia (Great Britain) 14-20 December; 8, Mechelen (Belgium) 26-30 December; 9, Zurich (SUI) 28-30 January; 10, Bordeaux (France) 4-6 February; 11, Vigo (Spain) 10-13 February; 12, Gothenburg (Sweden) 24-27 February; 13, s'Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands) 24-27 March; FINAL -. Leipzig (Germany) 27 April-1 May.
Photo Caption: Germany's Christian Ahlmann, who steered Taloubet Z to victory in the opening leg of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Oslo, Norway today, is presented with his Rolex watch by Anthony Schaub from Rolex. Photo: FEI/Roger Svalsrod.
FEI TV - Re-live the excitement of today's competition and enjoy highlights, interviews and archive footage at www.feitv.org