Germany's Marcus Ehning has won a few Rolex watches in his time, but he has rarely had to work harder for one of the exquisite time-pieces than he did tonight when winning the tenth qualifying leg of the 2009/2010 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Bordeaux in France. At the end of the toughest competition of the series to date, where the course proved too much for the vast majority, Ehning went into a two-way jump-off against fellow-countryman Philipp Weishaupt. And despite all his enormous experience, the man who was first to wear the new green and gold armband as leading rider in the Rolex World Rankings when it was first introduced last December, had to ride for his life to win by the miniscule margin of one-hundredth of a second with Leconte.
Course designer Frank Rothenberger thought he had built a challenging enough track at Leipzig two weeks ago, but it didn't turn out that way when 16 horse-and-rider combinations went through to the jump-off won by Ireland's Jessica Kuerten. So this time around he was determined there should be no more than the ideal seven or eight in the second-round decider. However once again it didn't work out the way he expected.
This was the toughest of tracks, and although the eventual winner described it as "very fair" he was the only one of the eight riders from the top-eleven on the latest Rolex Rankings list to find his way home without incident. Switzerland's Pius Schwizer came into the ring wearing the coveted No. 1 armband after taking over at the top of the new rankings which were published two days ago, but it was a measure of the toughness of this course that Ulysse, that horse that took him to team gold at last summer's European Championships in Windsor, Great Britain returned an eight-fault result.
The first of their two fences down was the trickiest on the 13-fence track, a massive triple bar which proved the undoing of many as the horses struggled to find the power to reach the back bar after a right-hand turn off the top of the arena. The treble, at fence four and therefore a big test early on, also proved a major challenge and many horses arrived down the final line looking a little bewildered and leaving a lot of timber on the ground behind them.
German ace Ludger Beerbaum decided to call it a day when it all went wrong at fence seven where the stallion Couleur Rubin crashed through the poles after a muddle about the distance to this vertical.
Weishaupt's clean-jumping stallion Catoki made it all look pretty elementary however when returning the first zero score when 18th of the 37 starters into the ring. The 12 year old Holsteiner, owned by Kai Gerken, is a big power-house of a horse and yet had the athleticism and concentration to avoid all the pitfalls on his way around. With just eight to go it seemed he might just win the class outright and without challenge, but then Ehning produced an equally crafty tour of the arena with Leconte to ensure at least a two-way jump-off. Despite the best efforts of the remaining seven that was exactly what it would be.
Weishaupt wasn't hanging around as he headed out first against the clock, but a fence down in 39.36 seconds left the door open for Ehning, so as the double Rolex FEI World Cup champion went through the start it seemed a steady clear would clinch it. But when Leconte also faulted at the halfway stage then Ehning had to radically alter his plan - "I really had to go for it over the last four jumps!" he said afterwards. He went into over-drive and galloped down to the final oxer like his life depended on it, and, to his delight, found the clock showing 39.36 seconds - just 0.1 quicker than his German team-mate.
"This was a tough one to win" he admitted afterwards. "It was a really tough course - everything came up so quickly and the oxers were big and wide in the first round. With me for sure this is the biggest win with Leconte - I'm very happy with him" he added. He got the horse, which competed for Australia at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong in 2008 with Matthew Williams in the saddle, at the beginning of last year. "He did a few good things with me last season and he went well in the German Classics but this is definitely his best result so far" he pointed out. And he added "I've been in close finishes before, but it can't get any closer than this!".
He has now pushed long-standing leader Eric Van der Vleuten of The Netherlands out of top spot on the series leaderboard while Weishaupt has moved into third ahead of Schwizer in fourth ahead of the next leg at Vigo in Spain next Saturday night.
The next leg of the 2009/2010 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series will take place at Vigo, Spain from 11-14 February. For all information on the Spanish fixture check out website www.csivigo.com or contact Press Officer Alejandra Mier Rodirguez at (mobile) +34 669 718 736 or (email) email@example.com.
RESULT:1, Leconte (Marcus Ehning) Ger 0/4 39.36; 2, Catoki (Philipp Weishaupt) Ger 0/4 39.37; 3, Katchina Mail Normandie (Patrice Deleveau) Fra 4/66.01; 4, Winningmood (Luciana Diniz) Por 4/68.17; 5, Cash (Marco Kutscher) Ger 4/68.55; 6, ideal de la Loge (Roger-Yves Bost) Fra 4/69.12; 7, Louis IV (Beat Mandli) Sui 4/69.98; 8, Ulysse (Pius Schwizer) Sui 8/65.18; 9, Silvana (Kevin Staut) Fra 8/65.66; 10, Quarco de Kerambars (Rik Hemeryck) Bel 8/67.06; 11, Cevo Itot du Chateau (Edwina Alexander) Aus 8/68.29; 12, Lamm de Fetan (Timothee Anciaume) Fra 8/69.64; 13, Tinky Winky (Leon Thijssen) Ned 8/70.80; 14, Gabelou des Ores (Stephan Lafouge) Fra 12/66.17; 15, All Inclusive NRW (Denis Lynch) Irl 12/66.20; 16, Tresor (Steve Guerdat) Sui 12/66.78; 17, Exquis Oliver Q (Harrie Smolders) Ned 12/67.86; 18, GIG Amai (Michael Whitaker) GBR 12/68.29; 19. L'Espoir (Geir Gulliksen) Nor 12/68.84; 20, Isaac du Jonquet (Mikael Forsten) Fin 12/69.17. Full results at: www.scg-nl.nl
ROLEX FEI WORLD CUP™ JUMPING - Standings after Round 10 at Bordeaux, France:
1. Marcus Ehning - 64
2. Eric Van der Vleuten - 57
3. Pius Schwizer - 57
4. Philipp Weishaupt - 57
5. Jessica Kuerten - 53
6. Kevin Staut - 53
7. Marco Kutscher - 52
8. Penelope Leprevost - 47
9. Ludger Beerbaum - 46
10. Patrice Deleveau - 44
11. Natale Chiaudani - 43
12. Rodrigo Pessoa - 41
13. Daniel Etter - 40
14. Beat Mandli - 40
13. Edwina Alexander - 40
16. Michael Whitaker - 39
16. Svante Johansson - 39
17. Albert Zoer - 34
19. Luciana Diniz - 32
20. Timothee Anciaume - 30
Complete standings at www.feiworldcup.org
Facts and Figures:
There were 37 starters in the competition
Only two clear rounds
Marcus Ehning won by a margin of just one-hundredth of a second
5 riders collected just four faults
France had the largest number of riders, with 12 in total.
The next highest number came from Germany with 5
There was one elimination, and four retirements - including German star Ludger Beerbaum with Couleur Rubin
Ludger Beerbaum, who decided to retire with Couleur Rubin in the first round "today's course was all about experience"
Marcus Ehning, tonight's winner - "I've been in close finishes before but it can't get any closer than this!"
Photo Caption: Mr Philip Schaeffer, Director General Rolex France, presents a Rolex watch to Germany's Marcus Ehning, winner of the tenth qualifying leg of the 2009/2010 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Bordeaux, France tonight. Photo: Christophe Bricot.