Nicola Philippaerts Snatches a Surprise Place in the Longines Final

Kalle Sternberg, Brand Manager for Longines, Sweden, presents a Longines watch to Nicola Philippaerts after the young Belgian rider won the last qualifying round of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League at Gothenburg, Sweden today.  Photo: FEI/Roland Thunholm.
Kalle Sternberg, Brand Manager for Longines, Sweden, presents a Longines watch to Nicola Philippaerts after the young Belgian rider won the last qualifying round of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League at Gothenburg, Sweden today. Photo: FEI/Roland Thunholm.

Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts produced a career-defining win at the last qualifying round of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League in Gothenburg, Sweden today.  Lying well outside the top-18 qualification zone as the class began, his result sent him rocketing all the way up the leaderboard from 31st to 14th place and into a place at the Final in Lyon, France in seven week’s time.
“I’ve almost no words for this, it’s unbelievable!” said the 20-year-old rider who was filled with excitement after an extraordinary performance that saw him pip three-time FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion Marcus Ehning from Germany by two-hundredths of a second while The Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten slotted into third.  Son of Belgian jumping star Ludo Philippaerts, and twin-brother of Olivier Philippaerts who also competes successfully at international level, Nicola was one of ten who made the cut into today’s jump-off against the clock.  And, with the 11-year-old mare Donatella-N, he scorched home with what proved to be an unbeatable round when third-last to go.
Seemed Very Straightforward
Course designer, Frank Rothenberger, made his Gothenburg debut this weekend and presented a track that initially seemed very straightforward.  But the German ace placed his fences so cleverly that the key to a clear round was forward riding and anticipation of what was around the next corner as well as clean jumping.  The long, oval shape of the Scandinavium Arena always presents quite a unique challenge from a course-building perspective. And while some faults were registered early on the track, including at the triple combination at fence six, the majority came later on the course, particularly at the last two obstacles. 
The opening vertical was followed by an oxer before swinging right-handed to another oxer and right again to a double - vertical/oxer - at fence four.  One of the tests of the track was the rider’s ability to allow horses to have sight of the next fence, as their view was often blocked by another obstacle if they didn’t take the correct line and fence four was an example of this.  After the narrow yellow wall at five, located beside the entrance to the arena, there was a left turn to the triple combination of two oxers and a vertical before swinging right to the vertical at seven that came up very quickly on the turn.  Three strides separated the next two two big oxers demanding a big stretch at eight and nine, then horses circled back to fence ten, leaving just three more to jump.
The oxer at fence eleven hit the floor a few times but the location of the following vertical was such that horses only saw it at the last moment and this proved a real bogey as did the final vertical located in the centre of the arena.
The time-allowed of 77 seconds was generous, and Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander was the only rider to fall foul of it due to a fairly leisurely tour of the arena with Ego van Orti.
There were a few first-round surprises, but none bigger than that which saw Ludger Beerbaum lose his chance of clinching a place at the Final when pulling up Chiara after losing his right stirrup on the turn to the triple combination.  He was five places off a qualifying spot going into today’s competition and seemed more than likely to collect enough points to make the cut.  The Final won’t seem quite the same without the man who lies third on the current Longines World Rankings and who was the first German to clinch the FEI World Cup™ Jumping title when winning through with the great mare, Ratina Z, at Gothenburg in 1993.
Led the Way
The home side’s Malin Baryard Johnsson led the way in today’s ten-horse jump-off, and produced another sparkling run from the stallion H&M Tornesch who has really bounced back to his best following last year’s operation to remove an eye.  Their time of 40.30 seconds remained the target when fellow-Swedes, Douglas Lindelow and Casello, also produced a lovely clear but almost a half-second slower, Norway’s Geir Gulliksen and his tidy little mare Edesa Banjan had one down and the third of the Swedish contingent to get through, Niklas Jonsson, was clear but more than three seconds off the pace when fourth to go.
The Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling looked a serious contender with the brilliant VDL Bubalu who had pulled hard during the opening round, but this pair also hit the oxer, formerly fence nine, that was third on the new track. Dutch team-mate, Wout Jan van der Schans, went clear with the 11-year-old gelding Capetown but didn’t threaten the lead when crossing the line in 41.13 seconds, so Baryard-Johnsson was guaranteed at least fifth place with four more left to go.
Maikel van der Vleuten and the brilliant grey mare Sapphire with which he galloped to victory at the qualifying round in Olympia, London in December re-set the target when foot-perfect in 39.52 seconds, but Philippaerts shaved 0.22 seconds off that with a fabulous run from Donatella-N who broke the beam in 39.30 seconds.  Success never seemed assured however with two of the quickest men in the sport following the young Belgian into the ring.  Marcus Ehning’s turning skills with his horses is legendary, and as he set off with the 17-year-old veteran Plot Blue he looked as if he would surely have it in the bag.  But as he cruised through the timers the clock showed 39.32 - two-hundredths of a second slower than Philippaerts - and when Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer brought the class to a close with a fence down with Quidam du Vivier the celebrations had already started in the Belgian corner.
Excitement and Pride
Ludo Phiiippaerts could be seen jumping up and down with excitement and pride at his son’s victory in such prestigious company.  “Yes my father was pretty pleased alright, he was jumping nearly higher than me!” said Nicola Philippaerts afterwards.
Success is no stranger to this young man who was a member of the European gold medal winning team at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 before going on to become European Young Rider Champion at Comporta in Portugal the following year. 
He has enjoyed some significant results with Donatella-N since taking up the ride on this daughter of Vigo d’Arsouilles, the horse that carried Philippe Lejeune to the individual title at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Lexington, Kentucky four years ago.
“I took her (Donatella-N) from my brother (Olivier), she was quite hot and quite hard to ride at the beginning but we have come together over the last few months.  Today was her first World Cup and I can hardly believe she has won it!  But she has been feeling so good for the last while, she was fifth in the Grand Prix at Bordeaux a few weeks ago and she has really been on form” Philippaerts explained. 
Asked if he thought he had a chance of winning the jump-off he replied “my father said we can do it and he was right!  She is really fast and and keen, but I was lucky Marcus was two-hundredths of a second slow than me!” He was grateful for the fact that the jump-off track came up right for him. “My strides were good, my distances were good and that makes all the difference!” he said.
And asked if he felt under pressure with his father filled with expectation on the sidelines he answered, “no, it is an advantage to have him here with me, he has had 30 years to learn about this sport and he knows all the details about how to ride the course.  He is always there giving me instructions, and he taught me how to ride from the very start - it’s great to have him here!”
Reflecting on his second-place performance, Marcus Ehning said, “actually I am quite happy with my horse.  He is 17 now but he is in great shape. Last year he won the Grand Prix and I think he likes Sweden as well! I am very, very happy!”  He added that he plans to take his Bordeaux winner, the fabulous grey stallion Cornado, to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final.
Third-placed Maikel van der Vleuten said he was very happy with the way VDL Groep Sapphire jumped today, but added “I am not so happy with myself to be honest. I didn’t start quick enough and was just two tenths of a second too slow – today was a bit my fault to be honest”. 
Having finished fifth on the Western European League table at the end of this qualifying series however he can comfortably look forward to the prestigious Final where he will compete alongside today’s young winner from Belgium.
Gothenburg’s Event Director, Tomas Torgensen, described today’s competition as “great sport”, and said “and I want to thank the riders for giving their best today. I want to thank Longines in what is their first appearance in Gothenburg and look forward to a very nice partnership for the future - I am so pleased to have them here”.
For more information on the last qualifying leg of the Western European League at Gothenburg, Sweden check out website or contact Press Officers Matilda Hjertstrand Email, Tel + 46 709 79 56 31 or Mayvor Thorin, Email, Tel +46 705 82 84 20.
The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final will take place in Lyon, France from 17-21 April 2014.  For all information on the French fixture contact Press Officer Pascal Renauldon, Email, Tel +333 44 620 621.
Result:  1. Donatella-N (Nicola Philippaerts) BEL 0/0 39.30; 2, Plot Blue (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 39.32; 3, VDL Groep Sapphire B (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 39.52; 4, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/0 40.30; 5, Casello (Douglas Lindelow) SWE 0/0 40.93; 6, Capetown (Wout-Jan van der Schans) NED 0/0 41.13; 7, Caral (Niklas Jonsson) SWE 0/0 43.30; 8, Quidam du Vivier (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/4 41.32; 9, VDL Bubalu (J Vrieling) NED 0/4 41.61; 10, Edesa S Banjan (Geir Gulliksen) NOR 0/4 43.97.
Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Western European League - Standings after Round 10 at Gothenburg (SWE):
1. Marcus Ehning GER  - 81
2. Scott Brash GBR - 69
3. Pius Schwizer SUI - 63
4. Patrice Delaveau FRA - 61
5. Maikel van der Vleuten NED - 55
6. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS - 53
7. Steve Guerdat SUI - 51
8. Kevin Staut FRA - 48
9. Roger Yves Bost FRA - 45
10. Billy Twomey IRL - 40
11. Luciana Diniz POR - 40
12. Joe Clee GBR - 39
13. Lars Nieberg GER - 39
14. Nicola Philippaerts BEL - 38
15. Tim Gredley GBR - 36
16. Lucy Davis USA - 36
17. Christian Ahlmann GER - 35
18. Francois Mathy Jr. BEL - 34
19. Michael Whitaker GBR - 32
20. Hans-Dieter Dreher GER - 31
21. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE - 28
22. Simon Delestre FRA - 28
Facts and Figures:
Gothenburg in Sweden presented the 10th and last qualifying leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League today.
The winning rider was 20-year-old Nicola Philippaerts from Belgium, son of Belgian jumping star Ludo Philippaerts and twin-brother of Olivier Philippaerts who also competes at top international level.
He was riding the 11-year-old mare Donatella-N, which is by the stallion Vigo d'Arsouilles which carried Philippe Lejeune to individual gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA in 2010.
37 horse-and-rider combinations started in today's competition.
Sweden was represented by 10 riders including sisters Helena and Nicole Persson.
The oldest horse competing was the 17-year-old stallion Plot Blue, who finished a close second for Germany's Marcus Ehning.
Course designer was Germany's Frank Rothenberger.
10 qualified for the jump-off against the clock.
The top 18 riders from the Western European League qualify for the Final.
Today's second-place finish has returned Germany's Marcus Ehning to the top of the Western European League leader board, while today's win has rocketed Nicola Philippaerts from 31st place all the way up to 14th and well within the qualified group of riders.
The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final will take place at Lyon, France in seven weeks' time - from 17-21 April.
Nicola Philippaerts BEL: “This is my biggest win together with Falsterbo in 2012 – for sure it is my biggest win. It looks like I like it here in Sweden and my horse likes to jump here as well so I would love to come back next year!”
Frank Rothenberger GER, Course Designer: “I was expecting something between 3 and 15 clear rounds (joke)! No, but in all honesty, I was expecting around 8 clear rounds and we were just on the ‘right side’ with 10 in total. It worked very well. It is my first time as a course designer here in Gothenburg but my first ever appearance at the show was in 1981. I came back in 2006 to attend the event as a spectator. I love Sweden. The arena is of good international size. The curves on the long sides make it a bit special – as opposed to being rectangular - but it is more or less easy to build a course in this arena.
Maikel van der Vleuten NED: “I will have a bit of a break for the next couple of weeks, as will my horse, before I attend the next show in s-Hertogenbosch which will be my last show before the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Lyon”.
Nicola Philippaerts BEL: “For sure it was a surprise (to win) but she (Donatella-N) felt super all week and I thought I just had to give it a try.
She will go to Den Bosch (NED) now and then to the Final in Lyon.  Before that, next week I will compete in Dortmund with the stallion I rode in Bordeaux, then I go to Doha and then Den Bosch”.