Richard Spooner and Pako Win the Hearts of La Baule

Yesterday’s Derby Meeting’s victory was signed by an American, Richard Spooner with Pako. They were the only couple riding a clear round of the day! This was a sweet revenge for the Americans who were just slightly behind the winning French team in Friday’s Meydan FEI Nations Cup.

Twenty couples started in the Derby Meeting with a prestigious “cru” of riders to include : current European Champion Kevin Staut with Brazil M; Rodrigo Pessoa riding Cazino; Pius Schwizer the n°1 World Ranked rider, current European Team Champion and also the Winner of last year’s Derby riding Ulysse X; Steve Guerdat, current European Team Champion competing with Ferrari VI and Gerco Schröder, current World Team Champion title holder and Top Secret…

“I was not very creative in this year’s Derby course design as the Derby course is a traditional one and should not really change every year. I did, however, slightly modify the positioning of the combinations compared to last year’s course. I adjust the jump’s height according to who will be riding in the competition. The Derby remains a very prestigious competition however it does not have the same level of difficulties as it did 30 years ago or if it is the only key event. Today, the best horses compete in the Nations Cup and the Grand Prix” explains the course designer, Frédéric Cottier, “ I continue to adapt my course design to who is riding.”

The first rider to test this year’s Derby difficulties was the Swedish couple, Jens Fredricson and Donna Karan. The verdict was an elimination as a result of two refusals (the second jump of the double and the mound jump).

Kevin Staut (FRA) and Brazil M committed 8 faults (the oxer N°3 and the last jump of the triple) riding within the allowed time of 165” for a time of 163’’76. Steve Guerdat and Ferrari VI (SWI) lost their chance for a victory with 12 faults over the jumps (plank jump N°9 just after the mound jump and the plank jump after the bank jump N° 19 and the river jump) and 4 time faults.

The Brazilien, Rodrigo Pessoa returned to La Baule after 5 years of absence. His 10 year old Cazino had a very fast round in 155’’01 yet with 12 faults over the jumps.

The Netherland’s Gerco Schröder rode Top Secret and completed his round with 16 faults over the jumps and 6 time faults. Second in last year’s Derby Meeting, Julien Epaillard returned determined to win this year’s Derby with his horse Commissario. The couple had the fastest time with 145’’64 but unfortunately committed 4 faults ( n°4 - spa). At this point in the game, he was ranked number one!

The packed stands in La Baule anxiously awaited a clear round. Richard Spooner and Pako demonstrated an elegant and efficient round delivering the first clear one of the day!

The last couple to ride was last year’s Derby Meeting winner, Pius Schwizer and Ulysse X. The Swiss couple galloped at a rapid pace and jump n°18, where they had one bar down, kept them from holding onto his Derby Champion title. The Swiss couple finished in a time of 156’’13 and finishing in 3rd place just behind Epaillard and Commissario.

Richard Spooner exploded with joy as he and Pako made history by becoming the first American couple to win the Derby in La Baule.

"Last year I was fourth - we touched one small plank jump just after the descent of the bank jump" explains Richard Spooner. “When I did the course inspection, I saw that this jump was not there and I said to myself, this could be my day!”

Julien Epaillard expressed with a little bit of regret, « I am a bit frustrated not to have won once again this year. I think I took one too many risks but am I very happy with my horse! He is a real derby horse ; he really goes for it with all his heart.”

Pius Schwizer expressed disappointment, “I am a bit frustrated because our one fault was not a difficult jump, however I think my horse froze because of the vertical’s color…”

Photo: Richard Spooner and Pako Photo by: Erin Cowgill