The 16 jumps looked quite straightforward on their own, but in combination made it all too easy for riders to get strung out or enter at too oblique of an angle.
Oñate, who hosted the León event at a gorgeous new venue for the World Cup circuit, had organising help from countrymen Patricio and Francisco Pasquel.
The weather was ideal for spectators to take in the colorful floral course laid out by Anderson Lima of Mexico, an up-and-coming designer making his first attempt at a World Cup qualifier.
It took 12 riders before Coyle turned in a clear ride, and it wasn’t until another six jumpers had gone round the arena that the enthusiastic crowd were rewarded with a clear from their host Oñate, riding Big Red, a former mount of American Richard Spooner, who leads the sub-league in the qualifying standings.
On a shortened jump off course that was no less challenging, Coyle rode first. With Eristov’s ground-covering strides, he could afford to be methodical in his approach, and it served him well, as he turned in a clear ride in 40.37 seconds.
Oñate tried his best to beat the time, pushing hard for the final gallop to the Longines oxer at the finish. Though Big Red rubbed a few rails, his ride was clear. However, at 41.96 seconds, his time fell just short of beating Coyle, and the silver medal was his.
Rounding out the top six were four Mexican riders: Federico Fernandez (1/83.94), Francisco Pasquel (4/77.60), Antonio Maurer (4/79.62), and Jose Antonio Chedraui Prom (5/81.82).
The top of the rankings for the Western Sub-League haven’t changed as a result of this weekend’s competition, with Richard Spooner, Eve Jobs of the USA, and Nayel Nassar of Egypt in the 1-2-3 slots.
Oñate has made a move into fourth position, having already taken a victory at Guadalajara in January.
Only the two highest ranked riders from Mexico and Canada will advance to the Finals in Sweden this spring, and the top three riders from each North American sub-league will get to punch a ticket as well, joining an international group of riders for the championship.
With only one North American event left at Live Oak in a few weeks’ time, riders will be pushing hard to get those few remaining qualifying points. Saturday’s competition in France completed the qualifying season for the Western European League, after 13 brilliant events.