Only one of the eight Dutch contenders made it into the jump-off which began with a superb second clear for the exciting Portuguese pair, Rodrigo Giesteria Almeida and GC Chopins Bushi.
That sole Dutchman, Eric van der Vleuten, was more than a half-second slower with Wunschkind when next into the ring but, as expected, Belgium’s Niels Bruynseels and the ever-ready Gancia de Muze roared into the lead in 35.09 seconds when third to go.
Two rides later however, Frenchman Kevin Staut and For Joy van’t Zorgvliet HDC out-paced them only to be immediately overtaken by Germany’s Daniel Deusser with his Madrid winner Tobago Z who broke the beam in 34.67 seconds.
Dutch course designer, Louis Konickx, had set them a superb final test, and both Staut and Deusser risked super-tight roll-backs to the vertical three from home.
But penultimate competitor and former world no. 1, Schwizer, who has been rocketing back up the rankings in recent months, found an even tighter line with his 10-year-old gelding Cortney Cox, and galloped through the timers in 33.34 seconds which looked to have surely settled the matter.
However when it comes to the will to win, there’s no man quite like von Eckermann.
Setting his jaw, he started out like his tail was on fire, and the great 13-year-old mare who has carried him to the third step of the podium at the last two Longines Finals gave him her all.
Konickx had ensured that courage on the long run to the final fence would be rewarded, and with the Dutch spectators screaming them on, the Swedish pair threw everything they had at it to break the beam in the astonishing winning time of 33.01.
“I could hear the crowd coming down to the last, so I had to tell myself to stay calm! Mary Lou was lacking a bit of power at that stage so I needed to hold her and not go too much, but she is amazing!” he said.
"She has made me in this sport - I’ve had many good ones along the way, including Gotha, but she is the one that has won the most for me and I’m so very grateful to her owner, Mr Tovek, who has given me the opportunities by keeping a horse like her!"
With Mary Lou he also helped secure team silver for Sweden at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2018 last September.
As today’s competition began, von Eckermann was lying 19th on the Western European League table, but he has now rocketed up to seventh ahead of the last qualifier in Bordeaux (FRA) in two weeks time. He’s missed out on the glorious Longines title by the smallest of margins over the last two seasons, and he’s hungry to try for it again when the 2019 Final kicks off in Gothenburg on April 3.
“The way to the Final this year has been very stoney, but getting there was my biggest goal for the year. I’ve had two great Finals with Mary Lou before, and I’m so happy to be coming home to my own country to fight for it once again!” the Swedish star said.
Hot stuff in Mexico
Saturday was a balmy day with brilliant blue skies in picturesque, historical Guadalajara. Seven nations were represented at the Jumping event, the first for the Western Sub-League after a holiday hiatus.
With only two legs left to see who will win coveted spots at the World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, in April, the rivalry was fierce. Additionally, jumpers at Guadalajara were eligible to earn certificates of competency for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so there was added incentive to clear the obstacles and rack up some points.
The course by Brazilian designer Guilherme Jorge looked straightforward enough, but it turned out to be much more challenging than at first glance.
Taking advantage of the huge, curving outdoor arena lined with lush foliage, Jorge set a difficult track with a domino-like effect. If riders went wrong on one fence, it was easy to go astray on subsequent jumps, and many did.