Whitaker
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Olympia

22 December 2018

William Whitaker and Boyd Exell secure wins at London Olympia...

It was a thrilling day of action at Olympia on Saturday, as William Whitaker of Great Britain took the gold medal in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Grand Prix aboard Belgian Sport Horse Utamaro d’Ecaussines.

 

Whitaker had the home crowd on their feet, beating out many of the world’s best jumpers in a huge 18-horse jump off.

 

Karel Cox of Belgium took home the silver medal, whilst American Laura Kraut placed third at the London event, the eighth qualifying leg on the road to the Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, next April.

 

In the Driving arena, Australian Boyd Exell, the current world champion defending his FEI Driving World Cup™ title, notched another win for his team. Koos De Ronde of the Netherlands finished second, and Belgium’s Glenn Geerts took third, after retiring from the drive off when one of his horses fell exiting the bridge element.

Whitaker’s victory was no doubt the greatest of his young career so far and the first Grand Prix win for Utamaro, his long-time Jumping partner.

To take the gold medal on home territory made it doubly sweet.

 

The first-round course, designed by Bernardo Costa Cabral of Portugal, sent a larger number of riders than usual into the jump off. Whitaker’s ride was a textbook demonstration on the tight indoor track, his stallion practically pirouetting to change direction between obstacles.

 

The British rider was left to bite his nails while his competitors tried to best his time of 37.02 seconds. Cox’s time came close at 37.21, and whilst world No.4 Marcus Ehning of Germany had a faster time at 36.03 seconds, he had a pole down, which added 4 penalty seconds to his time.

 

In the end, Whitaker’s time held the top slot, and Cox would have to settle for second. Laura Kraut, riding last in the jump off, made a valiant effort at beating them both, but at 37.70 seconds ended up in the bronze podium position.

 

Exell and Weber set the pace

Seven Driving teams competed in Leg 7 of 9 for FEI Driving World Cup™ qualifying points to participate in the Finals in Bordeaux in February. With music pumping up the already enthusiastic crowd, and the horses keen to attack, it became clear the compact, festively decorated holiday course would make each Driving team’s navigator and backstepper indispensable.

 

After a super fast first round in which American Chester Weber and Australia’s Boyd Exell had the only clear rounds, it was Glenn Geerts, Koos De Ronde, and Boyd Exell who headed to the drive off, based on time and penalties.

 

Up first, Glenn Geerts’ team had a bad fall coming out of the wooden bridge, with one of his horses slipping and becoming trapped under the others whilst still clipped into his harness and tack. Fortunately, other drivers and veterinary staff rushed into the arena to help release the horse, which was able to walk away from the scene, a testament to the family support in the Driving circuit despite their stiff competition in the ring.

 

Koos De Ronde, former world champion and Team silver medalist at the recent FEI World Equestrian Games™, turned in a time of 121.91, with 4 penalty points, for a total of 125.91 seconds, nearly three seconds faster than his first round through the course.

The gauntlet was laid down for Boyd Exell’s team, and as he tore through the course, it was readily apparent why he reigns as the FEI Driving World Cup™ and FEI World Equestrian Games™ champion.

Laying down a near-impossible time of 114.88 and a clear round, the Australian was elated to take another win, his fourth on the path to Bordeaux.

 

After Saturday’s events, Exell is at the top of the standings on 30 qualifying points, followed by De Ronde, and Bram Chardon of the Netherlands.

 

In the Jumping rankings for the Western European League, Steve Guerdat of Switzerland holds the No.1 position on 58 points, with Belgium’s Peter Devos and Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander nipping at his heels.

 

Tune into FEI TV next weekend as the leading Dressage, Driving and Jumping athletes compete in Mechelen. Who will further their chances of reaching Bordeaux in February and Gothenburg in April?

 

Words by Patricia Salem

Images by Jon Stroud

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