Omaha, Nebraska, USA – March 30, 2023 –The wait is almost over and the excitement is sizzling….just a week to go to the start of the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final in which a crack field of horse-and-rider combinations will battle for the supreme title of indoor jumping.
The history behind this series is the stuff of legend, and placing their name on the Roll of Honour is something every top athlete wants to achieve. But the competitions to decide the winner are always hard-fought and often unpredictable, and course designer Bernardo Costa Cabral from Portugal will be sure to test them all the way.
For the second time in its long history the Final will be staged at the CHI Health Center in Omaha (USA) where, with a capacity audience of 18,300, the crowd went wild when home hero and five-time Olympian, McLain Ward (USA) , clinched victory in 2017 with his great mare HH Azur.
Currently ranked fourth in the world, Ward returns as part of the nine-strong American contingent and this time will ride the 15-year-old mare Callas when flying the host nation flag.
Title-defender is world number two Martin Fuchs (SUI) from Switzerland who partnered The Sinner and Chaplin to victory in Leipzig (GER) 12 months ago. This time around the 30-year-old rider brings the grey Leone Jei who carried him to European team gold and individual silver in 2021. However the entry-list of 41 athletes from 19 countries around the globe is filled with plenty of others who are also chasing down their hopes and dreams, and if ever there was a Final that can spring surprises then this is definitely one of them.
One of the intriguing things about equestrian sport is the age-range of competitors and the fact that male and female athletes compete on exactly the same stage. This time around the age difference between the youngest and oldest finalists is a not-inconsiderable 42 years.
America’s Elisa Broz (USA), who is only 18, earned her place through impressive results in the North America West series. She will be armed with the experienced 13-year-old Belgian mare Kardenta Van’t Meerhof who previously competed at top level with Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) before joining Broz’s string in 2021.
The most senior rider is 60-year-old double-Olympian Pius Schwizer (SUI) from Switzerland who, riding Ulysse and Carlina at both World Cup Finals, finished equal-second in 2010 and third in 2012. He brings the popular stallion Vancouver de Lanlore who competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with French rider Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) in the saddle and who finished second at the last leg of the Western European League in Gothenburg (SWE) last month with the Swiss rider onboard.
The record for the youngest rider ever to take the title remains with Canada’s Mario Deslauriers (CAN) who was only 19 when steering Aramis to victory in Gothenburg (SWE) back in 1984, beating two other legends of the sport, Brazil’s Nelson Pessoa and America’s Norman dello Joio.
And following in that distinctly equestrian tradition Norman’s son, 33-year-old Nicholas Dello Joio (USA) , is amongst the host nation contenders again this year.
Besides Switzerland’s Fuchs and America’s Ward, there will be two other previous winners in action this time around and both are German – Daniel Deusser (GER) who reigned supreme in 2014 and Marcus Ehning (GER) who is one of five three-time champions.
Also on the startlist are seven of the top ten athletes on the current Longines rankings including world number one, Henrik von Eckermann (SWE), who brings the incredible King Edward, the horse with which he scooped team gold at the Tokyo Games and double-gold at last summer’s ECCO FEI World Championships.
The Swedish rider has been very consistent at the Longines Finals, finishing third with Toveks Mary Lou in Omaha in 2017 and again the following year in Paris (FRA). He’s not putting his superstar horse on the flight out of the airport in Liege (BEL) next Friday, which will carry all the European horses and many others to their US destination, without that fabulous World Cup trophy in his sights.
But the competition will be intense. Frenchman Julien Epaillard (FRA), currently third in the rankings, is like an unstoppable force right now and his talent for speed riding is second to none. He posted three spectacular wins – in Lyon (FRA), Madrid (ESP) and Amsterdam (NED) – during this qualifying season and he brings the brilliant Donatello d’Auge to the Final.
Meanwhile Dutchman Harrie Smolders (NED) is surely so very close to taking the title. He’s been runner-up twice, in 2016 with Emerald and last year with Monaco NOP who will be back in action this time around. Could this be his year to take that coveted top spot and the glory that goes with it?
It’s all to play for with the first Final competition taking place on Wednesday April 5, the second competition on Thursday April 6 and the new champion crowned on Saturday April 8 when the top-30 go into the first round and the top-20 battle it out for the final placings.
It’s going to be another epic conclusion to a great year of indoor sport, so don’t miss a hoofbeat…..
Source: Press Release by Louise Parkes for FEI – Fédération Equestre Internationale
Photos: © FEI / Richard Juilliart