Checkmate Cruises in for Meredith at 'S-Hertogenbosch……

Checkmate Cruises in for Meredith at 'S-Hertogenbosch……

Defending champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum cruised into pole position with Checkmate at the second-last qualifying round of the FEI 2005/2006 World Cup Jumping series at 's-Hertogenbosch, Holland this afternoon. In a thrilling nine-horse jump-off the German rider pipped her fellow-countryman, and brother-in-law, Ludger Beerbaum for the honours while Holland's Gerco Schroder kept the Dutch supporters on the edges of their seats with a last-to-go run that very nearly changed the top of the order.

Frank Rothenberger's first-round course kept them thinking, and only nine horse -and-rider combinations left it intact from a starting field of 37. There were five retirements, the first of these being Italy's Juan Carlos Garcia who withdrew due to injury after a fall earlier at the show, while Germany's Pia-Luise Aufrecht was eliminated after suffering a flying dismount from her mare Hofgut Liederbach's Abrisca who slammed on the brakes in round one. There was intense frustrations for the 10 four-faulters, many of whom were desperately hunting those last few valuable qualifying points, and there were plenty of quick calculations being done at the end of the competition by those who are so close to making the cut for the final in Kuala Lumpur next month.

Reigning European champion Marco Kutscher recorded the first clear of the competition when third into the ring with Cash, but two fences down left the door wide open as the jump-off began. Holland's Jurgen Stenfert and his Jus de Pommes mare BMC Octavia made a stingle mistake in 40.61 seconds but young British contender, Ben Maher, then threw down the marker when bringing Niko home without incident in 38.98 seconds. The 23 year old created quite a stir when winning both the Hickstead Derby and Hickstead Speed Derby last summer and is one of the most exciting prospects to emerge onto the British scene for quite some time. Another talented youngster is Piet Raymakers Jnr., son of Dutch veteran Piet Raymakers who took individual silver and team gold at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 with the great Ratina Z, and 23 year old Raymakers Jnr. steered the 11 year old stallion Van Schijndel's Rascin to another excellent round, picking up just four faults in 42.56 seconds.

Ludger Beerbaum, the man who took over the ride on Ratina and who steered her to further success during her sparkling career, re-set the target however when bringing Gladdys S home in 37.03 seconds to snatch the lead from Maher. Fellow-German Marcus Ehning presented no threat to Ludger's advantage when Cinderella rolled a pole in 37.85 seconds but Meredith and Checkmate altered the picture dramatically when racing across the line to thunderous applause with a clear round in 36.69 seconds to take control. Britain's Michael Whitaker was over a second off the pace when keeping a clean sheet with Portofino in 38.14 and now only the home side's Gerco Schroder stood between Meredith and a repeat victory at the Dutch fixture which she dominated in similar style in 2005. Schroder is no shrinking violet however and set off at a cracking pace with Eurocommerce Milano and the clock showed he was over a second quicker coming to the last, but his speed proved his undoing as that hit the floor for four faults and he had to settle for fifth place behind Maher in fourth, Whitaker in third, Ludger Beerbaum in second and Meredith at the top of the line.

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