French riders were in sparkling form when taking all three medals in the Eight Year Old division, while only Spain's Monica Comas Molist stopped them from doing the same in the battle for the Seven-Year-Old honours at the FEI World Young Endurance Horse Championships at Compiegne, France. Cecile Totain, Laetitia Goncalves and Roman Lafaure secured a clean sweep for the host nation in the senior 160kms section for the eight-year-olds, while the Spaniard separated gold medallist Melody Thoelissat and Clementine Manoha as the home runners also flexed their muscle in the seven-year-old class run over 130kms..
This prestigious fixture, filled with the oysters-and-champagne lifestyle that has long been associated with this particular endurance venue, might be considered a “jolly” affair by some, but that couldn’t be further from the reality.
Compiègne is a tough, competitive track requiring skilled and tactical riding and, of course, a talented horse. It is well-recognised as one of the toughest courses on the International circuit but, some years ago, the course was modified and the competition was run over flatter terrain with speed being the main focus. Last year the track was modified again, reintroducing more technical aspects of the sport.
This FEI World Championships attracts the cream of the crop of young endurance horses and often those that will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. The 2010 event was no exception, with representatives across the two categories from Sweden, Belgium, Spain, USA, Argentina, Qatar, Portugal, Slovakia, Germany, Great Britain, Brazil, the Netherlands and of course, a strong contingent from the home nation of France.
IDEAL TRACK CONDITIONS
The area had plenty of rain in the run-up to the event providing ideal track conditions. However the day of the event dawned hot and humid and temperatures remained high during the day, something that would become evident in the performance of those horses that weren’t paced with the extreme weather conditions in mind.
The seven- year-old category was run over 130kms in four stages and had a total of 39 entries. There were plenty of well-known endurance names on the start-list, as is always expected at this popular event. First to vet-in at Vet Gate 1 was French rider Pierre Michel Dolay with his mount Khersiko du Courtisot but, as always, the fight was on and just two minutes behind arrived former World Champion Miguel Vila Ubach (ESP) with horse Balkanny who averaged just over 19.7kph. Two combinations failed to qualify at Vet Gate 1, namely Sabrina Arnold (GER), 2009 bronze medal winner in the same event, and Mustak Khan Iliyas Khan (QAT).
As the day continued the temperatures continued to climb and it was easy to see the toll the heat was taking on the front runners. Dolay continued at a strong pace but had dropped to third by the second Vet Gate. Belgian entrant Jean Philippe Cohard had now moved into first with Hillkili de Prazila, but their attempt was to end at the next vet as the horse failed to qualify due to lameness.
The speeds remained fairly constant throughout the day with the front runners travelling at just over 18kph. First over the line was 21-year-old Melody Theolissat (FRA) with her chestnut gelding Padichah du Paon, three minutes ahead of second-placed Monica Comas Molist from Spain riding the chestnut Arab mare Princesse de Campagne. Whilst these horses crossed the line ahead of the rest, it was clear to see that both were tired, reflecting the testing conditions of the day and the humidity in the forest. However, both were fully recovered by the time they were presented to the Veterinary Panel. Those that had paced themselves a little more cautiously arrived just over 20 minutes later, all looking fresh and well. Vying for the final podium position were two French riders, Clementine Manoha and Sonia Bourle, but the French-bred Arab mare Padisha la Majorie came across the line just three seconds ahead to claim the bronze medal for Manoha. This was the pair’s first attempt at this distance and also their first podium position. A total of 18 horses and riders successfully completed the 130kms, with Slovakian entrant Feras Boubol coming in over the line last, completing at a speed of just over 14.5kph.
The eight-year-old category was run over 160kms in five stages and had a total of 21 entries. Once again there were many well known names in the start-list including a couple of horses competing in this age category that had challenged for the seven-year-old title in 2009. The riders in the longer-distance category paced themselves well and were travelling generally at around 17kph, a rate that the horses seemed comfortable with.
This category had a higher completion rate of 62%, consolidating the argument that has come from France for a long time – riders take greater care when tackling the longer distances, thus providing a higher completion rate. They are also well known for their preference for five-stage 160km rides, rather than the more traditional six stages – once again the French say that riders take greater care under this format.
Highlighting once again the young talent currently on the scene in France, two of the three podium positions were taken by young riders. The winner, at just over 18.5kph following a fast final loop, was French rider Cecile Totain with Aljay des Agachiols. This was the pair’s second 160km completion of 2010 following their respectable placing in Dubai in January this year. Totain herself is no stranger to success having also topped the podium in Florac last year.
One minute later 21 year old Laetitia Goncalves and the bay gelding Dahmhorr del Tochas claimed runner-up spot.
Another young rider to complete the podium was Roman Lafaure for France riding Orient al Cabiret, who stopped the clock just one minute further behind. This talented chestnut gelding had challenged for the seven-year-old title last year but unfortunately failed to qualify at VG4 – so this was the perfect podium finish for 2010.
FEI Director of Non-Olympic Sports, Ian Williams, commented that he was pleased with the conduct of the Championships. As always, the venue was top level with a professional organisation. He also highlighted just how well those horses that had been well-paced looked at the end of the competition, and that despite the hot and difficult conditions both Championships still fielded high completion rates, not an easy task at such a highly-competitive Championship.