The fast and fearless French partnership of Penelope Leprevost and Flora de Mariposa scorched to their second victory of the 2015/2016 season at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League qualifier in Lyon, France this afternoon.
From a formidable 40-strong start-list, just seven found the key to Frank Rothenberger’s first-round track, and the result was clinched by a breathtaking run from the 35-year-old Frenchwoman and her fabulous 10-year-old mare who also topped the line-up at the opening round of the series in Oslo (NOR) two weeks ago. They pinned the dynamic German duo of Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z into runner-up spot today, while last weekend’s winners in Helsinki (FIN), Switzerland’s Romain Duguet and Quorida de Treho, had to settle for third place this time out.
There were three host-nation contenders in the closing stages, and it was the less-well-known Julien Gonin (Soleil de Cornu CH) who slotted into fourth spot ahead of fellow-countryman Simon Delestre (Qlassic Bois Margot) in fifth. Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Casall ASK) and Douglas Lindelow (Casello) lined up sixth and seventh in the final rankings.
The first-round track was vintage Rothenberger, and it was clear from the outset that fault-free performances would not easily be achieved. Big and bold from start to finish, it included a difficult line from an oxer at fence six to a double of maximum-height verticals at seven and another big oxer at fence eight. And that was quickly followed by a right-hand turn to the testing triple combination – oxer, vertical, oxer – at nine.
A total of 13 horse-and-rider combinations faulted at the double which would play a role right to the end of the competition. Adding extra pressure in the first round was a tight time-allowed of 70 seconds, and both Frenchman Jerome Hurel (Quartz Rouge) and Italy’s Emanuele Gaudiano (Casper) were unlucky when missing out on a slot in the jump-off with just a single time fault apiece.
Rothenberger’s jump-off track was also intriguing, making a figure-of-eight with a circle at the centre of it and with the dreaded double of verticals still in place.
Sweden’s Lindelow led off with a mistake from his leggy chestnut, Casello, at the bogey first element of the double, so it was last weekend’s winner, Romain Duguet, who established the early target when home and clear with Quorida de Treho in 42.27 seconds. This was always going to be a strong time, and when Gonin broke the beam more than five seconds slower then the Swiss rider was still way out in front.
Gonin – 220th in the current Longines rankings – was hugely impressive however, qualifying for the jump-off when so many of the major stars failed to do so and leaving the difficult jump-off track intact once again with his nine-year-old bay gelding. A friend of Show Director Sylvie Robert and a long-time pupil of French horseman par excellence, Michel Robert, the 33-year-old who won individual bronze at the FEI Mediterranean Games in Italy in 2009 lives near Lyon, and he had plenty of support in the arena today.
Fellow-Frenchman, 2015 European individual bronze medallist Simon Delestre, was well up on the clock with Qlassic Bois Margot when also falling foul of the first element of the double, but Germany’s Ahlmann cut clean through the course with his fantastic and faithful servant, the 15-year-old stallion Taloubet Z, to cross the line in 41.27 and go well out in front and really put it up to the final two contenders.
Leprevost didn’t flinch, however, setting off at a ferocious pace and never faltering for even a moment. “Flora jumped as if she knew where the next fence was!” said the Frenchwoman afterwards, and that was exactly how it seemed, the pair scorching in with the clock showing 40.64 seconds for the new lead. And when Rolf-Goran Bengtsson’s 16-year-old Casall ASK hit the third fence it was all done and dusted.
Winning one leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League is no mean feat, so a second victory is all the sweeter. Leprevost put it all down to her brilliant horse. “She is one of the best mares in the world, she is so brave and clever – she’s very, very special! I saw Romain go and also Christian and they were so fast that I didn’t know if I could be faster. But Flora is very, very quick – she’s just amazing!”, she added.
Asked if she had a clear plan in her head going into the jump-off, Leprevost explained, “I plan a lot of things, but I know I can change my plan if something goes wrong”.
Ups and downs
Having achieved so much so early in the season, and already looking set for a place at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2015/2016 Final in Gothenburg, Sweden next March, the winning rider was asked if she would find herself a little bored over the rest of the winter months. “No!” she replied, “I have had three wins in two weeks because I also won the Longines Grand Prix here at Lyon on Friday, but I have had plenty of ups and downs in the past – I’m just delighted that at last the ups are coming along!”
And she is far from finished with her Longines 2015/2016 qualification campaign, because she will be back in the ring next Sunday at Verona (ITA) for the fourth leg of the Western European League. She will bring the horse with which she finished second at the 2015 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Las Vegas (USA) last April, Vagabond de la Pomme, to the Italian fixture.