Ludger Beerbaum claimed the honours in Stuttgart

Ludger Beerbaum claimed the honours in Stuttgart

Ludger Beerbaum claimed the honours for Germany today in the fifth leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League series on his home turf at Stuttgart. Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s 10-year-old mare, Gotha, has been going from strength to strength in the hands of the five-time Olympian in recent months, and produced a superb jump-off round to clinch maximum points for the 48 year-old veteran who won the prestigious series title 18 years ago.

It was no walk-in-the-park afternoon for the world’s top competitors, with only six of the 39 starters finding all the answers to the demanding 13-fence first-round track set by Christa Jung. The German course designer stretched them from the first fence to the last, and the eight retirements on course were testament to the degree of difficulty.

“It was not too technical but it was quite big – Christa did a good job,” Beerbaum said afterwards. “There were mistakes at all the fences, except, I think, the first – it was selective,” he added.

Starting them off with a triple bar followed by a wall standing 1.55m high, the course was ratcheted up a notch by a line of fences that began with a vertical which had a dark plank on top. This backed up some of the horses who then found the forward four-stride distance to the following grey oxer – 1.53m high with a 1.70m spread – difficult to make. The latter proved the bogey of the day, adding faults to the score-sheets of ten riders, but there were plenty more questions to come. The water-tray oxer at six and the FEI vertical on a bending line at fence eight claimed a number of high-profile victims, while the double – vertical to oxer – at fence ten was also very influential, penalising nine horse-and-rider combinations who mostly faulted at the second element.

And there was still plenty more to think about before they crossed the finish-line. The penultimate triple combination asked for maximum control and accuracy, with a tight two-stride distance between the opening oxer and the following vertical which fell on numerous occasions.

The complexity of the course failed to faze young Swiss rider Janika Sprunger however, the 24 year old springing one of the surprises of the day when bringing Uptown Boy Boy home for the first clear of the competition when sixth into the ring.

Another 15 would jump before she was joined by Ireland’s Denis Lynch and Abbervail van het Dingeshof, and then reigning individual European Champion, and the man who won the third leg of the current Rolex season in Lyon, France last month – Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson – followed suit with Quintero La Silla.

The home crowd could at last heave a sigh of relief when Marco Kutscher brought Cornet Obolensky home without incident. With 15 German representatives in the line-up they had watched many fail to make the cut, including three-time World Cup title-holder Marcus Ehning who retired Noltes Kuchengirl after leaving four fences on the floor. But when Beerbaum earned his place in the decider alongside his fellow-countryman, and Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat did likewise with Nino des Buissonnets, then a clash of titanic proportions was guaranteed in the race against the clock.

Sprunger led the way, and didn’t allow the pressure to get to her as she cruised home with no faults on the board in 38.34 seconds, and when Lynch’s gigantic gelding hit the grey oxer, previously fence four but now the third-last obstacle on the track, then she remained at the head of affairs.

But Bengtsson set a new standard when stopping the clock on 36.55 seconds after an exciting run that saw him take a tight right-hand turn to the newly-introduced Rolex oxer, the third fence on the track, and jumping the left-hand side of the wall which was four from home. Kutscher’s stallion was quick and clean, but this German partnership didn’t challenge for the lead when clearing the line in 37.37 seconds. Beerbaum, however, meant business from the outset. “The course suited my horse, there were two deciding turns to the right and she really gave me everything” he said afterwards. Quick to the third, he shaved off more valuable fractions of seconds with a daring ride to the penultimate double to clear the finish in 35.70 seconds, and that was now the target for last-to-go Guerdat.

His 10 year old has a great turn of foot, but, when the turn from the wall to the following oxer didn’t come up quite right he lost time there, and with 35.93 showing on the clock as he raced through the finish he had to settle for second spot this time around, while Bengtsson slotted into third.

For Beerbaum, there was plenty to celebrate. “This is my fifth time to win the Grand Prix in Stuttgart and the second time with Gotha – I won with her here two years ago,” he pointed out. Talking about the jump-off he said “I expected there would be eight or ten riders in it, but with the six that got through I knew it would be fast enough and I couldn’t relax knowing that Steve was coming into the arena after me”.

He plans now to compete at the Global Champions Tour Final in Abu Dhabi next weekend, and then the next leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series in Geneva, Switzerland in early December. “But Gotha will have a bit of a break now – she deserves it!” said the rider who has moved into sixth place on the series leaderboard.

Today's result sees Bengtsson now taking taking over at the top of the Western European League League followed by Swiss riders Pius Schwizer in second and Steve Guerdat in third. Great Britain's Nick Skelton has collected 37 points on the US circuit in recent months and currently lies fourth ahead of Ireland's Denis Lynch in fifth.

Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2011/2012 Western European League – Standings after Round 5 at Stuttgart, Germany:

1. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson – 42
2. Pius Schwizer – 40
3. Steve Guerdat – 38
4. Nick Skelton – 37
5. Denis Lynch – 34
6. Ludger Beerbaum – 30
7. Emilie Martinsen – 30
8. Patrice Delaveau – 27
9. Maikel van der Vleuten – 26
10. Kevin Staut – 23
11. Philipp Weishaupt – 22
12. Malin Baryard-Johnsson – 22
13. Marco Kutscher – 20
14. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum – 19
15. Angelica Augustsson – 18
16. Katrina Offel – 17
17. Scott Brash – 16
18. Luciana Diniz – 15
19. Edwina Tops-Alexander – 15

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