Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eric van der Vleuten thwarted the British challenge to capture the Rolex FEI World Cup qualifier at Olympia.

Eric van der Vleuten ended a 15-year wait for Dutch success in the Rolex FEI World Cup qualifier at Olympia.

And van der Vleuten also took over top spot in the Western League standings after six events heading towards next April's World Cup final in Geneva.

He saw off a strong British challenge, headed by fourth-placed Ben Maher and Robin Hood W, while Michael Whitaker finished seventh.

Last year's blue riband event of the London International Horse Show produced only two clear rounds - Australian winner Edwina Alexander and British runner-up John Whitaker.

Whitaker missed this year's event while he continues his recovery from a broken ankle, while Alexander and Itot du Chateau was among several riders to knock one fence down during a testing examination.

But there were 11 clears to contest a thrilling jump-off that went the way of van der Vleuten and Groep Tomboy in 35.08 seconds for a first prize of just less than £24,000.

He became the first Dutch winner of an Olympia World Cup event since Jan Tops in 1994.

Irish challenger Cian O'Connor (Rancorrado) finished second in a time of 35.66secs, with France's Penelope Leprevost (Mylord Carthago) third on 35.97.

Maher and Whitaker were the only British riders to make the jump-off, with first-round casualties including Ellen Whitaker, Robert Smith, Nick Skelton and Peter Charles.

Smith remains the last British winner to taste World Cup glory at Olympia, having won the event in 2005 on board Kalusha.

O'Connor though, went within a whisker of emulating fellow Irish rider Jessica Kurten, who triumphed on Libertina two years ago.

"The horse has been very good all week," said van der Vleuten. "He has been in good shape.

"I was second last to go and I didn't want to see any of the other riders go in the jump-off.

"Everyone wants to win and the World Cup at Olympia is a special class.

"I bought the horse when he was nine years old. I had known him for three years before that and I had always liked him.

"It's a very good horse that suits me very well. I like to ride him."

O'Connor was pleased with second spot, adding: "I was really happy, he is deceptively fast.

"I would have accepted second place this morning if it had been offered to me."

Maher left the arena slightly frustrated he could not add an Olympia World Cup triumph to his growing portfolio of successes with Robin Hood.

"I would have liked to have had a win at home today," he said.

"I don't think I could have jumped a lot quicker and I am happy that the horse went so well. He felt as good as ever today."

The standard of competition, meanwhile, caught out course designer Frank Rothenberger.

"I didn't expect so many clear rounds - I thought no more than eight would go through into the jump-off," he said.

"There were not many clears in the early part of the competition but then several in quick succession."

Earlier in the day, Switzerland's Pius Schwizer took another step towards being crowned leading rider of the event.

Schwizer thrilled a bumper Olympia crowd by taking the H&M Speed Stakes.

His victory from a 17-strong field left main leading rider rival Ellen Whitaker among those trailing in his wake.

Schwizer and Joy's Mouche landed the speed class in a time of 48.36 seconds, edging O'Connor (Irish Independent Echo Beach) into second spot.

Whitaker and Kanselier, meanwhile, had to be content with third place, despite being among six combinations to go under 50 seconds.