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Every sport has its majors, and for the Olympic discipline of Jumping there is nothing to compare with the tension, excitement and prestige of battling for the ultimate prize of the indoor season – the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping trophy. The destination of this most coveted prize will be decided at the 2018 Final next week at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris (FRA) where 39 horse-and-rider combinations from all around the globe will gather in the quest for honour and glory.
The title is a seal of success and a measure of achievement, and winning it is one of the proudest moments in the career of any athlete who gets to place their name amongst the greats who have gone before them. You don’t come out on top by chance. The Final is a test of all that’s best about the horses and riders who have qualified from hard-fought leagues staged all around the globe — their partnership and mutual understanding, their power and speed, their courage, and their tenacity to give their best over three tough days of competition.
As America’s McLain Ward returns to defend the title he won so convincingly on home ground in Omaha (USA) last year, he knows that he and his brilliant mare HH Azur have it all to do once again. Becoming a back-to-back champion is no easy feat, but it has been done before – most notably by legendary combinations like the iconic Canadian duo of Ian Millar and Big Ben who reigned supreme in 1988 and 1989, and Great Britain’s John Whitaker who steered the magical grey, Milton, to victory in 1990 and again in 1991.
Those who have posted three wins are exceptional and, again, some of the biggest names in the sport. Austria’s Hugo Simon put himself into the record books as the very first champion riding Gladstone in 1979, and then returned to do it twice more with ET FRH in 1996 and 1997. Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum partnered the great Shutterfly to success in 2005 and again in 2008 and 2009, and compatriot Marcus Ehning claimed three titles with three different horses between 2003 and 2010. Perhaps the most remarkable three-time champion of all however is Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa, because he succeeded in consecutive seasons between 1998 and 2000 and each time with the same super-stallion, the “King of the Ring” himself, Baloubet du Rouet.
Ehning however is on the edge of history, as he goes into next week’s Final as the only rider with the chance of becoming the first four-time champion. He is one of five former title-holders competing this time around, and each of them arrive in Paris on cracking current form. America’s Beezie Madden brings Breitling LS, Germany’s Daniel Deusser has two qualified horses, the strangely-coloured Cornet 39 and his 2014 winning ride Cornet d’Amour, and Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat, winner in both 2015 and 2016, is also double-handed, with Alamo and the super-speedy Bianca. Ward’s work will be cut out for him to keep these superstars in check, but sometimes surprises are sprung as the story of the closing stages of this fantastic series confirms.
Few expected Bruno Broucqsault and Dileme de Cephe to become the first French partnership to take the title in Milan (ITA) 14 years ago, and a second French victory is long overdue. If there is one man who deserves his date with destiny it is Kevin Staut who has campaigned tirelessly throughout the qualifying series over many long seasons and who brings two great horses, Reveur de Hurtebise HDC and Silver Deux de Virton HDC with him to this year’s finale on his home turf. Could his moment have arrived at last?
To make it happen he will have to see off tremendous challenges from riders like Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann who finished third last year and who brings the brilliant mare Toveks Mary Lou, and of course Britain’s Michael Whitaker whose hunger for this title is second-to-none after 24 previous attempts and many podium placings.
The statistics show that riders from just nine nations – Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Switzerland and USA – have claimed the trophy down the years and that Germany and the USA have each won it on 10 occasions. The youngest rider ever to reign supreme was 1984 champion Mario Deslauriers from Canada who was just 19 years old at the time, and he partnered the youngest horse ever to come out on top, the 7-year-old Aramis.
A total of 28 different riders have held this unique trophy in their hands, and the one and only time the Final previously took place in Paris, 31 years ago back in 1987, a 28-year-old American called Katharine Burdsall pinned 24-year-old Frenchman, Philippe Rozier, into runner-up spot.
A total of 43 riders from 11 nations lined out that year, this time around it is 39 riders from 19 countries as the sport continues to spread its appeal around the world, and the battle for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping trophy will be hotter than ever. It’s the one they all want, and the action gets underway on 11 April.
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image: It was an American victory, for Katharine Burdsall and The Natural, when the FEI World Cup™ Final was last staged in Paris (FRA) in 1987 where then FEI President, the Princess Royal, presented the trophy. The Final returns to the French capital city next week when another American, McLain Ward, will defend the title. (©Hippophot)