An Historic Year for Olympia
Written by Amy Powell
The two biggest show jumping classes of the week at The London International Horse Show saw momentous occasions for both of its winners. Great Britain’s William Whitaker took his first ever Olympia win in the Longines FEI World Cup Leg on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday, Italian Alberto Zorzi made history as only the 6th rider to ever win back to back Olympia Grand Prix’s.
Saturday saw an emotional William take home a prize fund of 42,500 Euros, riding Utamaro D Ecaussines to victory in the form of a blistering jump off round, taking risk after risk to stop the clock just 0.2 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Karel Cox. With a total of 12 riders through to the jump off, numbers were not on the pair’s side, but they came through to beat some of the sport’s biggest names including World Champions.
“This is the best win of my career to date, by far,” said a visibly emotional Whitaker, “I’ve been coming here since I was a two or three year old and I’ve got loads of memories watching [uncles] John and Michael flying round to win the world cup at Olympia,” he reminisced. “It was one of those things that got me out of bed in the morning thinking, ‘one day, give yourself an opportunity to try and win that’, and for it to actually happen today is a bit surreal really.”
William’s ride, the 14 year old Stallion Utamaro D Ecaussines, took to his first experience at Olympia like a fish to water, “I wondered how he would adapt to the conditions here and he’s not had a fence down all week, so he likes it here!” he laughed.
Karel Cox had to curb the exuberance of the young 9 year old gelding, Evert, but managed a masterful clear that just didn’t quite match the Brit’s pace, “I just rode what I thought was the best round for my horse,” Cox said, “he’s quite a fast horse, he always wants to go fast so I have to slow him down, but I’m happy with how he jumped.”
A close third was America’s sweetheart, Laura Kraut riding her World Team Gold Medallist ride, Zeremonie. Stopping the clock just 0.7 seconds behind William, her round was within sniffing distance of the title. “It was all or nothing,” she said of her ride, “but sometimes that’s the best position to be in because there’s no second guessing, I had to go as fast as I could and it just wasn’t fast enough.” The 11 year old mare is less experienced in contesting World Cup legs as she has always been aimed at Championship teams with Laura, “so I was pleased to come as close as I did – I know how fast both of them are.” Kraut said.
Turkish Airlines Olympia Grand Prix
Sunday’s Turkish Airlines Olympia Grand prix saw a second win for last year’s champion, Italy’s Alberto Zorzi, and in doing so he joins an exclusive club of six as the only riders to take back to back titles – Ben Maher in last achieving this back in 2013 & 2014. This year he was on board the 10 year old, Ulane de Coquerie, “She’s a bit green in this class – she’s only jumped 1.60m three times so far, but we trust each other and we have good communication.” He said of the inexperienced mare, “She’s one of the best I’ve ever had, she’s so fast, it’s unbelievable.”
With an even tighter jump off, the competition saw Maikel van der Vleuten stop the clock just 500th’s of a second behind the Italian, which was enough to crown the Dutchman as the leading rider of the show. “Alberto made the turns a bit further but the horse has a shorter stride so that means he could really move up the speed in the lines and it’s a naturally very quick horse.” He said of his fellow competitor, “he deserved to win today – I was happy the way my horse jumped, it’s good to finish the year with a 2nd place, of course we would love to win but that’s the sport. But I do finish as leading rider, that means my horses did well and I think we can look back at this as a great finish to the year.”
With just four riders in the jump off on the Sunday, it was the general consensus amongst riders that the Turkish Airlines Grand Prix course was tougher than the World Cup leg.
“Maybe the World Cup was a bit too soft for the riders who were at this level, that’s why today it was maybe a bit stronger with the course and straight away you see that there are not so many clears.” Van der Vleuten said of Bernado Costa Cabral’s difficult track which saw faults throughout the course. “The time was quite short which means the riders have to take some strides out somewhere or make the turns a bit tighter which can create some faults – but it’s not easy to make the right course every time,” he reasoned.
Both classes gave the sell-out crowds an action packed Olympia to remember and with two new historic occasions to go down in its history books, it’s a wrap on 2018!