Stargold makes history as first back-to-back winner of Doha grand prix

  • Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Stargold produced a scintillating triple clear to become the first back-to-back winners of the CSI5* 1.60m grand prix at Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab in Doha, Qatar (25 February), presented by Longines. 

    From penultimate draw, Marcus set the fastest clear of the final-round jump-off on 41.74sec. In-form Simon Delestre was last to go, and chased the target on his attractive black 10-year-old Dexter Fontenis Z, but was 0.29 adrift. Japan’s 24-year-old Mike Kawai completed the podium with the only other triple clear, riding Saxo De La Cour.

    Stargold had already won a 1.50m class on the first day of the show, so Marcus knew the stallion was on form.

    “He was in such good shape and felt so fresh, so I already had a good feeling,” said Marcus. “Germany is cold, and he enjoys the heat here. But we won the grand prix together last year so I thought it wasn’t possible to do it again. I can’t really believe I’ve won it twice in a row on the same horse.

    “I thought the two courses were fair. I know my horse so well, and I know that Uliano [Vezzani] cannot shock him with a distance – long or short – and if I rode well I could manage his course, so that gave me a lot of confidence. He’s a stallion with a lot of character and I try to let him stay that way. I don’t mind when he likes some little bucks, it is his personality.”

    Uliano Vezzani’s first-round track caused plenty of trouble, but there were 14 clears from the initial 38. Ireland’s Breen brothers both retired in the first round, with the forthcoming GCT in the same venue next week, but British hopes were kept alive by Jodie Hall-McAteer and Salt’N Peppa, who went through to the second round in a quartet of fastest four-faulters, but fell out of the reckoning with two down.

    Runner-up: ‘I thought the first round was too big!’

    Simon Delestre was bidding to hear the Marseillaise play for the third time this week after scoring a double with Amelusina R 51.

    “I saw how fast Marcus went, but I knew there was one place I could take a risk,” said the Frenchman. “But Dexter is only a 10-year-old, and it’s his first tough grand prix outside. I knew there was a line I could take nine strides but I took 10 and I had to slow down. I did my best but Marcus was faster.

    “This is a show I want to come to every year; it’s fantastic for the horses, one of the best arenas in the world,” he added. “When you come from indoor arenas and you see this grand prix, you think, ‘woah, it’s tough’, but these horses are so good, that by the second round, you are ready for it. But in the first round with Uliano’s courses I always feel, ‘this is too big!’.”

    Simon Delestre and Dexter Fontenis Z, runners-up in CHI Al Shaqab grand prix

    Simon Delestre and Dexter Fontenis Z, runners-up in CHI Al Shaqab grand prix

    Japan’s under-25 rider Mike Kawai made history as the first from the Asian continent to make the CSI5* grand prix podium at CHI Al Shaqab. First to go in the final round, he laid down the gauntlet with his triple clear. Although three other riders beat his time of 44.98, their over-tight lines cost them faults, and he held on to his lead until the penultimate rider, Marcus, clocked his winning round.

    “I’m surprising myself to be here with these amazing riders – to be third in a grand prix, it’s a dream,” Mike said. “Everyone wants to win of course, but for me it’s a big step to becoming a good rider. I always have a good feeling in Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and I’m so happy to compete here.

    “I want to be the best rider in the world, but that’s a long way away. I’ve only just started but I always try hard to be better and better, and if you keep fighting, then slowly you will get there.”

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