‘This means the world’: Whitaker’s thrilling start to 2023 and Ehning versus von Eckermann – who won this week

  • Showjumping results are coming in thick and fast from all over the world as the sport returns to full throttle and 2023 couldn’t have started better for British showjumper Joe Whitaker. The world champion Henrik von Eckermann is also back in flying form while Harry Charles debuts a new ride and Scott Brash maintains his winning ways.

    Here is your weekly round-up of some of this week’s international sporting action, plus showjumping results.

    ‘This win is up there as number one’

    Joe Whitaker landed the biggest win of his career when heading the Al Shira’aa Longines Diamond Tour FEI Jumping World Cup grand prix at the CSI4*-W Al Shira’aa International in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Sunday (15 January). In an 11-strong jump-off, he and Jessica Crane’s 11-year-old Hulahupe JR rocketed home over 1.5sec quicker than runner-up Billy Twomey riding Chat Botte ED.

    “This win is up there as number one,” said Joe, who landed his first grand prix with Hulahupe in July last year. “He [Hulahupe] is my best friend. He is an amazing horse, and he has the heart of a lion. He wanted to jump the fences more than I did today. I am lucky to have him.

    “I saw Billy Twomey go, and he went around to number two, the wall, but he absolutely put pedal to the metal everywhere else, so if you wanted to win you had to come inside it. It was a really difficult turn, so my mind was purely on that turn and then try to be as fast as I could everywhere else.”

    “It’s a big gamble coming here [to the UAE] with the worry of travelling and the size of the fences, but it’s an amazing show. I’m absolutely delighted to be here and to get a result like that means the absolute world to me,” added Joe, pictured in action, below.

    Taking third on the podium was Portugal’s Duarte Seabra riding Dourados, with Jessica Burke fourth on the Liam Nicholas-owned Nikey HH. The fifth double clear was produced by Tim Gredley riding Medoc De Toxandria.

    Joe Whitaker and Huluhupe JR winning the World Cup at the Al Shira'aa International Horse Show

    One stride proves crucial between Henrik von Eckermann and Marcus Ehning

    World champions Henrik von Eckermann of Sweden and the brilliant King Edward (pictured below) landed their second Longines FEI World Cup qualifier of the 2022/23 series in Basel, Switzerland, after a thrilling seven-way jump-off which came down to fractions of a second. The world number one flew home 0.06sec quicker than his nearest challenger Marcus Ehning, on Stargold, who is bidding to compete at his 20th World Cup Final.

    “I was very worried about Marcus, but my luck was that he went six strides to the double and I got there in five,” said Henrik, who was following up on his success in Verona in November and is targeting the World Cup Final in Omaha, USA, in April.

    Henrik and the 13-year-old gelding were drawn second against the clock over a shortened track that featured two long runs and a crucial rollback to planks at fence 11.

    “It wasn’t easy, especially after the long run to the previous jump when you picked up speed and then of course had the turn-back and then the combination [double], and you also had to get the angle right to that combination,” said Henrik, who also won the previous day’s prestigious Golden Drum competition on Calizi. “So there were a few things you had to think about, but it was good sport!”

    Taking third in the World Cup was Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer, who gave it his all with Vancouver de Lanlore.

    Four legs now remain in Europe and Henrik tops the leaderboard, with Harry Charles the highest ranked Brit in fifth.

    King Edward and Henrik von Eckermann winning the World Cup qualifier in Basel, Switzerland

    Inpulss seizes the opportunity

    Ireland’s Jessica Burke was another CSI4* winner at the Al Shira’aa International Horse Show riding Inpulss. Friday the 13th proved lucky for this pair as they came home quickest in the 1.40m Bolesworth Elite Auction gold tour two-phase. Joe Whitaker was back in the money here, finishing fourth and fifth with new ride Dream Roller and Icaterina.

    There was an impressive Breen Equestrian one-two in the seven-year-olds with Michael Duffy winning on Geniale Star Kervec, just ahead of Shane Breen riding Be Stakkato.

    Darragh Kenny riding Volnay du Boisdeville to victory at Week One of WEF

    Photo © Sportfot

    A ‘magic night’ for Darragh Kenny in week one of WEF

    Ireland’s Darragh Kenny landed the CSI3* grand prix during week one of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida, riding his top-string stallion Volnay Du Boisdeville, who he’s been riding for 18 months.

    “He’s an incredible horse and he’s better when he’s fresh,” Darragh said of the 14-year-old Winningmood stallion (pictured above) owned by Teddy Vlock, who was celebrating his birthday that night. “You can trust him at the jumps and he’s very fast in jump-offs.

    “For me, the hardest two jumps were the third last and second last, so I just had to be a bit careful there, but he was jumping brilliantly. He was flying,” said Darragh, who was the trailblazer in the jump-off, winning in a time of 37.58sec ahead of last-drawn Carly Anthony of USA riding Jet Blue, with Laura Kraut third on grand prix debutant Dorado 212. “It was a magic night in the end.”

    Vlock Show Stables’ groom Alejandro Suarez was also recognised in the prize-giving, receiving the $500 groom’s award.

    Conor Swail (IRL) and Theo 160

    Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

    Swail wins, despite ‘slowing it down’

    Conor Swail of Ireland returned to his winning ways in 2023 when landing the $145,100 CSI3* Whittier Trust grand prix at Desert International Horse Park on Sunday (15 January). When the early jump-off competitors all faulted, last-drawn Conor had only one option with Theo 160 (pictured above).

    “There were two very fast four-faulters and two eight-faulters so my strategy was to go around clear,” he explained. “I thought my horse was jumping well enough this week that we could gamble on slowing it down and just trying to jump a clean round.”

    The 11-year-old Christian 25 gelding, bred by Jenny Abrahamsson and owned by Team Philippaerts, was jump-off ready.

    “He dove a little right on me over fence one; he was probably waiting for me to do a sharp turn or something,” said Conor. “That wasn’t really the plan. It was just about trying to get home safely. Thankfully it went to plan apart from that first jump there.”

    Theo 160 has been on a great run but “wasn’t himself for a period of time” said Conor.

    “He was still trying hard but he had lost a bit of confidence and a bit of stride. We went through the basics of how healthy he was feeling and did some exercise and training at home. We got the vet to look at him and got him going again, and off he went. Normally Theo is not my number one horse but it was his job to be number one this week and he really stepped up. He had a fabulous week.”

    Brash steers President to success

    Great Britain’s Scott Brash returned to the winner’s enclosure, claiming top spot in Friday’s 1.45m Land Rover prize two-phase at the five-star show in Basel, Switzerland, riding Lady Harris and Lady Kirkham’s 14-year-old Hello Mr President.

    Harry Charles finishes in the money with new ride

    British team rider Harry Charles made an eye-catching show ring debut with new ride, Ann Thompson’s 17-year-old stallion Balou Du Reventon, and finished in the ribbons on the Spring MET (Mediterranean Equestrian Tour) in Oliva Nova, Spain. Harry also took fourth to Gudrun Patteet (Sea Coast Naturele Van Het Reigershof) in the silver tour grand prix with a smart double clear performance on Sherlock. Stephanie Gunn (Quianti) and Rosie Gunn (Jagerbomb) were also bronze tour winners, while the former also claimed victory with five-year-old Quickstep and finished second overall.

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