Backed by one of the best crowds on the circuit, Boyd Exell (AUS) and his slick, super-speedy horses raised the roof at the FEI Driving World Cup™ in Stuttgart to take his third win out of three in this series. Indoor Driving has been at Stuttgart since 1994 when the great Michael Freund (GER) went on to take thirteen victories in a row. But that was before the Australian sealed his unwavering dominance of the sport.
“Stuttgart has an amazing, electric atmosphere with an educated Driving public. It’s where World Cup Driving started so it means a lot to be here. It was a really high-speed course and today, Michael Brauchle was first out with a very fast time and clear round, so it added to the pressure. Ijsbrand got ahead of him by just one second, and Koos had great speed as it was an open course that suited his horses, so it was a close competition. But my team can do both – they can do high speed and they can be technical. They are just such brilliant horses!” said Exell.
Using three of his horses from Lyon (FRA) and one from Maastricht (NED), Boyd and his team are so consistent that even when a ball rolls or they are in second place, they put so much pressure on those in front that they force mistakes from their rivals. In a similar scenario to last weekend, it was an error from a Dutch driver while he was in the lead that helped secure victory for the reigning world champion.
Koos de Ronde (NED) had set blistering times in both first rounds on Friday and Saturday to go ahead and ensure his top three placings. But balls rolling on Friday, then a slip from his leader in the water in the drive-off on Saturday, meant that he couldn’t maintain his position. Despite starting so well on his final round, he lost his line through the water exit cones and there followed a costly ring of the bell and rebuild of obstacle seven. Finishing on a total of 226.40, Koos slipped to third.
“Boyd’s score was 151 and I had done the course in 150 seconds, so I knew that my only chance was to go fast again with no mistakes. At the beginning of my drive-off, there were no mistakes, but then my left leader tripped in the water and he pulled my team to the left, so I ran over cones four and seven. I was focussing on my horse to make sure he was okay, then I lost the track and made some extra loops. It was a pity, but the horses were so good. Afterwards, I was asked by one of the jumpers why I didn’t quit because I was already third, but I said that we drivers don’t quit!” said de Ronde.
Taking second place was Ijsbrand Chardon (NED), who recovered well from mistakes in his drive-off on Friday night when he misjudged entering the water and sent number eight flying. He pulled up before the judge’s bell rang so the clock ticked on and he accrued more penalties on a technicality. But he was back on form on Saturday and produced two quick and precise drives to end on 160.38, which was 9.22 behind Boyd’s total of 151.16.
The remaining qualifying drivers who took on Jeroen Houterman’s (NED) 14-obstacle course with a watersplash in the magnificent Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle were Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) and home crowd favourite Mareike Harm (GER), who were joined by Michael Brauchle (GER) as a wild card.
To roars from the audience, Michael opened proceedings and came out on Friday at lightning speed. But the gamble didn’t pay off, and a knock in the obstacle meant a bell ring and rebuild, and he ended the night in sixth. The fans were equally thrilled to see Mareike and she drove with her customary smooth style over her two rounds. Mareike confesses to knowing she’s unlikely to win against the faster drivers, but she relishes being back in the series after her maternity break last year. Three of her four horses are used in her outdoor team, and as she says, they are “big Dressage horses, which is a bit more difficult for me. I’m really used to them, and they are used to me, so we make a great team because we have been competing been together for long time, so we know each other really well.”
Jérôme was another who attacked the course with his bright bay Swiss horses, who are so well suited to the format. He had some great times but wasn’t accurate enough to make a drive-off.
There’s a weekend off before the 4th leg in Stockholm (SWE) on 1st and 2nd December. With all the qualified drivers well into their stride now, this halfway event sees Mareike, Boyd, and Michael joined by Bram Chardon (NED) and Glenn Geerts (BEL), plus the host nation’s wild card, Fredrik Persson (SWE).
Stuttgart confirmed Boyd’s position at the top of the series ranking and he remains the favourite to take an unprecedented 11th FEI Driving World Cup™ title in Bordeaux (FRA). Yet despite the results, as he said before the opening event, his fellow drivers are on great form too and are not going to make it easy for him!
by Sarah Dance