By Cindy Timmer
After a thrilling competition on the last evening of the 35th edition of Jumping Mechelen (BEL), Boyd Exell (AUS) claimed his fourth FEI World Cup™ Driving victory of this season. The enthusiastic spectators witnessed a fantastic neck-to-neck competition with runner-up spot going to Koos de Ronde (NED), while Georg von Stein (GER) finished third and is therefore one step closer to a starting place for the Final.
International Level 4 Course Designer Jeroen Houterman (NED) had laid out a technical and fast course for the eight top drivers, which was very nice for the spectators to watch. They had flocked to the Nekkerhal in large numbers despite the late hour and were well-entertained with great sport.
The sixth leg of this season’s FEI World Cup™ Driving in Mechelen was Exell’s fourth and last competition for points, and although he already won three competitions and is in the lead with the maximum number of 30 points, the six-times World Cup Champion still felt the pressure.
In the first round, he showed what indoor driving is all about and drove his team of experienced horses faultlessly clear and fast through the course, putting the pressure on his Dutch opponents IJsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde.
Chardon lost precious seconds and knocked two balls down in the first marathon obstacle after his horses went into a wrong gate and he had to put them back. The four-times World Champion knew his chances of a place in the Winning Round were lost, but put his horses to the test and took a few shortcuts in the remaining part of the course, much to the joy of the crowd.
Koos de Ronde put down the fastest time, but gave Exell an advantage before the Winning Round by knocking one ball down.
Need for points
After the first round, the difference between the number three Georg von Stein and leader Boyd Exell was only four seconds, which resulted in a very exciting Winning Round.
First starter Von Stein really went for it on the shortened course, and was very pleased with his performance despite one knock down which saw him finish third. “I did not do very well in the first competition on the first day. I made the mistakes, not my horses. My goal in Mechelen was to qualify for the Winning Round. I really need the World Cup points in order to have a chance to qualify for the Final. It is the second time that I have been in the Winning Round in Mechelen, the very good atmosphere here certainly contributed to my performance!” he said.
Von Stein has now finished his season and is currently in fourth position in the standings with 13 points. It all depends on the results of the other drivers in Leipzig whether he will be able to maintain his position in the top six in order to qualify for the Final.
Koos de Ronde was one of the three wild card drivers in Mechelen and was aiming for the sixth win in his career in the Nekkerhal. De Ronde is already certain of the Final and used the competition in Mechelen to test a new combination of wheeler horses.
“It is the first time this season that I have used Bonusz and Palero in the wheel together and I am very happy with their performance. The incident in London Olympia (where some of his team of horses fell) has not affected my horses and myself. The horses have a lot of experience and they were both competing here in Mechelen” he explained.
Again he put down the fastest time in the Winning Round, but another knock down gave last starter Boyd Exell some more air.
Last cone gate
Exell knew his advantage over de Ronde was eight seconds, so his tactics were to drive steady. The Australian used up a little time at the start of the course but was still ahead of Dutchman. But Exell made the competition even more thrilling when he knocked a ball off the last cones gate, number 13, on his way to the finish.
“It certainly wasn’t the plan to hit that last cone, but luckily I still had some time advantage so it was ok in the end!” he said. With nearly three seconds difference, Exell won the FEI World Cup™ Driving leg for the second time in his career since 2011. Mechelen was his fourth and last competition for points. The three best results count towards qualification for the Final, so even though Exell got 10 points in Mechelen, he will stay on 30 points as he has to drop one of his four scores.
World Cup debut
The 26-year old Edouard Simonet from Belgium made his World Cup debut in Mechelen and finished in a well-deserved fourth place behind Georg von Stein. Simonet acted as a back-stepper for Boyd Exell for many years and attended Mechelen in that function several times.
In 2013 he successfully took up the reins himself of the four-in-hand Arabo Friesians owned by Louis Groenen. Simonet finished 13th in the FEI World Cup™ Driving standings and moved up to 11th place after Weber and Sandmann pulled out. The driver from Neerpelt was thus very close to becoming one of the Top Ten drivers this season. He drove a team of Arabo Friesians and one Lipizzaner, previously owned and driven by Exell, which he put together 10 weeks months ago especially for the indoor season. If he had not had one knock down in the first round, he would have finished in the top three.
Mechelen was the second competition for European Champion Michael Brauchle (GER) and although his speed was fast enough, he lost some seconds in the marathon obstacles and had one ball down as well, which saw him finish on the fourth place. Brauchle is in fifth position in the standings but still has one more competition to go in Leipzig in January.
His compatriot Rainer Duen drove his third and last competition of this season in Mechelen and finished sixth, which unfortunately was not good enough to qualify for the Final. Third wild card driver Glenn Geerts took too much risk and went too fast, finishing eighth on his home soil. Glenn’s last start for points is also in Leipzig, after which the top six drivers for the Final will be announced.
Results FEI World Cup™ Driving, Mechelen (BEL), 30 December 2015:
Results in detail can be viewed here
FEI World Cup™ Driving, standings after 6 of 7 events:
1 Boyd EXELL AUS 30
2 IJsbrand CHARDON NED 27
3 Koos DE RONDE NED 21
4 Georg VON STEIN GER 13
5 Michael BRAUCHLE GER 12
5 Jozsef DOBROVITZ HUN 12
7 Rainer DUEN GER 11
8 Jozsef DOBROVITZ jr. HUN 8
9 Jérôme VOUTAZ SUI 7
10 Glenn GEERTS BEL 4
The 2015/2016 FEI World Cup™ Driving series now moves on to Leipzig (GER) on Sunday, 17 January 2016.
The FEI World Cup™ Driving competition in Leipzig will be broadcast live on FEI TV, the FEI’s official video platform, on 17 January at 11.50 hrs.
For information on Leipzig go to www.partner-pferd.de or contact Press Officer Kirsten Maier, firstname.lastname@example.org, +49 151 – 424 300 65
For more information on the FEI World Cup™ Driving, please check the FEI website
Boyd Exell (AUS) on his way to claim his fourth victory of this FEI World Cup™ Driving season in Mechelen (BEL). Photo: FEI/Dirk Caremans