They may have been competing in the ‘Friends Arena’ in Stockholm at the 30th Sweden International Horse Show, but all notion of friendship between the drivers was thrown aside as once again, Boyd Exell (AUS) didn’t show any compassion towards his rivals, who cannot seem to topple him from the top spot. With his fourth win from four in the 2022-23 FEI Driving World Cup™ series, the clashing cymbals of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ rang out, a now frequent sound under the spotlights of a prize-giving.
Despite a gravity-defying round during Saturday evening’s drive-off from Ijsbrand Chardon (NED), Boyd’s closest challenger this season, it simply wasn’t enough to change what has become a natural order. Having come a close second in both Lyon (FRA) and Maastricht (NED), Hollands’ most successful driver must be wondering what it is going to take to beat Boyd.
Although he knocked a ball in the first obstacle to add a costly four penalties, Ijsbrand appeared to have done enough to win, with the first sub-140 second time of the competition. But as has been seen time and time again, the harder they are pushed, the better Boyd and his super-keen horses perform, and although they too rolled a ball, they shaved nearly four seconds off Ijsbrand’s time to end on the only sub-140 score of 139.74.
“My team are just flying; they are so fast. As we saw yesterday, anything can happen, including a mistake from the driver! So, you have to keep your feet on the ground and enjoy the sport.” – Boyd Exell
Taking 3rd was Germany’s Michael Brauchle with a much improved drive after both the first round and his previous appearances in Maastrich (NED) and Stuttgart (GER). Finishing Friday night’s initial outing in 4th, behind a 3rd placed Ijsbrand, Michael had fine-tuned the performance and by Saturday was back in the mix, clocking a fast time to secure his place as one of the three eligible for the drive-off. The only finalist to drive clear, with a time of 147.74, he seemed to have put himself well into contention. While Michael seemed justly delighted with the round and pleased with his horses, who had worked in harmony to give him a great drive, the old guard isn’t ready to relinquish their stronghold to young pretenders yet.
Glenn Geerts (BEL) had a brilliant Friday night and so nearly won after a triumphant first round. But he relinquished his place during the drive-off when at the last minute, the pressure told, and expensive balls rolled to push him into 2nd behind Boyd, who recovered from an uncharacteristic error during his first round. On day two, Glenn was just off the pace and ended in 4th. His fellow Belgian, Dries Degrieck, on his second outing of the series, has yet to find his stride and finished 5th on both nights, tallying up expensive balls which put him out of drive-off contention.
Satisfying the vast home crowd was the Wild Card entry, Fredrik Persson (SWE), and although he was placed 6th, there was a marked improvement in fluency between the rounds on Friday and Saturday.
Also keeping the audience happy was the presence of Boyd’s ‘Super Groom’ Emma Olsson, who is from Sweden and was recently in the running for the Cavalor FEI Best Groom Award. As Boyd’s navigator during events, he is first to credit how important she is to their success, admitting that she can get quite cross with him if he makes a mistake!
What happens on the next leg in Geneva (SUI) will be enthralling as it will be the first outing for the reigning champion, Bram Chardon (NED). Having won last year in Switzerland, he must be favourite to do it again, but it remains to be seen how sharp he is in comparison to his compatriots, who now have several legs under their belts. Boyd isn’t listed as a competitor, so there’s every chance it will go Bram’s way. But these two titans are due to clash in London, just before Christmas, when there may be a stronger indication as to who will take the title in February.