In an incredible display of dominance, Boyd Exell (AUS) showed the world why he is the most decorated four-in-hand carriage driver in history.
The pressure was on in Leipzig as for the first time in the FEI Driving World CupTM 2022-23 Series Boyd lined up against his three closest rivals at once – the Dutch powerhouse drivers Ijsbrand and Bram Chardon, and an on-form Koos de Ronde. Yet Boyd held his nerve in spectacular style to win Sunday’s Competition 2 with two rounds of sheer brilliance.
Despite a rocky Friday night opener where he finished in an uncharacteristic third behind reigning champion Bram and Glenn Geerts (BEL), Boyd is a seasoned enough campaigner to know what it takes to ramp up his performance, especially under pressure. Tackling a slightly different course on Sunday from the tricky one set in Competition 1 by Jeroen Houterman (NED), the rounds carried extra weight as they counted towards the rankings and places for the final in Bordeaux (FRA) in two weeks’ time.
Boyd was clearly rattled after Friday but is often more dangerous when coming from behind, especially when there is a score to settle. Asking his fabulous horses to raise their game for him, which they did, his times coupled with accuracy and no penalties to add meant that he was not only the leader going into the drive-off, but the winner by 5.69 in a time of 135.44.
“Our focus is very much on the final in Bordeaux but the win in Leipzig is a great way to start the year after a month away in Australia.” – Boyd Exell (AUS)
Recovering in spectacular style from an unusually wobbly first round on Friday, Ijsbrand channelled all his wisdom and match practice to seal another second place, his fourth in the Series. Showing his undiminished passion and commitment while still driving, his defiance and joy was plain to see as ever the showman, he celebrated and whooped to the crowd. Although his drive-off time was just over 2 seconds behind Boyd, after an unlucky knock at number one he ended 141.13.
As Boyd has been consistently first and Ijsbrand consistently second this season, Koos once again finished in third position. But it was touch and go between him and Ijsbrand, with only the slimmest of margins between them. As one of the three top drivers who turned in a clear round to finish on time only and ensure a drive-off place, Koos was 0.26 seconds behind Ijsbrand; then in the final round, he was tantalisingly only 0.08 behind.
These three giants of the sport will be in Bordeaux, together with Bram, Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) – who ended in seventh this weekend – and Dries Degrieck (BEL). Glenn, who after his polished two drives on Friday looked like he was going to do enough to gain the necessary points to go to Bordeaux, didn’t maintain his form on Sunday and clocked up 8 expensive penalties which added to his slower time meant he didn’t qualify for the drive-off.
On Friday it looked as if Bram would keep his crown after a resounding win and producing the only clear drive of the night. But despite charging round on Sunday’s first run in a time of 135.80, 4 seconds faster than Boyd, three expensive knocks meant he had to add 12 to the time which pushed him out of drive-off contention.
German Wild Card entries Michael Brauchle and Georg von Stein had the welcome support of the home crowd behind them. Outdoor marathon maestro Michael wasn’t in drive-off contention this weekend so will now, like Glenn, be turning his attention to preparing his horses for the forthcoming season. Georg, a mainstay of the German team for so long, put in a tremendous first round on Friday night which was impressive as he and his horses haven’t previously competed in the current Series.
Often the courses are the same for the two competitions, with only a reduced number of gates in the first drive-off, but after Friday Jeroen Houterman wasn’t happy so boldly altered his design and although Sunday’s layout was much the same, a set of cones was taken out and the number of obstacles reduced to 12.
There were early opportunities for fast running to gain valuable time as the start gates were halfway along one of the long sides of the arena, with number one being on a short side, two on the diagonal then the bridge was number three, on the opposite diagonal, making the first sequence a fast figure of eight. The two marathon style obstacles were set as four and eight, and one of the trickiest parts was the abrupt U-turn which had to be made from gate F in four to the pair of cones at number five, which was accomplished with mixed success by the drivers.
Despite Boyd’s rivalry with Bram and a close contest between them in London, it was plain to see from his emotions during the prize giving how much the win in Leipzig meant to him. His horses have maintained the lightening form they showed at the start of the season in Lyon, and it would be hard to bet against him winning a record 10th title in Bordeaux.
With all the drivers who have qualified equally hungry for another world title to add to their impressive tallies, it promises to be an incredible final.