Still fresh from his opening win in Geneva (SUI) and a close second in London (GBR), Bram Chardon (NED) retained his steely focus to fend off close challenges in the penultimate leg of the 2022-23 FEI Driving World Cup™ and secure maximum points to go equal top of the series rankings.
Despite the pressure piled on by Jérôme Voutaz (SUI), who found his A-game in Belgium, Bram held his nerve, drove the tightest lines of the competition, his keen and consistent horses maintaining their impressive pace over the whole course. With one ball to add in his searing drive-off time of 131.25, he ended on 135.25, comfortably ahead of second placed Jérôme by 8.24 (143.49).
As last to go in the first round on Saturday night, having won day one’s competition early on Friday morning, Jérôme knew Johan Jacobs’ course suited his compact Freiberger horses, so he asked them to find their top gear again and they eagerly responded. Although his drive-off time wasn’t far off Bram’s, he had eight to add, but it was enough to give him valuable ranking points and put him well into contention for a place in the finals in Bordeaux (FRA).
One of the season’s most consistent competitors, previous World Cup champion Koos de Ronde (NED) once again made it into the drive-off and once again finished in third place (150.88). After a fast and clear round which secured a second run for him on Saturday night, during his final round he had a costly twelve penalties to add, not helped by the increasingly loose surface of the arena, which was beginning to catch out the drivers by testing their accuracy and adding a bit of extra sway to the carriages.
So nearly in the drive-off was homeboy Glenn Geerts (BEL) who was disappointingly denied his place by Jérôme by a mere 0.43 seconds. So elated by his brilliant round in front of a passionate crowd, which raised the bar for the three drivers who followed him in, Glenn toppled off his carriage after the clock had stopped. Luckily his quick-thinking wife Charlotte, alongside the arena crew, immediately got to the reins and held the horses, and Glenn soon jumped back on again and was in control.
With seven drivers forward, the two Wild Card entries were the homebred talent of Glenn and Dries Degrieck, who is in his second season on the World Cup circuit. Despite a podium finish for Dries in Geneva in early December and some strong driving in London, it wasn’t his weekend as he had costly rounds in terms of balls rolling. Also missing the form he displayed in Geneva was Germany’s Michael Brauchle, who was off the mark in Mechelen and may be borderline for a definite qualification place in the finals.
Getting better with each event as he builds up the rapport with his new Lusitano horses, France’s Benjamin Aillaud has closed the gap between himself and his fellow drivers and finished fifth. Looking fitter and more assured with each outing, these compact and powerful horses will surely be a force to be reckoned with in future seasons.
Filling the lull between Christmas and the advent of a New Year, Jumping Mechelen is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and made a welcome return after a two year hiatus, providing festive, family entertainment. The compact arena gives the format yet another character and Johan’s course included a central bridge as part of the twelve obstacles, and asked the sort of questions suitable for this stage in the season. And it’s a season that is building to a crescendo with what promises to be a dramatic final in Bordeaux in early February.
However, before then there is one more leg on the horizon in Leipzig (GER). For the second time in the series Boyd Exell and Bram will go head to head, a thrilling proposition now that they share the number one ranking. Bram’s brilliant father, Ijsbrand, will be making a welcome return to the series and he – or Koos or Jérôme – are also in contention. It promises to be spellbinding.