Defending champion Von Eckermann leads Swedish whitewash in sensational opener

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17 April 2024 Author: Louise Parkes

In a dream scenario for the Swedish contingent, defending champion Henrik von Eckermann and his great gelding King Edward pipped compatriot Peder Frecricson and Catch Me Not S to win the opening competition at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia tonight.

It was like deja vu for von Eckermann who also won the first class on his way to victory in Omaha, USA 12 months riding the incredible 14-year-old gelding  that has put him on top of the world - literally - for much of the last two years.

“I have to say this round was ten-times better than Omaha’s round. It felt much, much better. It’s funny isn’t it, the result can be the same but the feeling can be completely different!”, he said with a big smile tonight.

With results converted into points he goes into tomorrow night’s second test with a two-point advantage over tonight’s runner-up Fredricson, while Germany’s Hans-Dieter Dreher is just one point further adrift in third and Frenchman Julien Epaillard and America’s Kent Farrington share fourth place. There’s only a whisper between them, but the defending champion is holding all the cards right now.


German course designer, Frank Rothenberger, set them a track that British star Scott Brash described as clever. “I don’t think it’s massive but it’s tricky. There’s plenty in there, and for experienced horses there’s an inside turn to the wall (at fence 8) but it’s quite tight, so even for experienced horses there are question marks. But it’s a fair course and the course-builder has done a great job”, he said after crossing the line with Hello Valentino in 73.73 seconds which would eventually leave him in eleventh place.

It was Epaillard who set the first real target despite lowering the vertical at fence five with the 11-year-old mare Dubai du Cedre. Only the super-fast flying Frenchman who took individual bronze at last summer’s European Championships could still be out on front after adding the three-second penalty for a fence down to put it up to the rest of them in 69.69 seconds. In an extraordinary turn of fate however, Kent Farrington matched that precisely with a great clear round from his 10-year-old mare Toulayna just a few horses later.

But the American pair were immediately followed by Germany’s Dreher and his magnificent grey gelding Elysium who galloped home more than a second quicker with a brilliant run to take a new lead. The 13-fence track, which began with a triple bar, included three doubles and had plenty of twists and turns, but despite his size the tall Elysium took it all in his stride and was the first to do just six strides from the penultimate vertical to the final oxer. 

“I had such a good round and I think I also had a good ride, and the atmosphere here is unbelievable!”, a delighted Dreher said. It was class pathfinder and compatriot Marcus Ehning, one of two riders chasing a fourth World Cup title this week and who finished 19th after a fence down with Coolio, who advised him to go for the six strides to the last instead of the seven most others were opting for. 

“I wasn’t sure I could do it but I had a really good run to number 12 (the second-last) so I kept going for the six. Elysium is normally not such a fast horse but with this course today I could turn him with his huge stride so it was perfect for him. He’s really big, he’s a superstar and I love him!”, said the 52-year-old athlete enthusiastically.


Only two others would be quicker, but before they took their turn a little drama unfolded when Frenchman Kevin Staut, attempting to make that tight inside turn to the wall at eight, drifted right-handed with Visconti du Telman who misunderstood his instructions and jumped the right-hand standard of fence four before the pair turned back to continue on course. But the bell rang for elimination.

With just four left to go the excitement was ratcheted up even further when Fredricson produced a copybook run with the evergreen 18-year-old grey Catch Me Not S to stop the clock in the new leading time of 67.40 seconds. It looked pretty unbeatable and when reigning Olympic champion, Great Britain’s Ben Maher, hit the penultimate vertical with Dallas Vegas Batilly in a round that was otherwise seriously threatening, then only von Eckermann and young American Skylar Wireman stood between Olympic and World team gold medallist Fredricson and the top of the opening night’s leaderboard.

But von Eckermann was not to be denied. Setting off with absolute determination he and his extraordinary little horse were in complete harmony as they wound their way around the course, and even had enough time to put in seven strides down the last line to still finish more than a second ahead in 66.28 seconds for what would be the winning time. Wireman produced a lovely last-to-go clear with Tornado that would leave the 19-year-old a very creditable tenth at the end of the day.

Pipped at the post

It was frustrating for Fredricson to be pipped at the post but he was delighted with the performance of Catch me Not S. “We know each other inside out and it’s an advantage to have a horse you know really well in a course like that where there’s a lot of atmosphere and some spectacular fences and difficult lines. I think I had a fairly rhythmical round. I added a few strides where I felt I needed it but also I left a few out. In a class like this you need to ride fast and keep the horse jumping”, he explained, adding, “and this has been a great day for Sweden!!”

“Peder was super-fast but not quick enough!”, von Eckermann said with a big smile tonight. Hans-Dieter Dreher’s round was the last he saw before his warm-up, but he decided to stick with his own plan. “Even Henrik (Ankarcrona, Swedish Chef d’Equipe) started to talk about what Dreher did, but I said I don’t want to listen to it! I know my plan and I’m really happy that I stuck to it!”

“I kept myself calm, and from one to two I didn’t over-ride I just let him drift because if you attack him the risk is he gets a little shy and gets too careful”, he explained. As it happened it all worked out perfectly.

Now he needs to do it all again tomorrow, but tonight’s victory means the rest have to catch him and the magical little horse that has carried him to glory on so many occasions during their wonderful career together.

The second final competition is a two-round affair and begins at 18.50 local time tomorrow evening, so don’t miss a hoofbeat….