They say it’s never over until the fat lady sings, and at tonight’s FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2017/2018 Western European League qualifier at Olympia in London (GBR), when it seemed Sweden’s Patrick Kittel (41) already had it in the bag, along came the home side’s Emile Faurie (54) with a last-to-go ride that almost overtook the league leader.
Scoring 80.405, the British rider took even himself by surprise when slotting into runner-up spot just 0.155 percentage points behind the super Swede who is now well on his way to the Final in Paris (FRA) next April. Kittel has had a great run, and with 75 points on the board is sitting pretty. But after tonight’s electrifying victory gallop during which he “high-fived” loads of spectators on his tour of the iconic Grand Hall, he said, “I take my hat off to the showjumpers, I don’t know how they do it – I’ve done three shows in a row and now it’s give me a glass of champagne and get me to bed, because I’m totally exhausted!”
This win means even more to him because his only other visit to the London venue was a disaster. “The last time I was here was 13 years ago and I finished last. I went home in the lorry feeling really bad but my wife, Lyndal, said you have to go back, Olympia is an amazing show and you can’t leave it another 13 years!”
British riders were holding the top three places after Richard Davison opened the second-half of tonight’s action, but, fourth-last to go, it was Edward Gal’s (47) score of 79.340 that Kittel was chasing when second-last into the ring. The Dutchman’s big moving stallion, Glock’s Zonik who topped yesterday’s Grand Prix, produced some breathtaking extensions and mesmerising trot-work, but the nine-year-old lost balance at times, and mistakes including a break in the one-tempi changes left them looking vulnerable.
Faurie however threw down a powerful challenge with a sensational test from the fabulously handsome stallion Delatio and has, tonight, set British Dressage fans’ hearts fluttering with excitement all over again.
The expression of near-disbelief on the face of the three-time Olympian and European team gold medallist when his score was announced said it all. “I’m in shock at the percentage score, not the performance, he was so great in the ring and I’m in love with this horse!” he said. “I was hoping to go one better than yesterday (when they finished fourth). I don’t know him that well yet because I’m only riding him a few months and I just wanted to do him justice”, he added.