Another victory for Kevin Staut, the speed master!
Early in the evening, Grégory Wathelet completed a sumptuous jump-off with the stallion Iron Man vd Padenborre (Darco) to win the Prix de la Laiterie de Montaigu at the end of the 12 combination jump-off. The Condrozian had not appeared in competition since his victorious weekend in Liège, having combined a few internships abroad with a few well-deserved days of vacation.
The result speaks for itself; defeating the French: Alexis Deroubaix took second place with Timon d'Aure (Mylord Carthago) in impressive form, and it’s only his second competition since the World Games in Tryon, and Thierry Rozier, who began the jump-off, managed to get a place on the podium with Venezia d'Ecaussinnes (Kashmir van' t Schuttershof).
But the highlight of the Friday evening is of course the Longines Speed Challenge, 28 riders determined to take all risks to be the fastest of the €100,000 prize money evening.
It is a course that promises to be very tricky from the outset, with many turns and faults.
Lorenzo De Luca has recovered from his fall with Halifax van't Kluizebos (Heartbreaker) and is set on a magnificent course with his young 8-year-old Evita van't Zoggehof who is none other than a daughter of London's brother Figo de Muze (alias Golden Hawk) and a uterine sister of Mylord Carthago by Rubens du Ry d'Asse.
But obviously, it's not enough to hold off the pressure of Julien Epaillard who, despite a pole at the beginning of the course, made a very fast run with his stallion Safari d'Auge (Diamant de Sémilly) stopping the stopwatch at 62.52 seconds, with two seconds penalty for their fallen pole.
Jérôme Guery was well on his way to dethroning his Norman friend, but unfortunately Jelly Belly van't Eikenhof (Chopin van het Moleneind) couldn’t avoid two faults at the last two obstacles of the course, stopping the stopwatch at 61.74 seconds, but with 4 seconds penalty having to be added.
This was the second fastest time in the competition, as Gregory Wathelet had managed to do better with Eldorado vh Vijverhof (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve) by being the only rider to go below the minute with 59.93 seconds... but with three poles, which left him in 6th place.
Between the two Belgians, Simon Delestre finished the course without any penalties on Chadino (Chacco Blue), but in 64.81 seconds, which only left him in third place.
Kevin Staut, who started at the very end of the class, specializes in this Speed Challenge, and with the very fast Ayade de Septon (Wandor vd Mispelaere) he had the key elements to win. He was second last year behind Julien Epaillard, and won the previous year ahead of Julien Epaillard. The duel between the two Frenchmen continues and this time Kevin Staut benefitted…and though he was a little slower, he came away with a clear round! 62.29 seconds - victory!
"Ayade hadn't jumped in a while. I didn't have a real risk strategy before entering the arena except to remain cautious at the beginning, as we had decided with Philippe Guerdat from the beginning not to strain Ayade. Then I felt that the mare, who now has a lot of experience with this type of event, was very comfortable. She has been generous to the end. It's certainly funny that there's been this alternation of victories with Julien for three years… but in the end, I'm very happy with this victory and proud of my mare… no matter who's second! She did a great job. It was a rather risky strategy to start so slowly, especially since the first three or four had been very fast from the first line of jumps, and I decided to go to the outside. She is a very fast mare over ground and I have known her for several seasons now, whereas we have seen that young horses or pairs who don’t know each other well have more difficulty on a course where the obstacles arrive so quickly. They feel a little suffocated.
You need experience to be able to work more fluidly. I think we are lucky to have a fantastic audience in France and this event is all the more special as this Villepinte competition is at the end of the year and people are coming here in large numbers. This event is very well attended and is really interactive, with riders exchanging their impressions of when things went well for them on the podium. Hearing the whole story makes people appreciate this event. For my part, I have often found myself reflecting at the end of an event and only let myself feel the pressure of then. This year's course was very difficult and put a lot of strain on the horses. An experience like this allows a combination to know that they can be competitive without taking all options. The leader had a fault and my mare, when engaged, is normally very attentive, and tonight she did the job.
I fell off my scooter and during the Lyon competition, my ribs hurt but I’m fine. However, the following week in Doha, my back pain woke me up and I had very painful sciatica... and I had to have an emergency operation two days later. Today, I'm fine. It’s easier for me on horseback than on foot; I have lost a lot of mobility in this right leg and I need to work it out again... but on horseback, it’s fine... and it’s a pleasure to get good results so quickly. This is only my second competition, I only took one horse to Madrid last week, but it had already jumped very well.”
The riders’ joy is shared by his owners: Armand and Emmanuèle Pette, from the HDC team.
"I’ve learned with age and everyday worries to enjoy these moments and stop chasing new challenges. Tonight, I'm happy and I'm going to try to enjoy it. Of course, coming back to competition only a week after the operation was not really recommended... and that's not what my surgeon prescribed me... but since I had an emergency operation, I didn't have any muscle loss. I do exercises all the time and I know how difficult it is for me to keep my core stabilization and what keeps my back working. During the operation, the surgeon had easy access to the disc... and he told me that I also had to listen to my body because he didn't know my sport well. The only risk was with the scar and I immediately felt that on horseback, things were fine. I did 4-5 days of work on the flat and then I tried to jump again, and it went well.
I have fewer horses to ride at the moment. I went to Madrid with a horse, here I have two... the rhythm of indoor shows also lends itself to this. It's true that I'm being a little "stupid" but I'm really into this sport. I try to live in the present moment... but when the weekend is over... I want to go back to the competition the following weekend. You have to be able to enjoy the things you don't do so badly and accept failures. You need a little psychological maturity in relation to this sport and above all, when you have health issues, but you see people around you who have more problems than you do, it makes you think. It's a physical relief and a mental evolution."
Kevin offering his winning scarf to one of his young fans who will remember their meeting with the champion for a long time.