Argentina de la Marchette and Grégory Wathelet, the new 7-year-old Champions!
There were still 21 combinations hoping to win the title of 7-year-old Belgian Champion before the final round, but there were only six that went into the jump-off hoping to claim the top prize.
Two other combinations ended the competition without penalty, but they hadn't managed to qualify without penalty, so their competition ended there, to the regret of Robinson Maupiler who had a magnificent final round with Edocenta (Eldorado vh Zeshoek x Cento). Unfortunately, a penalty point in the qualifiers kept them out of the jump-off.
The six-year-old Belgian Champion last year, Mr. Jones (I’m Special de Muze x Vertigo Saint Benoit) was looking forward to a double Championship win with Jef Bossaerts. The combination went double clear, putting the pressure on their competitors, and they cracked! Michael Joly knocked a pole at the first obstacle with Dicaprio Z (Sémilly x Corofino Diamond), and Steven van Meersche on Maya S (Chacco Blue x Heartbreaker) knocked a pole at the first obstacle of the combination.
We had to wait and see how Cyril Cools and Che de Kezeg Z (Carembar de Muze, aka London x Heartbreaker) went in the next round, but they were slower.
Two more combinations to go, but among them, a standout: Gregory Wathelet is the only elite Belgian rider to have committed to this Championship. Already a three-time 7-year-old Belgian Championship winner, the Condroz rider was this time riding a product of his family's breeding program: Argentina de la Marchette (Acajou de la Marchette x Del Pierro P&B). His round was, as always, clean, neat and efficient: 38.07 seconds, and the new leader!
There was only one combination left to go: Robinson Maupiler and Cornettina du Paradis (Cornet Obolensky x Chin Chin), but his team pushed him a little too much, and the Frenchman jumped the final obstacle clear, but his final time didn't allow him any better than 4th place!
After Quarto de la Cour (Major de la Cour), Iqbal des Hayettes (Banboula du Thot) and Forlap DC (Querlybet Hero), Gregory Wathelet wins his 4th Belgian Championship title in the 7-year-old category with Argentina de la Marchette!
Having produced one of the best Belgian riders, Hubert Wathelet can now also boast that he can produce good horses too... and when the two join forces, let the success roll on! "Gregory came up with the idea of coming here... but honestly, I more and more prefer to watch from behind my screen. Also, she hadn't had a lot of work... so yes, I would have done things differently, I would have spoken to him more... but I would have also stressed out a lot more from the edge of the ring. I'm not someone who expresses much, but in Dinard, the mare had some very good results.
I was already very happy with her so when Gregory came home, I told him that I thought she'd be ready to go to a good rider and do a bit more. Gregory has always loved this mare and when he loves a horse, he knows how to get them. Her grandmother was boarding at my place. And I bought her daughter when she was three years old. I knew the line well, they have a lot of quality, but they're complicated, with a lot of character. That's why I crossed the line with Acajou who was himself a good stallion that had produced well and had a very good mind.
He himself had participated in the 7-year-old Belgian Championship with Damien Plume and was then sold to Ashford Farm. Gregory is more and more interested in breeding, he buys foals, and is interested in crosses that he could do, whereas a few years ago, a foal was just a foal to him. It's something that makes me very happy. And I obviously enjoy seeing him win no matter the horse... but to see him win with a product of this breeding program, it's something else. It makes me so happy to have a 7-year-old Champion, I never thought it was possible... but it's clear that it also depends on the rider. If Gregory hadn't loved her, she may have gone to an amateur's home like her dam did. I think a lot of horses miss out on a career. From the beginning, I didn't want to sell her, but now, thanks to Judith Gölkel who is now her co-owner along with Gregory and myself, she should have her whole career with Gregory before we breed her."
Despite his repeated Championship victories, the rider was no less happy: "Yes, it's always a pleasure to win with a horse bred at home, that gives this another dimension. Even if my father won't say it, I know this will make him happy. This is a huge success for him and on top of that, I co-own her with my father and Judith, an owner who has helped me out the most in recent years, she allows me to do what I do today. That makes this victory even more special.
This mare is full of quality, although she's a little complicated and very sensitive. My father said that we would try and keep her because I have liked her since she free-jumped at three. She didn't really compete at 4 and 5 years old because she was really sensitive, and last year Patrick Masset did a fantastic job with her by getting her into a routine, jumping 1.10m-1.20m all year round.
I just hopped on her once in Opglabgeek in November to see if she felt how I thought she might. She felt great but really green, and I started competing her on the Sunshine Tour this year, downgrading her to the 6-year-old events until the last week that she was a 7-year-old. I then went back and forth between smaller and larger events. She's a very sensitive mare as we've seen in the final too, where she's able to make a small left-right combination, but she's so respectful that I think she'll be really great in the future. I didn't even think of putting her in the Championship... then she did great in Dinard a fortnight ago, jumping super every day, including in the Grand Prix where she came 4th, and it was there that I said to myself "why not!".
So I was back jumping a small 1.10m course a few days ago, to loosen her. I’m very proud of my father. I'm more interested in breeding than I have been in the past. We have a lot of space at home and I think we need to buy horses younger and younger, before they become unaffordable, for me anyway. The Championship is held on a good date because the international agenda is pretty bare this weekend, otherwise, I have to be clear, I probably would not be here.
Also, for me, it's next to my house, I go back and forth every day, and it allows me to ride Nevados (Calvados Z), as well as riding other horses in a National competition in Hasselt. I also think it adds continuity to their training. They haven't come here as the final part of their career, it's just a competition like any other... it’s a little more complicated, and I get to see where they are in their training, as I did last year also. I don't like doing nothing, so this week, I was able to prepare for the European Championships and train customers in the morning, then come here or go to Hasselt. They're big days but we're not complaining. "