Five-time individual world champion, Australia’s Boyd Exell, stormed into the individual lead on the second day of Dressage at the FEI Driving World Championship 2022 at Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy today where Germany established the lead in the team rankings.
Exell posted a big score of 34.13, but Germany’s Mareike Harm produced a spectacular performance to finish just over four points adrift in second place individually. First-day leader, America’s Chester Weber, lies third going into tomorrow’s exciting Marathon phase ahead of German individual Anna Sandmann in fourth, Dutch team-member Ijsbrand Chardon in fifth and Hungarian team-member Zoltan Lazar in sixth place.
With the best two results from each nation counting towards the team results, Harm’s score seriously boosted Germany’s chances, moving her country into pole position on a tally of 88.03 after Michael Brauchle put 49.18 on the board earlier in the day.
“Maybe we could have more points if I was more brave but I decided to stay on the safe side”, Brauchle said. “My left leader is a bit new, an eight-year-old and less experienced, my right leader is the most experienced and the wheelers are experienced enough. I’m very excited to be in this German team but Driving is only my hobby!”, said the 32-year-old who, however, was on the silver-medal-winning German side at the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2014 and team bronze medallist at the FEI World Championships in 2016. He’s a busy man. “I am a farrier and I manage to be in this sport only by working, working and working!”, he added with a laugh.
The Netherlands has won a record nine team titles in the 50-year history of the FEI Driving World Championships and have left the leading German side with no room for error when the action resumes in the morning. On a running tally of 89.23 they are just 1.2 points behind, counting scores of 42.95 from Ijsbrand Chardon who has been on every one of those winning Dutch sides and his son, Bram, whose mark of 46.25 also leaves him sitting in seventh place individually.
“I was hoping for a better score, I had a 37 at the Dutch Championship in Beekbergen but I had to change one horse so I knew a score in the 30s would be difficult to get here”, Bram Chardon said.
“I thought the low 40s was what these horses can do but unfortunately we had a few errors. But nothing is lost, I still have a good team for the next two days so I need to attack a little more and I will!”, said the driver who was in the silver-medal-winning team with his father at the last World Championships in Tryon, USA four years ago and who clinched double-gold at the European Championships in Budapest, Hungary last summer.
Australia lies in bronze medal position this evening after Exell’s super score was added to that of Tor van den Berghe who put 57.37 on the board early in the day. On a running scoreline of 91.50 these two athletes are 11.25 penalty points ahead of Belgium’s Dreis Degrieck, Glenn Geerts and Tom Stokmans 102.75. But stalking closely, and also well within sight of the medal podium, is Team Hungary on 103.29 after 2004 individual champion, Zoltan Lazar, posted 44.85 which put them right back in the game. A mark of 58.44 from Hungary’s Jozsef Dobrovitz Jr. meant yesterday’s 63.63 posted by his father, Jozsef Sr. could be dropped as each team counts only their two best results. The French side of Benjamin Aillaud, Anthony Horde and Sebastien Vincent are only fractionally behind the Hungarians on a score of 103.61 in sixth place.
It’s very much all to play for over tomorrow’s Marathon course which is likely to shake up the leaderboard significantly once again.
Mareike Harm was delighted to find herself in runner-up spot today while lifting her country into a really competitive position. “I’m really happy! I had a little bit of pressure because I had to do the dressage score for the team and we made it. It’s totally different when you are driving just for yourself”, she said.
Her entry to the top echelons of the sport of Driving has been an interesting experience. “In 2010 I was here for the World Singles Championship and won the gold medal with the German team so this is a good place for me, but after that I had four Single horses and we put them together in a team and in the beginning everybody said you can’t do that as a woman, it’s too difficult in the Marathon. And the Marathon is hard because the men will be stronger tomorrow for sure. But I can do a good Dressage and good Cones and I will try to lose not too many points in the Marathon”, she said this evening.
The only major threat to the five-time defending world champion Boyd Exell may face is that of the 119 balls located on the eight-obstacle course tomorrow, each knock-down penalised by the addition of 2 penalty points.
He wasn’t entirely happy with his dressage score today - “maybe disappointed because it felt more like a 32 than a 34. This team is experienced and solid and one of the best teams that have been around the world, and I’ve had teams that got 29’s and 30’s in dressage and these are better, so I’m disappointed that the judges don’t go ‘hey, this is like the Totilas and Valegro team!”, he said. But he insisted that he simply loves driving and that “the score is only the icing on the cake!”
Talking about his team of horses he pointed out “my right leader is Checkmate and today he was the showpiece, he was a wheeler in Normandy and Tryon and now he’s a leader. He’s always been a really special horse. Celviro is my left leader, he’s the solid one, every time he delivers. I have a new wheeler called Hero and he did well - he’s a marathon specialist”.
Hero may need to put his very best foot forward tomorrow when Exell heads out across the Pratoni hills at 12 noon local time. “I have a nice lead but it’s a three-day competition and a lot can go wrong. It’s not over until Sunday afternoon”, he pointed out wisely.
Don’t miss a moment as the race for the 2022 FEI Driving World Championship medals continues when Germany’s Rene Poensgen leads the way into Marathon day tomorrow morning at 09.20 (Phase A) local time and at 10 (Phase B).
In the picture: Boyd Exell - ph. Massimo Argenziano