In Mechelen, 37-year-old Smolders and his 13-year-old bay gelding Zinius topped a field of 40 horse-and-rider combinations, including the ‘Kaiser’, Ludger Beerbaum, who was injured in a fall from his mount Chacon. After the accident, the German’s team posted the following message on Facebook: “Ludger has a multiple open-fracture on his upper arm as a result of his fall today at the Longines World Cup qualifier in Mechelen (BEL). Ludger is hoping to make a speedy recovery following his operation this evening. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by so many kind messages and well wishes. Thank you so much for your support!”
Among the rest of the field, seven pairs advanced to the jump-off from the first round on the 13-obstacle, 16-effort course designed by Eddy Geysemans. Five of the seven in that star-studded group repeated their earlier clear rounds (no rails down) in the tie-breaker: Smolders; Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann and Mary Lou 194; Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca and Halifax van het Kluizebos; Germany’s Daniel Deusser and Cornet D’Amour, and France’s Roger Yves Bost and Sangria du Coty. Germany’s Christian Ahlmann (Taloubet Z) and the Netherlands’ Leopold van Asten (VDL Groep Zidane) were sixth and seventh with four faults each.
The winning duo, which rocketed over the obstacles to a time of 38.19 seconds, picked up 20 qualifying points for first place, a result that moves the Flying Dutchman into 22nd place in the Western European standings (the top 18 plus extras will get a spot in the 2018 Final in Paris). Smolders has only competed in two of the circuit’s qualifiers so far, including the previous one at London’s Olympia Horse Show in December. He and the other riders still have four opportunities to grab a spot: Leipzig, Zurich, Bordeaux and Göteborg.
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For their second and third-places, Von Eckermann (38.74 s) and De Luca (39.97 s) claimed paycheques of €35,802 and €26,851 respectively. And as for the qualification race for Paris, Von Eckermann has already made it into the Final, leading the standings with 57 points after nine competions, while for his part De Luca is 16th (28 points).
“I never won before at Mechelen and I really wanted to do it, so I was totally focused,” Smolders said after his victory in the country which neighbours his homeland. “When I got into the jump-off I just wanted to win, I was never riding for second place so I took the risk by taking a stride out to the last. And this is very special because I came here with all my family — my kids, my wife and my parents — it was an unforgettable moment and I’m very thankful to the crowd. The atmosphere here is always really intense and it gives us even more of a push to show what we can do!”
Ireland’s Betram Allen finished 13th with Molly Malone V in Mechelen, while Michael Whitaker and Calisto Blue were the top British finishers, in 33rd.
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