Aboard a striking chestnut horse with one blue eye, Belgium’s equally striking blond haired rider Jérome Guery took a sparkling victory on Sunday, May 15th 2016 when he won the €200,000 Grand Prix Longines Ville de La Baule CSIO5*.
Attendance was bursting with 9,000 spectators who filled Francóis Andre Stadium on a beautifully bright and sunny day in La Baule, France. Admission to the CSIO5* La Baule was completely free for spectators for all four days of competition, meaning that hundreds of people arrived as early as 9:00am to watch the first class of the day and secure the best seat in the house.
By the start of the grand prix at 1:00pm, the crowd was lined six deep on the rail and pushed in at standing room only capacity. For the 49 riders on the start list it created a crackling atmosphere, no more so than for the French pairs.
The Round 1 course produced at least eight early clears from the likes of Margie Goldstein Engle and Royce of the USA, Kevin Staut with Elky van Het Indihof for France, and Rene Lopez with Con Dios II for Colombia. But then, a drought of clear rounds began that was enough to make course designer Frederic Cottier worry.
“The ground was quite soft this week, but we had a dry day yesterday and sun today, so the ground was good,” commented Cottier. “With all the early clear rounds, suddenly everyone was saying this was not a tough course, but in fact it was. However, then my course plan starting working for me, even though I was sweating a bit initially.”
It’s easy to call a course too simple when there are many early clears, but with 1.80m spreads and a full 1.60m track, rails fell often as horses tired, especially through the triple combination late on course, and at the final two fences that hugged the stadium side rail.
But not for Guery. He finished first against an 11-horse jumpoff, pulling off a hard-fought win with Grand Cru van de Rozenberg, a beautiful 10-year-old Belgian bred gelding (Malito De Reves x Hearbreaker). You wouldn’t have guessed it to look at them today, but as Guery later revealed, his horse is quite green to the five star level.
“This is my second time coming here to La Baule,” Geury said. “I only got Grand Cru one year ago, and one year ago we were jumping 1.20m, so he has come very far in a short time, and this is an amazing victory for me.”
Guery was a grateful winner, lifting his hat to acknowledge the crowd and beaming from ear to ear throughout the lengthy prizegizing ceremony. When he remounted for the victory gallop, he let Grand Cru rip around the arena at full gallop, soaking in the appreciation in kind from the thousands who cheered him on.
Right behind Guery in 2nd and 3rd places were two leading lady riders for their respective nations: Penelope Leprevost of France and Meredith Michaels Beerbaum of Germany. Leprevost took over the jumpoff lead early on to an ecstatic response from the French crowd, but as she exited the arena with Flora De Mariposa, giving the mare a big hug with both arms, she was otherwise restrained in prematurely celebrating a victory.
“Flora is great, maybe she is my horse of my life, we will see,” Leprevost said. “But if I could have been better on the last few meters and done one stride less I could have been faster, but I am very happy.”
Leprevost’s time of 36.19 seconds was beat by Guery’s 35.74 seconds, and once again the top six riders all went double clear. Behind Michaels Beerbaum and Fibonacci was Johnny Pals with Fernando for The Netherlands, and the United States Margie Goldstein Engle aboard Royce filled out the top five. Gudrub Patteet and Sea Coast Pebbles Z were 6th for Belgium.
“I’d like to thank the team here who run a beautiful show at La Baule,” said Michaels Beerbaum, who was competing at La Baule for the first time. “I came to La Baule in 1991 as a spectator when they had the European Championships here. I was a young girl then with stars in my eyes, and I always wanted to come back here. In previous years it didn’t work out with our schedule, but I told my chef d’equipe very early on this year that I would like to go to La Baule,” Michaels-Beerbaum said. “It was a great honor for me to be here, my horses jumped beautifully and I was delighted with my stay here.”
From galloping on the nearby beach to galloping over the green grass inside the stadium at La Baule, this is one all-important CSIO5* that was easy to enjoy. As the first stop for many riders on a critical pre-Olympics tour, the week of competition effectively separated the stronger pairs from the rest, giving the world plenty of material with which to ponder and guess on who of these pairs will make it all the way to Rio in less than 80 days time.
View the complete grand prix results at this link.