Julien Epaillard & Safari D’Auge Ph. 1clicphoto.com / Herve Bonnaud
The second week of Spring MET 3 concluded on Sunday, March 26th, 2017 with France’s Julien Epaillard showing his 85 competitors his speed skills in the €31,500 CSI2* Grand Prix presented by CHG at Oliva Nova, Spain.
The 1.45m Grand Prix counted several of the world’s best riders, such as European Champion and Olympic Vice Champion Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, team World Champion and Olympic team silver medallist Holland’s Gerco Schröder as well as legends such as British riders John and Michael Whitaker.
Sixteen of the 86 riders in the class moved on to the jump-off after producing clear rounds over Christian Wiegand’s first round track. Enjoying the view from The Club that was bathed in sun this afternoon, the many spectators were in for a treat as the jump-off began.
Three of the four first riders all produced clear rounds, that eventually would be good enough for the top four. As first to go, Holland’s Remco Been set the time to beat at 45.87 seconds but was quickly overtaken by his compatriot Willem Greve on the only 8-year-old KWPN Mare Elke Maria M (Cornet Obolensky x Carthago) – winners of the 1.45m Gold Tour the week before– who shaved it down to 45.43 seconds. One rider later, it was the winners of Thursday’s Longines Ranking class that went to the top of the leader board as Jemma Kirk rode a beautiful and fast round on the 13-year-old French bred gelding Quelisto (J’Ai l’Espoir d’Elle x Starter).
With Epaillard last to go, everyone knows the danger of being overtaken and today was no exception from this rule. The French rider is well known for his speed, and came to Oliva straight from two five-star victories at the Saut Hermès in Paris last weekend – so there was no question about his current form.
Epaillard set the 11-year-old Diamant de Semilly-son Safari d’Auge in top gear from the very outset, and kept on moving in every single turn – really tightening his way to the penultimate vertical and then racing down to the final oxer. When he crossed the finish line, he had shaved off no less than 0.46 seconds on Kirk’s time snatching the win as the last rider in the ring and the top prize of 7500 Euro.
“I saw Jemma’s round, she was very fast but I thought I could catch up with her in the turns to the third jump and to the penultimate – my plan was to win some time there. I did not want to go with a crazy gallop, but instead focus on my turns and in the end I was a little bit faster,” said the sympathetic French rider after his victory.
Despite being on a winning streak, Epaillard admitted: “It’s never easy to win. Right now my horses are on good form, we had victories in Bordeaux and Paris – which has set the season off to a good start. 2016 was not such a good year for me, so I wanted to change my system and management a bit for this season which is why I at the beginning of the year started a co-operation with Bertrand de Bellabre.”
Home bred by Epaillard and his wife Susana, Safari d’Auge took several international wins during 2016 – and today he was again back in top form. “Safari felt a bit tired after Helsinki last autumn, so we gave him a break and then took him here. I started him up in the 1.35m and 1.40m classes and slowly brought him back,” Epaillard said.
“The Mediterranean Equestrian Tour fitted well in my program this year. I have a few horses that are quite experienced and that do the bigger shows, and those horses that are less experienced or have had a break I brought here – then I can travel a bit back and forwards. It is nice to prepare the horses for the outdoor season here in Oliva as the Grand Prix classes are set at 1.45m and not too big – that makes it possible to start relaxed. The facilities are good here, everything is close and it is easy to work. I also like to be able to go to the beach with the horses, to give them some change,” Epaillard concluded.
Full results can be found here.