Belgium’s Wilm Vermier gave an exhibition of jump-off riding to win tonight’s Selleria Equipe Small Grand Prix at Jumping Verona 2021. First to go in the 14-horse second-round decider, and knowing that 13 more of the best riders in the world were about to come after him, he steered a superb course to clinch victory with the 13-year-old gelding Iq van het Steentje.
The rest tried their best, but Vermier’s line was just too tight for them to catch him. As he said tonight, “when I was finished I thought I would be really close to winning because I had everywhere the first distance I was looking for, and I was really happy about my jump-off!”
Setting the target at clear in 34.01 seconds however he had to sit back and watch his rivals pit themselves and their horses against that time. Sixth to go, Germany’s Christian Ahlmann looked threatening with the leggy chestnut nine-year-old, Mandato van de Neerheide, but the last fence hit the floor and they had to settle for seventh place in the final analysis.
Riccardo Pisani and his lovely grey, Charlemagne JT Z were on another strong run until it all went wrong on the turnback to the oxer at fence 10, now the fifth obstacle on the course where they ended up in a tangle of poles and the Italian rider was eliminated for a fall. But that drama was followed by clears from both Frenchman Simon Delestre who broke the beam in 36.51 with Tinka’s Hero and by Ireland’s Mark McAuley who came close with the 17-year-old veteran Miebello who raced through the finish in 34.39.
Italy’s Guido Franchi and Curcuma Il Palazzato left all the poles in place, but in the relatively slow time of 40.40 and although another of the strong French contingent, former world number one Kevin Staut, also steered a clear course in a fast time of 34.60 he was still a half-second off the target with Tolede de Mescam Harcout.
Second-last into the ring, Vermeir’s fellow-countryman Pieter Devos produced a superb round from Kannabis van de Bucxtale, but with the clock showing 34.42 he slotted into third behind McAuley with just one left to go. And that’s how it remained when Germany’s Christian Kukuk and his Tokyo Olympic Games ride, the nine-year-old stallion Mumbai, hit the first element of the double for four faults three fences from home.
Tonight’s winner Vermeir is no attention-seeker, quietly producing some of the best horses in the sport from his base near Lummen in Belgium, but his reputation as rider is second to none and in Iq he has a horse that has given him opportunities he never had before. The 13-year-old Belgian-bred gelding belongs to his brother, Bert, so today’s win was very much a family affair.
“He jumped very good in the first round, normally he isn’t quick but he was fast already in the first round so I felt I would give it a good try and give it everything”, he said this evening. Not realising he needed to qualify for tomorrow’s Italian leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ series he mistakenly rode another horse in last night’s qualifying competition so he can’t compete in the feature class.
“This horse is a very good horse and I was going to ride him in the World Cup but I was riding another one in the qualifier and that was a bit stupid but it’s OK – we won the Grand Prix tonight so it’s all good!”, he said this evening with a laugh.
Ph. JV / M. Proli