“If you had told me before I got here that I would finish fifth, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Britain’s Jack Whitaker, shortly after achieving exactly that at the FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany.
“But once you get here, of course you get more competitive and I wanted to finish higher. I thought I might have been on for a podium place – a single time fault kept me from being third and it is very, very frustrating,” he admitted. '
For his fellow Brit, Harry Charles, the conclusion of the final was perhaps even more frustrating. Harry arrived with the title in his sights, but had to settle for fourth, always described as the hardest place to be, and a Jumping World Cup Final is no exception.
But while both riders head home with a maddening sense of what might have been, what actually did occur was a fantastic display of top-class jumping from two of Britain’s brightest young talents. Both Harry, 22, and Jack, 20, jumped immaculate clears around Frank Rothenberger’s beefy first course in the final leg of the competition, riding Romeo 88 and Equine America Valmy De La Lande respectively.
“My first round today was pretty perfect I have to say. Everything went really nicely and I was even able to take a stride out to the last fence as I knew the time was quite tight,” said Harry, who employed the unusual strategy of campaigning two horses across the World Cup Final, riding the 12-year-old Chacco-Blue mare Stardust in the opening speed leg, and the the more experienced 13-year-old Romeo 88 for the remainder. It was an approach that clearly paid off, too – of the three riders in the field who switched horses, two finished in the final four: Harry and eventual winner Martin Fuchs.
Jack, too, jumped a super clear in the first round, incurring just one time fault along the way, saying that Valmy De Lande was “unbelievable”.
With Harry lying third and Jack in sixth going into the final round, there was all to play for, and Jack put himself firmly in contention for a podium spot with a fault-free round. The grey stallion, whom Jack’s father Michael rode until three years ago, became the only horse in the competition not to hit a single fence across four jumping rounds.
“I’m ecstatic; the horse could not have jumped better,” he enthused. “That last round felt amazing; I was close to the time and I didn’t want another time fault so maybe towards the end it got a little raggy. My best round of the week was probably the first, actually; it was immaculate.”
Sadly Harry couldn’t quite recreate the magic from earlier in the afternoon, just tipping the middle part of the tricky, and huge combination.
“It happened at the fence before really – I didn’t quite have the stride I wanted, and we jumped it very up and down. I didn’t have him quite the way I wanted and he just landed on the back rail. I was gutted, but I knew I had to keep moving on as time would come into play and that’s where I just managed to pip Jack,” explained Harry, admitting it was tough knowing that if it hadn’t been for that pole down, he would have been jumping off with Martin Fuchs for the title.
“I came here with high expectations, with two incredible horses. Romeo in particular is up there with the best in the world I think,” he said. “I knew that I had a good shot if everything went right but I was just short of a bit of luck on the day. But I’m so proud of my horses; I just wish I could have given them the result they deserved.
“And I guess it’s not bad, for us two young lads,” he added. “Jack and I have been friends since we were four or five years old, and now here we are, fourth and fifth in a World Cup Final.”