Belgian Olympian Gregory Wathelet is on a mission to qualify for the 2024 Longines FEI jumping World Cup™ Final in Riyadh (KSA) next April.
“I hope to get as many points as possible before the end of the year,” said the world no. 30. “I have two or three horses who can jump the World Cup, so the goal is clearly to try to qualify for the Final.”
On Sunday at Longines Equitas Lyon, France, he marked complete the first task of the operation. Aboard new partner Bond Jamesbond de Hay, Wathelet captured the third leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2023/2024 Western European League—and it was a hard fought one at that.
Of the 40 starters, six of the world top 10 among them, 14 pairs found the key to Gregory Bodo’s first-round 1.60m track.
U25 rider Harry Charles (GBR) set the pace on Romeo 88 with a clear in 35.34 seconds over the seven-fence short course. Olympic champion Ben Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly usurped the lead two horses later in 34.59, only to have defending champion and current world no. 2 Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Dubai du Cedre shave more than a second off, crossing the timers in a scorching 33.10 seconds.
Five more combinations chased the time, including world no. 4 Martin Fuchs (SUI) and world no. 10 Simon Delestre (FRA). Only Wathelet caught it.
Picking up his trademark long gallop to the first, the Belgian never took his foot off the gas, charging around the course and through the timers in the fractionally quicker time of 32.93.
It’s Belgium’s first-ever victory in the history of the World Cup class at the popular French fixture and Wathelet’s first with Bond Jamesbond de Hay.
“My horse doesn’t have much experience with jump offs but I felt I had something to play with today, taking out one stride between [fences] 1 to 2 and at the last fence too,” he said.
“In the end it worked out and I am very happy and proud of him! I am getting to know him more and more, and he is showing so much scope and quality on the fences. I did not think he was that agile when I started riding him, so I am very happy with how things are developing.”
The 12-year stallion, previously campaigned by France’s Kevin Staut, joined Wathelet’s string in 2023 and the pair has wasted no time making their presence felt. They helped Belgium to the bronze medal at the CSIO5* Nations Cup Final in September and have been staples on the 5* Global Champions Tour, finishing top 10 at a 60% clip at 1.60m, according to Jumpr App.
Sunday’s win and appreciative crowd are a bright spot on a bright future for the pair.
“We do our sport for moments like this!” said Wathelet.
Ireland’s Richard Howley remains atop the Western European League leaderboard after his back-to-back successes in Oslo (NOR) and Helsinki (FIN). The series next heads to Verona (ITA) Nov 12.