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The Swiss Can’t Miss at WEC Ocala

©Andrew Ryback Photography / WEC

In the biggest and toughest Grand Prix on American soil this year to date, Swiss superstar Martin Fuchs and his 12-year-old grey gelding Leone Jei showed impeccable precision in the Lugano Diamonds 5* Grand Prix at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida.

Fuchs takes home $108,000 for his victory, beating out teammate Steve Guerdat on Albfuehren’s Iashin Sitte by 86/100’s of a second in a four-horse jump off that had the capacity crowd on the edge of their seats.

American Callie Schott and Garant had the crowd roaring as the last entry in the jump off as she finished 1.22 seconds behind Fuchs. 

Irish course designer Alan Wade set a true 5* challenge for the 49 starting entries. After 37 horses had jumped, only Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam managed to conquer the 17 fences set at 1.60m in height.

The clock was the nemesis of many competitors as 18 of the 40 pairs that completed the course incurred time faults. This included the incomparable United Touch S and Richard Vogel of Germany who cleared every fence by at least two feet but stopped the timers three seconds too late. 

The other challenge: the line from fence #9 to #10. The oxer to vertical line, with a water tray, walked 3.5 strides and that is how it rode. Several riders unsuccessfully attempted to do three strides, which led to many dramatic chips at the liverpool.

Another interesting note about the course, the only single jump was fence #1, all the rest were related lines. It was a technical track befitting a 5* with the best group of horses the USA has seen since the World Cup Finals in Nebraska. 

The second half of the class saw Kevin Staut (FRA) and Beau de Laubry Z, Fuchs, Guerdat, and Schott all qualify for the jump off. The French rider declined to return for the shortened course, setting up a battle between Ireland, Switzerland, and the USA.

Sweetnam was first to return and laid down a gorgeous ride. He left the door open on the clock, however and the Swiss wasted no time jumping to the front.

Martin Fuchs eclipsed the time by almost three seconds, and the super-smooth Guerdat was just behind.

Underdog Callie Schott was the clear crowd favorite and left nothing on the table. The 13-year-old Garant jumped rub free and fast to grab a podium finish and send the fans home happy in what was a difficult evening for the other North American riders.

Saturday is the North American debut of the new Longines League of Nations with the top 10 teams in the world going head to head. Ireland, USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, and Brazil all have sent their very best horses and riders to Ocala.

Round 1 will see all ten teams compete with four riders. In round 2, the top eight teams return with just three riders, meaning there will be no drop score.

Watch the Longines FEI League of Nations on FEI TV, 4:30 pm ET on March 23.

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