Katharina Offel blitzes field to win Speed Challenge in 64.61 seconds
German native grabs lion's share of US$82,000 after slicing one-hundredth of a second off Devaleau's time
Watched by her six-year-old son Leopold, Katharina Offel drew first blood at the Longines Hong Kong Masters when she won the bigger of the two events on the opening night - the Speed Challenge - upsetting many more fancied names, mostly men to boot.
Offel rose to the challenge laid down by Frenchman Patrice Delaveau, the first of 18 riders competing for the US$82,000 total prize money, who completed the 14 obstacle course at the AsiaWorld-Expo in a blistering 64.62 seconds.
That time seemed to intimidate riders who followed, as many fell short or were handed two-second time penalties for each fence knocked down.
But Offel, riding 11-year-old mare Olivia de Nantuel, was more than up to the challenge as she breezed around in a flawless display to beat Delaveau by the narrowest of margins - one-hundredth of a second (64.61).
"I was a bit lucky in the end to win by such a narrow margin," said Offel. "I rode the same horse in Paris [last December] and it was six seconds slower than the winner's time, but that result gave me motivation and the belief I could win."
Originally from Germany but representing Urkraine since 2005, for whom she has flown the flag at the last two Olympics, Offel, ranked 34th in the world, will have the psychological high ground as the Hong Kong Masters enters its second day on Friday. The climax on Saturday is the Longines Grand Prix where most of the US$1 million prize money (US$700,000) will be on offer.
But Delaveau had also shown he is in top form as he clinched first place in the opening competition against the clock aboard Lacrimoso 3 and then finished second on Ornella Mail in the Speed Challenge.
"It was good fun today and I'm looking forward to the rest of the competition," said Delaveau, who is ranked 47th in the world.
Switzerland's Pius Schwizer was third in the Speed Challenge. Schwizer could have won it overall if not for knocking down a fence at the last obstacle to be penalised and finishing on 65.12 seconds.
Eight of the world's top 10 riders are among the field, underlining the cachet of this first leg of the Masters Grand Slam Indoor Series which will be followed by New York and Paris later this year. Missing are London Olympics gold medallist in the individual category, Switzerland's Steve Guerdat, and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden.
World number two Guerdat broke his leg in a warm-up in Bordeaux, France, last week, while Bengtsson, the world number three, had to pullout to undergo a minor operation last week.
"We invited all the best riders in the world and everyone accepted, but unfortunately these two had to pull out due to unfortunate circumstances," said Matthieu Ghyssen, vice-president of the organisers, Equestrian Event Management.