French clean sweep at Hong Kong Masters
Mon Dieu! The French were at it again.
The Tricoleur flew proudly on the opening night of the Longines Hong Kong Masters as France, led by world No 9 Kevin Staut, ruled the arena at AsiaWorld-Expo.
Staut grabbed the main event - the Speed Challenge - with a faultless display of horsemanship which left countrymen Simon Delestre and Julien Epaillard, who finished second and third, nodding in approval.
"I didn't think I could win. I thought I could finish fourth or fifth. That was my aim originally," said Staut. "I think everyone will be speaking French around the bar tonight."
Staut, 33, on board 10-year-old mare Quismy des Vaux, responded magnificently to the gauntlet that was thrown down by Epaillard, who had won the opening competition of the night, the Hong Kong M-Mark Trophy, where riders competed against the clock.
Epaillard won the first event with Cristallo ALM but changed his mount for the more important Speed Challenge, which boasted prize money of US$100,000, riding Mister Davier to complete a 14-obstacle course in 65.87 seconds.
Staut went better with 65.37, leaving Epaillard to rue that he knocked down one fence which earned him a two-second penalty. Staut then had to bite his nails and wait with six more riders still to compete. Only Delestre riding Napoli du Ry came close - 65.77, which earned him second spot.
"I think the spicy food in Hong Kong is what makes us winners," laughed Staut afterwards, referring to last year's phenomenal effort of countryman Patrice Delaveau who won four of the six competitions including the showpiece Longines Grand Prix, which is the finale on Sunday.
"I will keep eating this spicy food and I hope I can come close to repeating that, but it will be very difficult," Stuat added.
Hong Kong's sole entry, Kenneth Cheng Man-kit, took part in both events on the opening night and didn't disgrace the Bauhinia flag, finishing 17th of the 28 riders in the first competition and 18th from 23 in the Speed Challenge.
Cheng rode Jockey Club Caballo in the opener, where he finished in 66.71 - winner Epaillard's time was 57.29. In the main event Cheng was on board Balou and finished in 69.66, which was increased by two seconds after he knocked down a fence.
But the Hong Kong Olympic representative can take heart that in the opener he did better than such illustrious names as European champion Roger-Yves Bost, current world No 3 Ludger Beerbaum and top woman rider Edwina Tops-Alexander.