Boyd Exell, the reigning world champion in carriage driving, laid down the strongest possible marker for tomorrow’s final of the FEI World Cup Driving leg, presented by Dodson & Horrell, at Olympia, The London International Horse Show.
In a display that left spectators breathless, the defending champion, who is competing here on a wild card, was second into the arena behind British hopeful Dan Naprous, who had driven a well-controlled clear round.
Exell, too, went clear but knocked 15 seconds off Naprous’s time and no one thereafter could come close and American driver Chester Weber suffered the disappointment of being eliminated for missing the first obstacle. Belgium’s Glen Geerts claimed second place and the vastly experienced Koos de Ronde from the Netherlands was third.
In the drive-off between the first three, de Ronde bettered his first-round time but collected 12 seconds in penalties. Geerts also bettered his time, but his additional 8-second penalties gave the Australian maestro breathing space.
However, he had no need of it. In an electrifying drive, he knocked 8 seconds off his first round time to romp into first place, 30 seconds ahead of Geerts and de Ronde.
“I’ve put two new horses into my team – one in the lead and one in the wheel – and they’ve moved the speed up like you cannot believe,” Exell explained. “They were machines today – I could not be more pleased with them, although, of coruse, tomorrow is the all-important competition.”
There was a great boost for British driving when Naprous, who was also performing at Olympia as leader of the Devil’s Horsemen Stunt Display Team, was the only other driver to go clear – he only missed the drive-off by 2 seconds.