In one of the most exciting battles of the season so far, a determined British team pipped Spain by a single point to win the fourth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Europe Division 1 League at St Gallen in Switzerland this afternoon. The host country sent out a crack side that seemed destined to dominate, but in the final analysis they had to settle for fourth place behind Sweden and just ahead of the Ukrainians who slotted into fifth.
The Belgians, who have been on a roll over the past few weeks, lost their grip in the second round today, dropping from third place at the halfway stage to finish sixth, while the defending series champions from France lined up seventh ahead of The Netherlands in eighth place.
From a starting field of eight nations there were five chasing points towards the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 Final which will take place in Barcelona, Spain in October. Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and Ukraine were all on a points-gathering mission, and today’s result has promoted the Spanish to fourth place going into the next round at Rotterdam, The Netherlands on 20 June.
Swiss course designer, Gerard Lachat, set them a tough task today, with the original time-allowed of 78 seconds increased to 80 seconds after the first three riders had completed the track. With big bold jumping required to clear the wide oxers on good but yielding ground it still remained difficult to make the time however, and that proved highly influential as the competition evolved.
Trouble-spots included the rustic planks that followed the triple combination which consisted of a big opening oxer on one stride to a vertical and a short two strides to another big oxer on the way out. Most of the fences were located on bending lines, and with the time so tight riders were frequently obliged to take fences at an angle which didn’t always pay off. There was an S-bend from the opening oxer to the following vertical and the oxer at fence three before riders turned back to line up for the double - a vertical with water tray followed by an oxer - and then on to the open water which was a not-inconsiderable 4.10m wide.
Most riders went on a forward seven strides down to the water, but some opted for a normal eight and then went on to the white oxer at fence six before looping left-handed to the vertical at seven and then the triple combination. After the tricky planks at nine there were just three fences left, and with time to be taken into account many had to put the foot to the floor on the circle to the oxer at 10 and left-handed again down the final line which was an oxer at eleven and a vertical to finish.
In the first round, 21 of the 32 starters collected time faults, but by the halfway stage that was all the British were carrying when they could drop an opening 12-fault result for Daniel Neilson and Varo M. Robert Whitaker jumped a superb clear with Catwalk IV and Guy Williams followed suit with Zaire so only the single time penalty collected by 21-year-old rookie, Spencer Roe with Wonder Why, had to be taken into account.
But they were already being stalked by the Spanish who carried just two time penalties picked up by pathfinders Manuel Fernandez Saro and Darius and third-line rider Eduardo Alvarez Aznar with Rico Revel when anchorman Sergio Moya stayed clear with Zipper. Only four horse-and-rider combinations managed to stay completely clear in this first round as the time-allowed took a heavy toll.
The Belgians were still well in the race as round two began, lying third with six faults but just a single point ahead of Ukraine in fourth, and three ahead of Sweden in fifth place.
The Swiss could hardly have expected to be carrying 10 at this stage, but pathfinders Pius Schwizer and Toulago fell victim to the rustic plank at nine, Paul Estermann’s Castlefield Eclipse hit the second fence, Jane Richard Philips and Pablo de Virton lowered the second element of the double at four and had a bad strike at the planks for eight faults, and Olympic champions Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets brought up the rear with a single time fault.
It was already all over for the French with 16 on the board, while Rob Ehrens’ Dutch foursome were trailing the rest of the field by a long margin with 21 and only on a learning curve for the rest of the day.
As round two progressed there were further swings of fortune, the Belgians slipping down the leaderboard when adding 13 to their scoreline and the Ukrainians likewise, adding 9 to their tally despite brilliant second-round clears from Cassio Rivetti (Vivant) and Katharina Offel (Charlie).
In contrast, the Swedes stood firm, obliged to add only a single time penalty posted by Emma Emanuelsson and Titan when Niklas Jonsson recovered from a tense-looking 10-fault first effort with Caral to produce a confident clear at his second effort. When Peder Fredricson filled the anchorman role to perfection with a second fault-free run from H&M Sibon they were always going to feature in the race for points.
But the British had it in the bag by the time third-line rider, Whitaker, left the arena for the second time. Neilson rallied with an opening clear this time out, so when 21-year-old Roe, who has the FEI European Young Rider Championship in his sights this summer, returned with just one more time fault and Whitaker followed suit they could not be beaten on a finishing score of three faults. Because the Spanish had also added two more time faults to their tally, so would have to finish on a total of four. They had plenty of reason to celebrate however, as the performances of Saro and Darius were an exhibition of the coolest, calmest jumping rounds you will see, while Aznar and Rico Revel withstood great pressure to also post just single time faults each time out while Moya capped all that with one of just two double-clears on the day with Zipper. The Spanish haven’t always looked like serious contenders in recent years, but this team is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Meanwhile the British demonstrated their strength in depth by sending out a relatively untried side and defeating some mighty opposition. Robert Whitaker’s performance was as solid as a rock today, one his father, the legendary John, would be very proud of because it mirrored so many of his own great moments in the sport. Neilson showed character by recovering from a difficult first round to show what he can really do, and Roe has the look of a future star.
“It was my first senior Nations Cup and to be part of this team, with riders like Rob (Whitaker) and Guy (Williams) and to share the experience with them, and learn from them, was something special!” Roe said this evening.
Talking about his career to date, the 21-year-old pointed out “last year I jumped on the Europe Division 2 teams at Lisbon and Arezzo. We jumped pretty good - in Lisbon (POR) the team was second and in Arezzo (ITA) we had the last fence down in the first round and jumped clear in the second round. Earlier this year I went to Spain for the circuit there, and then I went as fifth-man to the first Division 1 leg in Lummen” Roe explained.
He has had his horse, Wonder Why, since the gelding was a 5-year-old, “and now he’s 11, we know each other very well. He’s done everything for me including three European Championships - 2 in Junior and 2 Young Riders - and I’ll be taking him to my last Young Riders Championship in Arezzo this summer. I hope we can do well there” Roe added.
Roe has worked his way up in the sport in Britain, first under the stewardship of Andrew Saywell for two years and then with British senior team member Will Funnell for another two years. “I’m running my own yard since about a year ago” said the rider from Lincolnshire in England. Asked about his ambitions for the remainder of this year, he replied “I’m hoping to get another shot at a senior Nations Cup because that would give me great confidence going to the (Young Rider) Europeans in Arezzo!”
After today’s performance, British Chef d’Equipe, Rob Hoekstra, may well give that idea some serious consideration.
- Great Britain 3 faults: Varo M (Daniel Neilson) 12/0, Wonder Why (Spencer Roe) 1/1, Catwalk IV (Robert Whitaker) 0/1, Zaire (Guy Williams) 0/9.
- Spain 4 faults: Darius (Manuel Fernandez Saro) 1/1, Prunella D'Ariel (Paola Amilibia) 6/5, Rico Revel (Eduardo Alvarez Aznar) 1/1, Zipper (Sergio Moya) 0/0.
- Sweden 10 faults: Casello (Douglas Lindelow) 4/4, Titan (Emma Emanuelsson) 5/1, Caral (Niklas Jonsson) 10/0, H&M Sibon (Peder Fredricson) 0/0.
- Switzerland 14 faults: Toulago (Pius Schwizer) 4/0, Castlefield Eclipse (Paul Estermann) 5/8, Pablo de Virton (Jane Richard Philips) 8/0, Nino des Buissonnets (Steve Guerdat) 1/4.
- Ukraine 16 faults: Vivant (Cassio Rivetti) 5/0, Charlie (Katharina Offel) 1/0, Chadino (Ferenc Szentirmai) 1/9, K Club Lady (Oleg Krasyuk) 8/9.
- Belgium 19 faults: Loro Piana Once de Kreisker (Philippe Le Jeune) 1/9, Cabrio van de Heffinck (Olivier Philippaerts) 1/4, Domino (Jos Verlooy) 5/5, Cortez (Nicola Philippaerts) 4/4.
- France 20 faults: Reveur de Hurtebise HDC (Kevin Staut) 8/0, Padock du Plessie HN (Timothee Anciaume) 4/0, Carlitto Van-T Zorgvliet (Anne Sophie Godart) 16/24, Qarat de la Loge (Julien Epaillard) 4/4.
- Netherlands 31 faults: Vignet (Johnn Pals) 1/4, Alex (Maureen Bonder) 9/1, Dynamite V Hazelarenhoekje (Jody Van Gerwen) 11/5, Interline H (Robert Vos) 17/8.