There were big celebrations when the defending series champions from France clinched victory in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 competition on home ground at La Baule this afternoon. With just 99 days to go to the opening of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy (FRA) it was the perfect result for the country that will play host to the equestrian world in just over three months’ time.
“It is always great to win in front of your home crowd, but this means even more!” said French Chef d’Equipe Philippe Guerdat this afternoon. “This will help to motivate everyone - the riders, the public and everyone else - when they see that we in France are really strong and really competitive ahead of the WEG. I’m very happy with the way things went today” he added.
However before they earned their spot on the top step of the prize-winners podium, the French first had to quell a spirited performance from a strong Belgian side that eventually settled for runner-up spot in this second leg of the Europe Division 1 series. Ireland and Great Britain finished joint-third, while the Spanish rallied brilliantly to share fifth with Brazil and The Netherlands. For Switzerland however it was complete contrast to their winning effort at Lummen, Belgium two weeks ago when they finished last at the end of a disappointing day.
French course designer, Frederic Cottier, set out a straight-forward track that jumped well all afternoon. Following the confinement of the winter indoor season, horses are now thriving in the great outdoors and many showed boundless enthusiasm as they took on the 12-fence challenge in the big, open grass arena. One of the most spectacular of all was the 12-year-old Oldenburg stallion Armitages Boy who cruised to a double-clear for Frenchman Aymeric de Ponnat - one of 7 double-performances this afternoon.
It may not have been complicated, but the track was plenty big enough with the double - oxer to vertical with water-tray - at four claiming a number of victims while the next line of two big oxers also proved influential. They were followed by a right-hand turn to a blue vertical at fence seven which led on to the open water at eight and another big, wide oxer at fence nine before turning a full circle to the white vertical with water tray just three from home.
However the obstacle that proved most testing was the triple combination at 11 - vertical, oxer, vertical - which was short-strided and required maximum control before tackling the final vertical.
The Belgians sprang a surprise when holding the lead at the halfway stage on a zero score as their bright new stars, 20-year-old Olivier Philippaerts (Cabrio van de Heffinck) and 18-year-old Jos Verlooy (Domino), were backed up by another clear performance from anchorman Gregory Wathelet (Sea Coast Forlap).
But only a fence separated them from the French after foot-perfect runs from de Ponnat and pathfinder Penelope Leprevost (Dame Blanche van Arenberg), leaving them to count just the single error attributed to Jerome Hurel (Quartz Rouge) at the open water when Kevin Staut (Reveur de Hurtebise) lowered fence three and the first element of the double at four for the discount score.
The British, Irish and Swiss went into round two with eight faults apiece, but only a single fence separated them from the Brazilians, Dutch and Spanish who were all carrying 12 faults.
A double-error from Francois Mathy Jr and Polinska des Isles, who had three fences down first time out, kept the pressure on his Belgian counterparts, so when Leprevost kicked off round two for France with her second clear of the day the home side was already beginning to threaten for the lead. But Philippaerts steadied the Belgian ship with another foot-perfect run from his grey stallion, so even though de Ponnat was clear again there was still the chance of a Belgian victory if Verlooy and Wathelet could leave all the poles in place.
A mistake for Verlooy at the oxer at fence three brought the two sides on level pegging however. And when the young man who competed in his very first Nations Cup when representing his country at the ECCO FEI European Championships™ in Denmark last summer at the tender age of 17 also faulted at the first element of the following double then that was one too many. Hurel posted a clear for France this time out so it was already over, even before the last-line riders took their turn, as the French tally of just four faults could not now be beaten.
Wathelet needed to deliver a clear to ensure runner-up spot for Belgium however, and he did just that to leave his side on a finishing total of eight, and a full fence ahead of the Irish and British with 12. The British effort was hampered by double-elimination for Tim Gredley when Unex Chamberlain Z took a strong dislike to the triple combination in both rounds, but was bolstered by second-round clears from Ben Maher (Urico) and Michael Whitaker (Amai).
Spain, Brazil and The Netherlands all completed with 16 faults on the board while the Swiss finished on a total of 20, having posted only one clear from Jane Richard Philips and Pablo de Virion in the first round. A total of 20 first-round faults for Steve Guerdat first time out when his gelding, Concetto Son, objected to going down to the water and also left three fences on the floor did nothing to help Swiss chances, but the horse came back to sail over the water in round two when they collected just four faults at the last element of the triple combination.
French team member, Penelope Leprevost, talked about the performance of her 11-year-old grey mare, Dame Blanche van Arenberg, who is quite the lady herself. “I’m very happy with my double-clear with her today. I have her one year now and I jumped her for the first time last year here in La Baule. We got her just one week beforehand and we did the smaller classes together. She didn’t have a lot of experience when I got her, but she competed in her first Grand Prix at Hickstead (GBR) and we finished fourth, and then she jumped double-clear in Calgary (CAN)” said the rider who has been flying the French flag with great success for some time now.
It was clear today that her “Dame” is not the easiest horse to ride as she pulled hard all the way around the track in both rounds. Leprevost explained why she likes the mare so much however. “I didn’t jump her indoors because she is still too difficult, but it’s better to have a horse that pulls you hard because she wants to jump clear than one that is much quieter but will leave a fence on the ground every time. She is so brave and so careful - she is a great mare!” she insisted.
Leprevost also talked about how important today’s result was for the French; “It is always important for us to have a good show here in front of our own crowd. It is important also for our country and our team thinking about the WEG” she said, echoing her team manager’s sentiments. And echoing the thoughts of the many riders who have their sights set on further good performance in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 series so that they can stake their claim to a spot on their national teams at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy later this summer.
The next leg of the Europe Division 1 series will take place at Piazza di Siena in Rome (ITA) on Friday, 23 May.
1. France 4 faults: Dame Blanche van Arenberg (Penelope Leprevost) 0/0, Armitages Boy (Aymeric de Ponnat) 0/0, Quartz Rouge (Jerome Hurel) 4/0, Reveur de Hurtebise HDC (Kevin Staut) 8/DNS.
2. Belgium 8 faults: Polinska des Isles (Francois Mathy Jr) 12/8, Cabrio van de Heffinck (Olivier Philippaerts) 0/0, Domino (Jos Verlooy) 0/8, Sea Coast Forlap (Gregory Wathelet) 0/0.
3. Ireland 12 faults: All Star (Denis Lynch) 0/4, Antello Z (Cameron Hanley) 4/4, Quidam's Cherie (Cian O'Connor) 4/0, Diaghilev (Billy Twomey) 8/0.
3. Great Britain 12 faults: Urico (Ben Maher) 4/0, Utamaro D'Ecaussines (Joe Clee) 0/4, Unex Chamberlain Z (Tim Gredley) Elim/Elim, Amai (Michael Whitaker) 4/0.
5. Spain 16 faults: Darius 2 (Manuel Saro) 8/4, Notre Star de la Nutria (Paola Amilibia) 8/12, Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot (Eduardo Aznar) 4/0, Carlo (Sergio Moya) 0/0.
5. Brazil 16 faults: Status (Rodrigo Pessoa) 12/0, First Devision (Yuri Mansur Guerios) 4/4, Quintol (Eduardo Menezes) 8/4, Ad Clouwni (Marlon Zanotelli) 0/0.
5. Netherlands 16 faults: Quinlan (Vincent Voorn) 8/0, Very Nice (Timothy Hendrix) 4/8, Avion (Willem Greve) 12/4, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 0/0.
8. Switzerland 20 faults: Toulago (Pius Schwizer) 4/4, Pablo de Virion (Jane Richad Philips) 0/4, Concetto Son (Steve Guerdat) 20/4, Castlefield Eclipse (Paul Estermann) 4/4.