The city of Rome has witnessed many historic moments, and today was another as a Belgian team consisting of a veteran and three super-talented young riders broke the mould to win the third leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Europe Division 1 series. Belgium had never before headed the Nations Cup line-up at Piazza di Siena during the 82-year history of this great horse show, so it was a proud moment for the side led by Chef d’Equipe Kurt Gravemeier, and for the most senior member of the side, 50-year-old Ludo Philippaerts who experienced a disastrous second round but watched his 20-year-old son, Nicola, clinch it for his country.
And today is a day that Constant van Paesschen will never forget, as he celebrated his Nations Cup debut by joining team-mate Niels Bruynseels to produce one of four double-clear rounds.
As Ludo Philippaerts explained this evening, Belgian expectations were not too high before the competition began. “When I saw the startlist I thought it was going to be a very difficult day for us - a great German and Dutch team, the best of the English and we are bringing three very young riders, some of them for their very first Nations Cup!” But they flew their country’s flag with all the passion that makes this sport so popular around the globe, pinning a strong team from The Netherlands into second place by a one-fault margin while Germany had to settle for third.
The British looked like the hottest ticket in town with the two leading riders on the Longines rankings, Scott Brash and Ben Maher, each competing their top horses and joined by Michael Whitaker and the recently on-form Joe Clee. But Clee had a very difficult day and it fell apart for them in the second round to leave them in fourth place. Last year’s Rome winners from Ukraine finished fifth while there was a shock result for France when slotting into sixth. Their chances disappeared in the opening round, and there was simply no way back. Qatar slotted into seventh spot while the host nation of Italy finished last of the eight competing nations.
Any course created by Italian course designer Uliano Vezzani is to be respected, and the expression on the faces on the riders after the course walk already told a story. Vezzani has a unique ability to keep it simple, yet to test the best and come out with the right result, and today he stretched them over enormous oxers and then asked them to be balanced and in control at massive uprights. “It’s a brilliant track” said London 2013 Olympic team gold medallist Peter Charles who would watch the competition from the sidelines. “Uliano has built it big but it’s a really fair course because the size of the arena gives them plenty of room to get themselves right for the fences. They just have to jump them!” he added.
Starting out over an oxer followed by an upright, riders turned right-handed to another oxer before moving down to the open water at fence four, and from here the real problems began.
The following wavy planks proved the bogey of the opening round when riders couldn’t quite get back control, and sometimes the oxer that followed also hit the floor. A wide left-hand turn then brought them to the triple combination - oxer, vertical, oxer - which led to a vertical with water-tray that consistently hit the sand throughout the afternoon, and the following narrow gate also proved influential before the right-hand turn down the last line. This consisted of a big oxer with a spiral-striped colour scheme running through the poles and a water-tray beneath which some horses seemed to find a little spooky, and then it was on to the penultimate double - a very tall vertical to a colossal oxer - before a bending right-handed line brought them to the last. These tall planks proved a heart-breaker for several riders who survived all the earlier challenges only to make a single error here.
At the halfway stage the form-book seemed to be playing itself out with one exception - the French had endured a disastrous first round, accumulating 17 faults despite a fabulous clear from pathfinder Penelope Leprevost and Flora de Mariposa. There was never any way the nation that won on home ground at La Baule and which is defending the Furusiyya title they won last season could recover from there.
The British were leading on a zero score as round two began, while Belgium and Germany were next carrying just four faults while the Dutch were only a single fault further adrift carrying five. Qatar carried 13, the French 17 and Italy was already lying last having collected 24 faults first time out.
The British grip was slightly loosened by a mistake from Ben Maher and Cella at the oxer at fence six, but it was Clee’s 17 faults that really put them under pressure. His mare, Diablesse de Muze, had been showing great form of late but collected a total of 37 faults today. So when both Michael Whitaker and Viking and Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos followed their first-round clears with two fences down second time out, the British plummeted down the leaderboard with a final total of 20 faults.
The Germans were also thrown into disarray by 16 faults from Daniel Deusser and Fyloe V. Claessenhof which meant that the four collected by both Marco Kutscher (Liberty Son) and Hans-Dieter Dreher (Embassy ll) had to be taken into account. Not even Ludger Beerbaum’s brilliant double-clear with Chiara could keep them in the race for maximum points as they finished on 12 faults.
In contrast however the Dutch bounced into contention when Jeroen Dubbeldam (Zenith SFN) and Maikel van der Vleuten (VDL Groep Verdi) both followed four-fault first-round efforts with clears at their second attempt. Jur Vrieling’s VDL Bubalu, who collected a single time penalty in round one, returned with nine on the board this time out, but if anchorman Gerco Schroder could go clear with Glock’s London then The Netherlands would complete on their first-round five faults and that would leave the Belgians with no margin for error.
And Schroder’s lovely stallion, which has just been returned to the Dutch rider after a long separation following their London 2012 Olympic silver medal winning glory, was happily skipping around the track with his ears up until, on the approach to the final planks, confusion seemed to set in and the fence hit the floor. With the Dutch total now at nine it left the door open for the Belgians despite a devastating 24-fault effort from Ludo Philippaerts at his second attempt. Because Niels Bruynseels jumped a second easy clear and Constant van Paesschen belied his inexperience and his tender age by following suit. It was all down to Ludo’s son Nicola now, and he went into the ring for the last time with a fence in hand. When the vertical after the triple combination hit the floor you could hear a pin drop as he rode the rest of the track, rattling the oxer at fence 10 but leaving it up and clearing the final two fences to clinch it.
His father, Ludo, was rightly proud of his 20-year-old son. Talking about how the competition had evolved and how he felt throughout the day he said “my own horse (Challenge) was injured after the European Championship last year and had five months out. I finished very happy in the first round and the other riders did a great job, but in the second round I felt my horse was not so good at the first fence and then we had the second fence down - I can tell you it was a very long way to the end of the course, but Kurt (Gravemeier, Belgian Chef d’Equipe) said you must go on!” he explained.
“Niels and Constant went clear and then we had our chance. I thought of the Nations Cup in Aachen (GER) last year where we could have won. I was last into the ring that day and I had one down so we finished second, but I thought today - my son can do it! Even when he had that fence down he held on and he rode so well!” he added.
Today seemed to be the start of a whole new era for Belgian Jumping. The maturity shown by 30-year-old Niels Bruynseels and the 20-year-olds Van Paesschen and Nicola Philippaerts certainly seem to augur well for the future. Today they came up against the giants of the sport and defeated them all.
Chef d’Equipe, Kurt Gravemeier, said “I couldn’t have been happier today. Rome is a classic horse show, and this win is extra special because it is the first time for Belgium to win the Nations Cup here. And I can tell you what I’m thinking - Belgium will come back in future years with this young team, and we will win many more times here in Rome!”
Following today’s result, it is not only teams at the Italian fixture who need to fear this side, and when Gravemeier was asked tonight if he would opt for a full team of young riders for the forthcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy (FRA) this summer he replied, “I’m not saying we won’t be sending older riders but we have a lot of great young riders in Belgium right now. At the European Championships last year we had Jos Verlooy and he rode at La Baule last week with eight faults and a clear. He is also just 20 years old. I hope we have enough horses because it we do, then in Belgium we can look forward to a fantastic future!”
The result leaves Belgium still holding second place on the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Europe Division 1 leaderboard behind the defending champions from France. But that is only because the winners were not chasing points at today’s event. They still have two more point-gathering opportunities, the first at St Gallen in Switzerland next Friday and then at Hickstead in Great Britain at the end of July. The French have only one more chance to forge further ahead, at Rotterdam (NED) in June. It is still wide open for the qualifying places from this league for the much-anticipated Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final 2014 next October.
- Belgium 8 faults: Challenge V. Beginakker (Ludo Philippaerts) 4/24, Pommeau du Heup (Niels Bruynseels) 0/0, Citizenguard Toscan de Sainte (Constant van Paesschen) 0/0, Forever D Arco Ter Linden (Nicola Philippaerts) 4/4.
- Netherlands 9 faults: Zenith SFN (Jeroen Dubbeldam) 4/0, VDL Groep Verdi Nop (Maikel van der Vleuten) 4/0, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 1/9, Glock's London (Gerco Schroder) 0/4.
- Germany 12 faults: Fyloe V. Claessenhof (Daniel Deusser) 4/16, Liberty Son (Marco Kutscher) 0/4, Embassy ll (Hans-Dieter Dreher) 4/4, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) 0/0.
- Great Britain 20 faults: Cella (Ben Maher) 0/4, Diablesse de Muze (Joe Clee) 20/17, Viking (Michael Whitaker) 0/8, Hello Sanctos (Scott Brash) 0/8.
- Ukraine 23 faults: Vivant (Cassio Rivetti) 4/8, Light on Old (Ulrich Kirchhoff) 13/6, Chadino (Ferenc Szentirmai) 8/0, Charlie (Katharina Offel) 5/0.
- France 25 faults: Flora de Mariposa (Penelope Leprevost) 0/0, For Joy van'T Zorgvliet HDC (Kevin Staut) 12/4, Qlassic Bois Margot (Simon Delestre) 9/4, Orient Express HDC (Patrice Delaveau) 8/12.
- Qatar 26 faults: Come Soon (Faleh Suwead Al Ajami) 8/4, Vienna Olympic (Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani) 4/8, Castiglione L (Mubarak Yousuf A Al Rumaihi) 8/4, Primeval Dejavu (Bassem Hassan Mohammed) 1/5.
- Italy 36 faults: Elky van het Indihof (Lorenzo de Luca) 8/8, Banca Popolare Bari Cassandra (Francesco Franco) 11/Ret, Loro Piana Canada (Filippo Moyersoen) 8/0, Cocoshynsky (Emanuele Gaudiano) 8/4.