Britain is comfortably through to Saturday night’s Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona, finishing equal fourth on a team total of nine after a dramatic first round which turned European championship form upside down.
Belgium, who crashed out of Aachen and failed to gain their Rio ticket, were the day’s top team, but France returned a dismal 24 faults for 16th place while, save for Jeroen Dubbledam’s clear on SFM Zenith NOP, the world and European gold medallists Holland looked lacklustre on 10 faults.
Nineteen teams lined up and dreams of making the final eight were routinely dashed over Santiago Varela’s unforgiving track.
Only seven horses jumped clear. Ben Maher came close with just a single time-fault on the still improving Diva II. He has jumped just a single round with the mare since Aachen, to help her re-adjust to a sand surface.
Jessica Mendoza was delighted not to provide the Brits’ discard score, though her round was not without drama. Spirit T ripped off a shoe after the oxer at four. She was unlucky to lower the back rail at eight, which came up short after the water. “I had such a good stride to the water,” said Jessica. “After that I needed to pull hard – and not enough.”
Britain is fielding it’s Aachen quartet. Jessica said she “loves everyone on this team” and is still learning from their shared experience at the Europeans. “I learned from Aachen that I had to be a more aggressive rider from the start,” she said.
Utamaro D’Ecaussines was jumping cleanly for Joe Clee till fence 11, which he caught behind, but they swiftly regrouped and were among the most stylish through the trappy combination one from home ( 12 a,b, and c). Thirty-three horses had problems here, of which 24 took out the second element with their forelegs, an upright of poles over a water tray. Varela attributed this not so much to the distance being “short” but because the horses were suffering the cumulative effects of continuing the run on after the water jump at fence seven.
Clee thought that more cricket scores were seen at the end of this marathon contest because the sun was going down. “It was throwing long shadows,” he said, “though that is not what went wrong in my round. I let him slip to the inside a bit as I was thinking too far ahead to the combination. But the sun was having an effect.”
Britain had been drawn eighth and, after their last to go Michael Whitaker’s unexpected discard score of 13 faults with Cassionato, was teetering between eighth and ninth place. There was a tense wait to see how the fourth man of 11 other sides would go, though one by one the main rivals were picked off.
Among them was a shocked Brazil, confident of going well as part of their preparations for the Rio Olympic Games. They were leading after their third man, but needed Rodrigo Pessoa to secure top spot with a clear. Instead, Pessoa left the arena visibly stunned after five fences down – and a time-fault – with Status. Brazil finished equal ninth with Qatar and Mexico, on 16 faults.
Other teams through to Saturday night – to be staged under floodlights – are Germany (team total of eight faults), Sweden (eight), Netherlands (10), Ireland (13), Switzerland (15), and the USA, equal fourth with Britain. This is the first time in the three-year running of these finals that the US has made the final eight. “We have won the consolation competition both times, so were putting ourselves under real pressure to do it again,” quipped Laura Kraut.