Barcelona, Spain—Sept. 24
The Belgian team came out on top in the super-tough first round of the €2.3 million Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final at Real Club de Polo in Barcelona today.
With only eight places up for grabs for Saturday’s second and deciding round, there was a ferocious battle between the 19 competing nations, and some heroic performances from sides that didn’t make the cut.
Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, the United States, the defending champions from the Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland claimed the remaining qualifying spots in that order, and the stage is now set for a spectacular finale on Saturday night.
The U.S. all-female team of Laura Kraut, Lucy Davis, Lauren Hough and Beezie Madden finished Round 1 with a total of 9 faults, leaving them tied with Great Britain for fourth place.
“The past two years here, we’ve had a jinx and haven’t done well enough [to make it to Round 2 of the Final]. So, this was out goal for this year. Now, hopefully we can relax and do well on Saturday [in the Final],” Madden said.
Madden was the anchor rider on Cortes ‘C’ and her 4-fault round helped the U.S. team drop Davis’ 12 faults, leaving them with Hough and Madden’s 4-fault scores added to Kraut’s 1 time fault on Nouvelle.
“Luckily my teammates had done well enough that Robert, our chef d’equipe, told me that a clear or a 4 [-fault round] would be good enough, so I didn’t need to go fast and try to beat anyone’s time,” Madden said. “I did have one down early in the course, which was nerve-wracking, but I felt like my horse was jumping well and it was my mistake I made. So after that I just tried to bring it home.”
The testing course set by Spain’s Santiago Varela produced only seven clear rounds from a starting field of 76 horse-and-rider combinations, and the penultimate triple combination claimed a huge number of victims. A total of 33 horses faulted here, and at least 24 of those left the middle element on the floor. All four members of the French team picked up penalties at this one, and the country that won the first Furusiyya Final back in 2013 finished well down the line in 16th place on their final tally of 24 faults.
The countries that just missed out were Qatar, Mexico and Brazil who shared ninth place on a 16-fault scoreline at the end of the day, and it was interesting to note that three of the rare clear rounds were posted by riders from countries that finished outside the qualification zone. Pedro Veniss got Brazil off to a perfect start when fault-free with Quabri de L’Isle, while both Australian pathfinder Jamie Kermond (Quite Cassini) and Egypt’s anchorman Karim Elzoghby (Amelia) did likewise—the latter two countries sharing 12th place at the end of the day.
The eight countries who qualified for the final round will start on a clean slate on Saturday, Sept. 26, and jump again in just one round to decide the title.
Fair But Unforgiving
Varela’s course was fair but unforgiving, riders having to plan every step of the way in order to leave all the timber intact and to avoid exceeding the 81 seconds time-allowed. The pressure really began on the rollback to the planks at Fence 5, which was followed by a big double, and then a right-bending line to the open water. As the Spanish course designer explained afterwards however, the majority of mistakes later on the track were created by loss of control after the open water which was followed by a big oxer and then a turn back to a 2-meter-wide triple bar.
“It was six [strides] to the vertical after the triple bar and oxer, but the majority of the riders went on seven and some upset the balance of their horses,” he explained. Many paid the price at the blue oxer at fence 11, the front pole kicked out time and again before riders turned down the final line.
Every element of the triple combination at 12 saw plenty of action. “It was at the end of the course, and the jump in was a bit short”, Varela said. The red poles at the vertical second element were further complicated by a water tray below them which distracted some of the horses.
The course wasn’t only difficult to ride, Varela said it was also difficult to build. “We only had the warm-up competition and then a 1.60-meter class—I think it was a fair course with faults everywhere from the start to the end. The question today was not to win, it was to be in the eight teams that qualify for Saturday,” he pointed out.
Impossible To Predict
It was impossible to predict how the competition would play itself out until the very end as each rider had only one chance to get things right, but the British looked secure having posted a 9-fault scoreline by the end of the third rider rotation, while Christian Ahlmann’s opening clear with Taloubet Z helped seal Germany’s 8-fault total.
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson did the same for Sweden when third to go for his side, but the Dutch had a bit of a moment when one of their dream-team combinations—Maikel van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdi—collected 17 uncharacteristic faults. However with a foot-perfect run from the superstar partnership of Jeroen Dubbeldam and Zenith they finished with 10 on the board after 5-fault efforts from both Jur Vrieling (VDL Zirocco Blue) and Gerco Schroder (Glock’s Cognac Champblanc), and the defending Furusiyya champions still look well set to continue on the glory trail they have been following over the last year.
The final placings were undecided to the very end however, the Americans heaving a huge sigh of relief that at last, after missing the cut at the previous two Furusiyya Finals, they are through on a 9-fault finishing score while the Irish and Swiss claimed the last two places when posting scores of 13 and 15 faults respectively.
The clear winners today however were the Belgians who confidently cruised home with a final tally of 5 faults thanks to a fantastic last-to-go clear from newly-crowned European silver medalist, Gregory Wathelet.
Their pathfinder, Olivier Philippaerts (H&M Armstrong van de Kapel) made a mistake at the planks at Fence 5, but, next to go, Judy-Ann Melchior, collected only a single time penalty with the ever-reliable Cold as Ice Z. Jos Lansink fell victim to the middle part of the combination with For Cento, but Wathelet’s clear sealed it in style.
Wathelet said afterwards, “For sure I am really happy about my clear round, but today my team was really good and they made it easy for me! There was not so much pressure when I was going in so I could ride a nice, quiet round.
“I’m happy for my team, and I hope we can keep it this way for Saturday. We will try to do the same on Saturday but it is a whole new day. Our goal was to be in the top eight this evening, and the main thing is we succeeded in that,” he said stoically.
1. Belgium 5 faults: H&M Armstrong van de Kapel (Olivier Philippaerts) 4, As Cold as Ice Z (Judy-Ann Melchior) 1, For Cento (Jos Lansink) 5, Conrad de Hus (Gregory Wathelet) 0.
2. Germany 8 faults: Taloubet Z (Christian Ahlmann) 0, Fibonacci (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) 5, Cornet d’Amour (Daniel Deusser) 4, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) 4.
3. Sweden 8 faults: H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 4, Tinkabell (Angelie von Essen) 21, Unita Ask (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) 9, Cantinero (Henrik von Eckermann) 4.
4. Great Britain 9 faults: Diva ll (Ben Maher) 1, Spirit T (Jessica Mendoza) 4, Utamaro D’Ecaussines (Joe Clee) 4, Cassionato (Michael Whitaker) 13.
5. USA 9 faults: Nouvelle (Laura Kraut) 1, Barron (Lucy Davis) 12, Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 4, Cortes C (Beezie Madden) 4.
6. Netherlands 10 faults: SFN Zenith NOP (Jeroen Dubbeldam0 0, VDL Groep Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) 17, VDL Zirocco Blue (Jur Vrieling) 5, Glock’s Cognac Champblanc (Gerco Schroder) 5.
7. Ireland 13 faults: Molly Malone (Bertram Allen) 5, MHS Going Global (Greg Broderick) 5, Good Luck (Cian O’Connor) 4, All Star (Denis Lynch) 4.
8. Switzerland 15 faults: Quorida de Treho (Romain Duguet) 1, Clooney (Martin Fuchs) 9, Bonne Chance CW (Janika Sprunger) 16, Castlefield Eclipse (Paul Estermann) 5.