Britain’s showjumpers rounded off a year that defied expectation when second, bagging €300,000, to a sizzling Belgium in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona on Saturday night (26 September).
Belgium had won Thursday’s qualifier and again looked strong throughout. Gregory Wathelet and Conrad de Hus, last to go, sealed victory while landing himself a €200,000 bonus for jumping the competition’s sole double clear.
After three riders from each team had gone, Britain had the potential to finish on eight faults alongside the Dutch. Ben Maher (Diva) started Britain off with a solid four faults, unlucky to lower a rail over a water tray at fence six, while Jessica Mendoza rode another tactful round with Spirit T, among many to fault at the troublesome “fish” fence at eight. It just needed Joe Clee to secure the score with a clear.
Clee duly came of age as “last man” at a major championship event, with Utamaro D’Ecaussines (pictured) bounding round to return one of only six flawless rounds that night.
“There is pressure wherever you go in the order. I guess it means they trust me, but I am very proud to have filled this role,” he said.
Britain then found themseves ahead of the world champions in the final leadboard, for under Furusiyya rules, ties for places are separated by time faults – contrary to the rules for the previous night’s consolation event where four nations tied in runner up spot behind Qatar.
There was a change for the British line-up from Thursday, as Michael Whitaker felt Cassionato was a little stiff’ after his lacklustre 12 faults, and so Laura Renwick was called into replace him with Bintang. Her nine-year-old had hardly seen this arena, never mind under lights, and a napping fit proved costly leaving them on 16 faults as the discard score.
“I still can’t explain it. He hasn’t done it before and now was hardly the time to try it out,” Laura said. “He’s still quite young and it’s one of those things you have to take away and learn from.”
British team manager Di Lampard and Team GB performance director Dan Hughes are both in their first year in the job and the Barcelona result was better than they dared hope.
“For me, the goal was always Aachen and qualifying for Rio,” said Di. “In the end we won three superleague events, and everyone has pulled together again to now acheive this.”
Dan added: “It has been good to see how hard everyone has worked, and how they are always ready for the call-up.”