Team USA made it a spectacular three-in-a-row with victory at the eighth and last leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping 2014 Europe Division 1 series in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. It was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish, with drama from the outset and intense pressure all the way through as the threat of relegation was hanging in the air.
The British were one of three nations fiercely fighting to fend off a spell in Europe Division 2 next season, and they succeeded in style when filling runner-up spot. But for Ukraine it was deep disappointment as, despite lining up joint-third with France and Sweden, they remain at the bottom of the 10-team leaderboard and drop out of the top league for the near future at least.
It was also an unnerving day for the Irish hosts who failed to make the cut to the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in October along with Ukraine and Switzerland when finishing joint-sixth alongside The Netherlands. Lying ninth in the final Europe Division 1 standings, the Irish must now wait to see how the second team that qualifies from Europe Division 2 fares at the Barcelona final before they will learn their fate for 2015.
But for the USA there was never anything to fear as they qualified through their regional series two months ago and have been on a roll ever since. With the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy on the horizon they’ve scooped a sensational hat-trick over the past seven days with victory at the Europe Division 1 qualifier at Hickstead last Friday, another at the penultimate leg of Europe Division 2 in Gijon in Spain last Saturday and then in Dublin on Friday. They are a formidable force right now, but Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland isn’t going to let anyone get too carried away – “we are confident, but we are keeping it in perspective,” he said afterwards.
The elimination of German maestro Ludger Beerbaum when first man into the ring gave some inkling of what might lie ahead on the track of Irish course designer Alan Wade. The packed stadium of enthusiastic spectators gasped with near-disbelief when his 15-year-old stallion, Chaman, took a severe dislike to the first element of the Longines triple combination at fence eight and refused to continue. He wouldn’t be the only horse to do so during the afternoon.
By the end of round one the leaderboard already showed Germany in deep trouble at the bottom of the order with 24 faults following a 16-fault effort from Patrick Stuehlmeyer and Lacan. There would be no way back from there.
The Dutch also made a surprising start when pathfinder Vincent Voorn collected 24 faults, but clears from Leopold van Asten (VDL Groep Zidane), Johnny Pals (Vignet) and Wout Jan van der Schans (Capetown) turned that right around and they shared the lead with the British on a zero score at the halfway stage.
Ben Maher and Cella made the only British mistake at the vertical after the water in round one when Joe Clee (Utamaro D’Ecaussines), Spencer Roe (Wonder Why) and Scott Brash (Hello Sanctos) were all foot-perfect. They had come to Dublin on a mission knowing they were staring relegation in the face, and the Olympic and European team champions were going to fight every inch of the way.
Sweden and the USA were joint-second going into round two with four faults each while France and Ukraine were next in line with eight and Ireland carried 12.
US anchor Beezie Madden, who played a vital role in last week’s Hickstead triumph, had also experienced an uncomfortable moment at the triple combination first time out with Simon who hit the first and second elements after hesitating and losing impulsion on the approach. As it turned out, they wouldn’t have to come back into the ring as their team-mates would have the result all sewn up.
But the fence continued to play its part throughout the second round, both Irish anchor Dermott Lennon (Loughview Lou-Lou) and Ukrainian pathfinder Cassio Rivetti (Sea Coast Forlap) eliminated for two refusals at the opening element.
The Dutch faded in the second round when putting 20 on the board, and the Swedish added 12 to their tally to also disappear from the reckoning. The British began to slip when Maher lowered the triple bar at 10 and Clee hit the bogey vertical at nine. Roe and Wonder Why however produced one of the four double-clears of the competition to steady the decline, and with just one rider left to go for each team it was still quite possible that the British could push the USA to a third-round decider if Brash could leave all the fences up.
Charlie Jayne and his 11-year-old stallion Chill RZ made the perfect start for the US in round two with their double-clear and when Jessica Springsteen followed suit with Vindicat W and Katie Dinan had a spotless run with Nougat du Vallet, the final US tally stood at just four faults.
A clear from Brash would leave the British on level pegging, but the vertical at nine hit the dirt and it was all over. The USA had the win in the bag, recording only their sixth victory in the 141 editions of the Dublin Horse Show. Their first was way back in 1948 when Capt J W Russel (Airmail), Col J F Wing (Democrat), Lt Col C H Anderson (Riem) and Lt Col C A Smyroski (Nipper) claimed the coveted Aga Khan Trophy. They won again in 1964, 1968, 1980 and in 1993 when Michael Matz (The General), Lesley Lenehan (Gem Twist), DD Matz (Tashiling) and Anne Kursinski (Suddenly) were on the team. A full 21 years later it was a special feeling for a US side to follow in those hoofprints.
“We always expected a thriller here – Dublin is very special in our sport,” said Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland. “We are always honoured to be here, it is a fantastic horse show.” He knows he has some serious ammunition for his side that will contest the forthcoming Games in Normandy and some big decisions to make over the coming days.
“We have 10 riders on our shortlist and I’ve been shuffling the decks for the last few weeks – our team last week was very different to this week, just Beezie was on the Hickstead team last Friday. I’m really happy with the way things worked out here,” he added. And when pressed to confirm if any of the four riders in the Dublin side will be travelling to France he replied , “you’ll find out about that next Wednesday…”
The result showed great strength in depth for the American team. Jayne was rock solid and 21-year-old Katie Dinan continued to amaze with her gifted gelding Nougat du Vallet. “I was very lucky to get my horse in 2011 and I’m lucky he became the horse he did and that we can compete at this level,” Dinan said modestly. She has been seen on numerous occasions around the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds this week with her tiny little dog, Delilah, who has been attracting a lot of attention. “We adopted her at the Young Rider Championship and she goes everywhere with me because she brings me luck!” Dinan explained.
Springsteen was also attracting attention throughout the week as her father, rock legend Bruce Springsteen, was on hand to watch his daughter in action. But Jessica showed she’s entitled to attention on her own merits rather than her family connections. She was on fire when winning Thursday’s Winning Round at the Dublin fixture and cruised through two fabulous Nations Cup rounds to help clinch another historic victory for her country.
“I’ve never been on a team before at this level and I was nervous today, but my horse is incredible and we have a great partnership – he’s so brave and confident. I couldn’t ask for more from any horse, and he’s not as strong as he looks!” she said with delight.
There was all sorts of history in the making, as the list of teams qualified from Europe Division 1 for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final is now decided. The leaderboard shows France, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Great Britain and Spain holding the top-seven qualifying spots in that order while Switzerland, Ireland and Ukraine are outside the qualification zone.
Only the final stages of Europe Division 2 have to be played out before the second annual finale brings another season to a close.
1. USA 4 faults: Chill RZ (Charlie Jayne) 0/0, Jessica Springsteen (Vindicat W) 0/0, Nougat du Valet (Katie Dinan) 4/0, Simon (Beezie Madden) 8/DNS.
2. Great Britain 8 faults: Cella (Ben Maher) 4/4, Utamaro D’Ecaussines (Joe Clee) 0/4, Wondery Why (Spencer Roe) 0/0, Hello Sanctos (Scott Brash) 0/4.
3. Ukraine 16 faults: Sea Coast Forlap DC (Cassio Rivetti) 4/Elim, Valentino Velvet (Oleksandr Onyschenko) 4/0, Chadino (Ferenc Szentirmai) 0/0, Quabracho Semilly (Katharina Offel) 8/8.
3. France 16 faults: Padock du Plessis (Timothee Anciaume) 4/0, Rubis de Preuilly (Cedric Angot) 4/0, Equador van’t Roosakker (David Frederic) 4/12, Quartz Rouge (Jerome Hurel) 0/8.
3. Sweden 16 faults: Lunatic (Jens Fredricson) 8/4, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 0/4, Cafino (Alexander Zettermann) 4/8, Cantinero (Henrik Von Eckermann) 0/4.
6. Ireland 20 faults: Imotherp (Darragh Kenny) 4/0, Molly Malone V (Bertram Allen) 8/0, Quidam’s Choice (Cian O’Connor) 4/8, Loughview Lou-Lou (Dermott Lennon) 4/Elim.
6. Netherlands 20 faults: Quinlan (Vincent Voorn) 24/0, VDL Groep Zidane (Leopold van Asten) 0/8, Vignet (Johnny Pals) 0/16, Capetown (Wout-Jan van der Schans) 0/12.
8. Germany, Elim: Chaman (Ludger Beerbaum) Elim/Ret, Lacan 2 (Patrick Stuehlmeyer) 16/Elim, Conthendrix (Andre Thieme) 4/5, First Class van Eeckelghem (Daniel Deusser) 4/4.
Final Standings after Round 8 of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Europe Division 1 League:
1. France - 345.00
2. Netherlands - 345.00
3. Germany - 305.00
4. Sweden - 300.00
5. Belgium - 295.00
6. Great Britain - 287.50
7. Spain - 282.50
8. Switzerland - 280.00
9. Ireland - 262.50
10. Ukraine - 250.00