The American team have the unenviable task of of being first into the ring when the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 resumes at Falsterbo, Sweden tomorrow afternoon. The draw took place this evening, and the order of go for the competition which begins at 14.30 local time is as follows:
1. USA: 2, Belgium; 3, The Netherlands; 4, Germany; 5, Great Britain; 6, Sweden; 7, Ireland; 8, Denmark; 9, France.
The nine-team line-up reflects a guest appearance for the host country in the eight-leg, eight-nation tournament. Sweden is entitled to compete despite relegation to the Promotional League last season. They can't take points from tomorrow's competition, but the home runners could well pull off a big and satisfying result - they won here on their home ground last summer, and they've been fighting hard, and very successfully, in this year's Promotional League series. Chef d'Equipe, Sylve Soderstrand, is sending out his big guns - Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Malin Bayard-Johnsson and Peder Fredrickson along with Angelika Augustsson, winner of the Gothenburg leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series last season. "We are here with our best team. And we our very pleased to compete on our homeground" he said today. But this is not only a different league from where we have been competing recently - it is a different planet!" he added.
The first three legs have been so exciting, and Dutch Chef d'Equipe, Rob Ehrens, should be feeling supremely confident after the double scored by his teams in both Rome (ITA) and St Gallen (SUI) over the previous two legs. "I hope we keep up our form" he said in typically stoic fashion this afternoon.
The Netherlands side arrives in Falsterbo with a comfortable lead over the Irish at the top of the league table. Today the showground was bathed in beautiful sunshine, but it seems Irish team manager Robert Splaine may have his wish tomorrow. "It's always a pleasure to be here, my team has good riders but five horses that have not competed at top level so it is hard to predict the result. Therefore, being from Ireland, we are hoping for some rain to help us along!" he said. And that is exactly what is forecast.
It has been fascinating to see how easily the Belgians have blended back in since rejoining the Top League this season. They have a wealth of experience and talent on their side, and are currently lying third on the leaderboard. Belgian Chef d'Equipe, Philippe Guerdat, said "I have been here as a rider and I've always liked this show. All my five riders are very new, but we will try to do our best".
For Denmark, lying bottom of the leaderboard in their debut season at this level, the series so far has been a very uphill battle. But team manager, Achaz von Buchwaldt, said they are not giving up without a fight. "We are struggling a little but we still see it positively, and we can learn a lot" he insisted. Germany's Heinrich Hermann Engemann is "looking forward to a good result" while British team manager, Rob Hoekstra, got an early boost when team member Peter Charles won this afternoon's first Derby qualifier with Murka's Vindicat.
Legendary American Chef d'Equipe, George Morris, will be hoping for a strong effort from his side that includes two riders relatively unknown on the European circuit - Saer Coulter and Lucy Davis. He complimented his hosts saying "it is lovely to be here, it's a natural setting for the horses, it's a horse's show!" The man with, arguably, the biggest headache tomorrow however will be French team leader Henk Nooren who will be hoping that the bad luck which has dogged his side will dissipate at last. Double-champions over the last two seasons, the French have only the Danes below them on the leaderboard from which the bottom two teams will be relegated at the end of the season. "It is important for us to be in the FEI Nations Cup™ next year, so I'm hoping things will go well for us at last tomorrow" he said.
Falsterbo marks the midway point of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ season, so the pressure is mounting with every round.
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 3 at St Gallen (SUI);
1. Netherlands - 3.5
2. Ireland - 19.0
3. Belgium - 18.0
4. Great Britain - 16.0
5. USA - 11.5
6. Germany - 11.0
7. France - 11.0
8. Denmark - 4.0
The FEI Nations Cup™ is a five-star competition in which official teams representing nations compare their merit. At each event the teams gain points according to their placing. At the end of the 2011 season the team with the highest points wins the FEI Nations Cup™ and the two teams with the lowest points will be relegated to the FEI Nations Cup Promotional League. The highest placed team from the 2011 FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final and the highest placed Team on the FEI European Nations Cup Promotional League standings immediately prior to the 2011 FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final will join the FEI Nations Cup™ Top League for 2012.
FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 Calendar:
La Baule (FRA), Friday 13 May; Rome (ITA), Friday 27 May; St Gallen (SUI), Friday 3 June; Falsterbo (SWE), Friday 8 July; Aachen (GER), Thursday 14 July; Hickstead (GBR), Friday 29 July; Dublin (IRL); Friday 5 August.; Rotterdam (NED), Friday 26 August.
FEI TV: you can watch it all LIVE at www.feitv.org
Photo Caption: The draw for the fourth leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 series took place at Falsterbo, Sweden this evening. Photo: Falsterbo Press Office.