The British pipped their old rivals from Ireland in the seventh leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 at the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show in Dublin, Ireland today. Just a week after the exciting jump-off at Hickstead (GBR) in which Germany won through, it came down to yet another three-round thriller with Nick Skelton going head-to-head with Billy Twomey. And Skelton was in a class of his own as he steered Carlo home to clinch it for the British for the 25th time in the 85-year history of the event.
Belgium and France finished joint-third, while the USA slotted into fifth ahead of Germany. The long-time league leaders from The Netherlands had a less successful day today when having to settle for seventh place, and Denmark came in last. It was an improved performance from the Danes however. Although they may be making an early departure from the top-level series at the end of their inaugural season, they will be stronger for the experience, and they have shown great courage and resilience throughout.
The countries really feeling the heat at the end of today's classic clash were the Belgians and Americans, because only two points separate them on the league table going into the final leg in Rotterdam (NED) in three weeks' time. One of the them is likely to join the Danes as the two lowest-placed teams on the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 leaderboard are relegated to the FEI Promotional League at the end of the series.
Lost Their Momentum
The French held sway on a zero score at the halfway stage this afternoon, but they lost their momentum when all four riders produced single errors second time out. Alan Wade's course proved plenty testing, with the triple combination at fence seven, the following vertical with water-tray, and the tricky planks all claiming a number of victims. Britain's Michael Whitaker explained - "yes the combination was difficult, a triple bar to vertical to oxer and it was tight in there, and then it was a short six to the water tray vertical. It was a really good course, plenty difficult" he pointed out.
The Irish were lying second, carrying just four faults, while the Germans, British and Belgians were on eight each. The Americans carried 12 when Lauren Hough and Quick Study produced their only clear and the Dutch had already clocked up a surprising 17 faults. Leon Thijssen's Tyson put a foot in the water and then Piet Raijmakers Jr (Van Schijndel's Rascin) picked up an irritating single time fault, but both Leopold Van Asten (VDL Groep Santana B) and Wout Jan Van der Schans (Eurocommerce Seoul) left three fences on the floor. The three-time winners this season were not going to make it win number four. The Danes meanwhile were already fighting a rearguard action with 28 faults on the board. But they rallied brilliantly second time out despite retirement for second-line rider Cecile Tofte, and Camilla Enemark sealed their day with a great clear from Regino.
Might Seal It
As it got down to the wire it seemed the Irish might seal it. US-based Shane Sweetnam and Amaretto Darco have been something of a secret weapon for the team in green this season and returned the second of two great clears, and newbie Nicola FitzGibbon more than lived up to expectations when following a single first-round error at the planks with a foot-perfect second effort from her gelding Puissance. But Lynch's second mistake with All Inclusive meant that the home side needed a fault-free performance from anchorman Billy Twomey and Tinka's Serenade to secure a clean victory, and when the mare crashed into the oxer following the open water Twomey retired. Ireland now shared an eight-fault leading scoreline with the British who added nothing to their first-round tally. It would go to a jump-off between the two nations who enjoy friendship and rivalry in equal measure, and who like nothing more than to beat one another.
Michael Whitaker and GIG Amai had followed an opening four faults with a great clear, Scott Brash improved from a 12-fault first-round scoreline to leave just the second fence down in round two and Robert Smith copied Whitaker's result with a four and a clear from Talan. But Nick Skelton's Carlo was jumping out of his skin, and there was no question about which combination Chef d'Equipe Rob Hoekstra would send back into the ring for the third-round decider. It was a more difficult decision for Ireland's Robert Splaine. Sweetnam's horse is clean and careful, rookie FitzGibbon had already done more than could be expected of her and Lynch's horse was unlikely to do the business, so that left only Twomey whose mare has a great turn of foot against the clock and who would normally be the obvious choice - but were they recovered from the crash in round one?
Confidence and Scope
Skelton really put it up to the Irishman with a fabulous race around the jump-off track, each distance measured to perfection and Carlo oozing confidence and scope as they galloped through the finish in 39.98 seconds. The Dublin crowd know a good round of jumping when they see it, and they roared with approval as the British duo broke the beam. And the tension as Twomey set off was palpable, but hope turned to a gasp of disappointment when Tinka's Serenade hit the second fence. It was all over and the British had the coveted Aga Khan Cup in their hands.
"I didn't think we could win it at half-time" Skelton admitted afterwards. He knew he was under pressure against the clock. "Rob (Hoekstra) said you have to be clear - if I'd a fence down I would have given Billy a fence in hand" he explained. "I knew Nick would be fast" said Twomey, who blamed himself for his mare's mistakes. "They were individual errors on my part today" he pointed out, "but I'd like to congratulate the lads" he said referring to the British, "they did a sterling job today". And he highlighted the atmosphere created by the uniquely enthusiastic Dublin crowd. "They are phenomenal here, unbelievably behind us but really supportive to all the nations - they are the most fantastic crowd in the world!" he insisted.
For Scott Brash, today was a dream come true. "It's everyone's dream to ride in the Aga Khan Cup here in Dublin - and to win it! I didn't contribute much today but the others saved my bacon, the lads were great!" he said modestly. And for British team manager Hoekstra, today's performance is a real shot in the arm. Looking forward to the Olympic Games in London next year he said with a big grin "if we go as well as we did today we'll win the gold meda!" Claiming the Aga Khan trophy felt almost as good....
For further information on the seventh leg of the FEI Nations Cup™2011 in Dublin, Ireland go to website www.dublinhorseshow.com or contact Press Officer JP Montgomery, Email email@example.com or Tel +353 1 240 7222. The last leg of the series takes place in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on Friday 26 August. Details of the Dutch fixture are available at website http://www.chio.nl/ - Contact Press Officer Anita Lussenburg, firstname.lastname@example.org or +31(0)621585878.
1. Great Britain - 0 faults in third-round jump-off - Carlo 273 (Nick Skelton) 0/0/0, Gig Amai (Michael Whitaker) 4/0, Intertoy Z (Scott Brash) 12/4, Talan (Robert Smith) 4/0.
2. Ireland - 4 faults in third-round jump-off - Tinka's Serenade (Billy Twomey) 0/Ret/Ret, Amaretto Darco (Shane Sweetnam) 0//0, Puissance (Nicola FitzGibbon) 4/0, All Inclusive NRW (Denis Lynch) 5/4.
3. Belgium 12 faults - Vigo D'Arsouilles (Philippe Le Jeune) 0/0, Cavalor Valentina Van T'Heike (Jos Lansink) 4/0, Copin Van de Broy (Gregory Wathelet) 4/4, Bufero Vh Panishof (Dirk Demeersman) Ret/8.
3. France 12 faults - Mylord Carthago (Penelope Leprevost) 0/4, Orient Express (Patrice Deleveau) 0/4, Nippon d'Elle (Roger-Yves Bost) 4/4, Kellemoi de Pepita (Michel Robert) 0/4.
5. USA 16 faults - Romantovich Take One (Christine McCrea) 8/4, Quick Study (Lauren Hough) 0/10, Cedric (Laura Kraut) 8/0, Coral Reef Via Volo (Beezie Madden) 4/0.
6. Germany 24 faults - Monte Bellini (Philipp Weishaupt) 8/8, Magnus Romeo (Hans-Dieter Dreher) 4/12, Cefalo (Holger Wulschner) 4/0, Chevignon (Rene Tebbel) 0/8.
7. Netherlands 25 faults - Tyson (Leon Thijssen) 4/4, Van Schijndel's Rascin (Piet Raijmakers) 1/4, VDL Goep Santana B (Leopold Van Asten) 12/4, Eurocommerce Seoul (Wout Jan Van der Schans) 12/0.
8. Denmark 40 points - Coronada (Christina Schou) 8/4, Udessa (Cecilie Tofte) 21/Ret, Bogegardens Apollo (Emilie Martinsen) 8/8, Regino (Camilla Enemark) 12/0.
Facts and Figures:
Today's win was the 25th for Great Britain in the 138-year history of the Dublin Horse Show.
The first Dublin Nations Cup took place at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in 1926.
The first British win was in 1931.
Prior to today, the last British win was in 2008.
Course designer was Alan Wade, son of former Irish Chef d'Equipe Tommy Wade who was a legend during his own riding career partnering the pint-sized Dundrum.
Great Britain's Nick Skelton (Carlo) jumped three clear rounds today.
Two double-clears in today's competition - from Ireland's Shane Sweetnam (Amaretto Darco) and the reigning World Championship partnership of Philippe Le Jeune and Vigo D'Arsouilles from Belgium.
Many of the fences on today's track proved testing including the open water at fence 4 and the following oxer at 5, the triple combination at fence 7 - triple bar, vertical, oxer - the planks at fence 9, and the double one fence from home.
British Chef d'Equipe Rob Hoekstra - "Congratulations to the course builder Alan Wade, he did an unbelievable job for the riders and horses and for the public too. It was a classic Nations Cup course, and the ground here is fantastic!"
Irish Chef d'Equipe, Robert Splaine - "We had a couple of chances we didn't take and I was disappointed about that and I know the lads are disappointed and Nicola. But we're safe enough from relegation and I'm happy about that".
Ireland's Nicola FitzGibbon - "I've complete faith in him (her horse Puissance) and he trusts me. It is an honour and a privilege to ride with such a great team! I'm on Robert's longlist for the Europeans, hopefully soon I'll be on the shortlist!".
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 7 at Dublin (IRL):
1. The Netherlands - 44
2. Germany - 40
3. Great Britain - 40
4. Ireland - 39.5
5. France - 34.50
6. Belgium - 30.50
7. USA - 28.50
8. Denmark - 9
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 - enjoy LIVE programming, highlights, interviews and archive footage at www.feitv.org
Photo Caption: Great Britain won the seventh leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 in Dublin, Ireland today. Pictured (L to R): Michael Whitaker, Robert Smith, Chef d'Equipe Rob Hoekstra, Nick Skelton and Scott Brash. Photo: FEI/Tony Parkes.