The British are the ones under pressure going into the penultimate leg of the 2009 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ series on their home ground at the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead in England on Friday. Despite an equal-fifth finishing spot at Falsterbo, Sweden last week they have dropped to ninth place on the leaderboard, and at this late stage in the season that is a dangerous place to be as the two lowest-placed countries will be relegated from the 10-nation challenge after the last leg in Dublin next month.
British Chef d'Equipe Derek Ricketts said today however that his side will be coming out on Friday with all guns blazing. "We know we are not in a good position right now and we've got a job to do this week, but I'm confident of my team and I think we can do well and get ourselves out of trouble" he insisted. He has chosen Peter Charles, Tim Gredley, Robert Smith and Ben Maher to do just that.
The Italians, meanwhile, are already coming to terms with the fact that they will be returning to the Promotional League at the end of this season. They have struggled long and hard in the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ this year, but with just four points on the board after a dismal run of form it seems impossible that they can survive. Hope, however, is on the horizon, because it has just been confirmed that newly-retired Swiss show jumping star Markus Fuchs has been signed up as Italian team coach. And he's quite excited at the prospect.
"Yes it's official now, I will be working for FISE" he said today. "Originally I didn't want to start before October because I already have other obligations and I can't give it 100%, but I was asked to help the team going to Windsor so I've signed a short contract that covers the next few weeks up to the European Championships and then there is another contract that begins in October and runs for three years up to the London Olympic Games" he explained.
The 54 year old rider, who hung up his boots after competing in the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ at St Gallen last month, pointed out that Italian show jumping has "big potential" and added "I'm going to Dublin to have a look at the riders there and I'm really looking forward to the job". In the meantime however Emanuele Gaudiano, Francesco Franco, Jonella Ligresti and Emilio Bicocchi have the unenviable task of battling on over the tough Hickstead track this week.
Lying eighth on the leaderboard, Belgium sends out Frederik Cattebeke, Pieter Devos, Kim Thiry and Patrik Spits while the seventh-placed Swedish side includes Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Helena Lundback, Jannike West and Lotta Schultz. The Irish are on a high after their Falsterbo victory but team manager Robert Splaine has said they won't let that much-needed success go to their heads and his strong selection includes Billy Twomey, Cian O'Connor, Cameron Hanley and US-based Shane Sweetnam who was rock-solid over the early part of the season and who has returned to lend his steadying influence once again.
FLYING THE FLAG
Flying the flag for fifth-placed Germany are Max Kuhner, Andreas Knippling, Janne-Frederike Meyer and Rebecca Golasch while, lying fourth, the Netherlands is represented by Piet Raijmakers Jnr., Harry Smolders, Leon Thijssen and Jur Vrieling. Christina Liebherr, Jane Richard, Gregoire Oberson and Dehlia Oeuvray line out for third-placed Switzerland while American Chef d'Equipe George Morris has five riders on site - Charlie Jayne, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Cara Raether and Michelle Spadone - four of whom will compete on Friday.
The leaders from France are taking no chances this time out with Kevin Staut, Penelope Leprevost, Roger-Yves Bost and Olivier Guillion on duty but it is 11 years since they last won at Hickstead. The defending Nations Cup champions at the British venue are the Germans.
FACTS AND FIGURES
The Royal International Horse Show first staged Nations Cup jumping in 1929
The British have won the Nations Cup at the Royal International on 35 occasions
The French have recorded 11 victories, Germany has come out on top 10 time, the USA 7, Italy 4 and Ireland on 3 occasions.
The winners of the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ at the Royal International at Hickstead are presented with the Edward, Prince of Wales Cup.
The Royal International Horse Show first came to Hickstead in 1992.
Time-table for Friday - First round of Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ begins at 10.30 local time. Second round starts at 16.00.
MEYDAN FEI NATIONS CUP™ - Standings after sixth leg in Falsterbo (SWE):
1. France - 36.5
2. USA - 36
3. Switzerland - 28.5
4. Netherlands - 27.5
5. Germany - 26
6. Ireland - 21.5
7. Sweden - 18
8. Belgium - 16.5
9. Great Britain - 13.5
10. Italy - 4
MEYDAN FEI NATIONS CUP™
A Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ event is organised as a five-star Nations Cup, i.e. a 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 season the team with the highest points wins the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ and the two teams with the lowest points are relegated to the FEI Nations Cup series (Promotional League). The two best placed teams of that series following the Promotional League Final join the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ for the following year.
The World’s Best Ten Teams: Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, , Ireland, USA, Switzerland, Sweden, and Italy
The World’s Best Eight Venues
La Baule (FRA); Friday 15 May
Rome (ITA); Friday 29 May
St. Gallen (SUI); Friday 5 June
Rotterdam (NED); Friday 19 June
Aachen (GER); Thursday 2 July
Falsterbo (SWE); Friday 17 July
Hickstead (GBR); Friday 24 July
Dublin (IRL); Friday 7 August
The complete rules, latest news, results, standings and photos are on www.meydanfeinationscup.org