The Dutch team recorded a back-to-back double when topping the third leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series at St. Gallen, Switzerland today. Just a week after sweeping to victory in Rome (ITA), they produced another stunning performance which promoted them to the top of the leaderboard going to the next leg of the series in Falsterbo (SWE) next month.
The unpredictability of Nations Cup Jumping has rarely been more graphically illustrated than by the swings of fortune in today's competition. There were high expectations for the defending champions from France, but once again things did not go their way and pathfinder, Kevin Staut, was eliminated for the second time in the current series. The German team withdrew when things fell apart for them in the second round and the Irish, heading the leaderboard, struggled to finish in front of the Danes who slotted into eighth place.
The Swiss were the surprise package of the day. Relegated at the end of last season, they came out with all guns blazing to finish equal-second with the resilient British while the Americans started strongly, but faded in the second round to finish fourth.
Rolf Ludi's 12-fence course presented plenty of challenges, but Staut's stop at the water-tray vertical at fence four came as an early surprise in the opening round. This fence was followed by a triple bar and then a difficult distance to planks at fence six, while the triple combination two fences later also proved influential. The open water at fence nine and the following dog-leg oxer at ten also claimed a number of victims, but the real bogey was the narrow - and wide - final oxer. Ridden on a long seven or shorter eight strides from the previous double of verticals, it fell eight times in the first round and on 13 occasions in round two. Again and again, horses and riders appeared to misjudge it and the white poles were sent scattering across the arena.
The Dutch already had the bit between their teeth when completing the first round with a zero score. It was up to the rest to catch them from there, and the Swiss very nearly did it.
Carrying just four faults after clears from team-leader Steve Guerdat (Jalisca Solier) and anchorman Pius Schwizer (Carlina), the host nation was joint-second with the Americans at the half-way stage - Christine McCrea (Romantovich Take One) and Rich Fellers (Flexible) foot-perfect for the US. The British and French were on level-pegging with eight faults each, while Germany and Belgium shared a score of 13 but the Irish were already clearly in trouble with 17, while Denmark was lying last with 27.
The Danes made a marked improvement in the second round, Emilie Martinsen's lovely clear with Caballero being particularly impressive, but with a total of 45 faults they were never going to feature. And when the Irish added 18 more despite another great effort from anchorman Shane Sweetnam, their fate was also sealed.
The Germans had a bad start to round two when opener, Jorg Oppermannn, got into a muddle with his stallion, Che Guevara, and returned with 28 faults on the board. So when second-line rider Jan Sprehe (Paolini) was eliminated then Chef d'Equipe, Heinrich Hermann Engemann, decided to call it a day. The Belgians meanwhile added nine more to prove no threat to the leading pack, and Staut's elimination with Kraque Boom piled the pressure on the remaining three from France who picked up four faults each. There was a gasp of disbelief from the crowd when Staut's stallion slammed on the brakes at the second fence and again at the third - it was the last thing expected from the combination which took the Alltech FEI European Championship individual title at Windsor (GBR) two years ago.
But there was plenty more drama to come, as the British were put under massive pressure when Tim Stockdale's gelding, Fresh Direct Kalico Bay, drifted left on the approach to the penultimate double and finally completed with 15 faults. Another clear from Brash Scott (Intertoy Z) and foot-perfect runs for both Robert Smith (Talan) and Nick Skelton (Carlo) this time out however bolstered the British position.
Lost Their Grip
Despite a second clear from McCrea, the Americans lost their grip when Charlie Jayne (Athena) picked up 12, Rich Fellers (Flexible) faulted once and Margie Engle (Indigo) left two on the floor, but when Switzerland's Steve Guerdat's second clear round with Jalisca was followed by a similar performance from Werner Muff (Kiamon) the home team piled the pressure on the leading Dutch.
Eric van der Vleuten (VDL Groep Utascha SFN) was double-clear, but when Piet Raymakers Jr (Van Schijndel's Rascin) hit the triple bar then the Dutch were carrying five faults with two riders still left to go, while the Swiss were carrying just four. Going third for Switzerland, Janika Sprunger (Uptown Boy) had two down this time out, but Dutchman Maikel van der Vleuten was clear once again so it fell to anchorman, Pius Schwizer (Carlina), to keep the Swiss in the game. A clear would ensure that Dutch anchorman Jur Vrieling could not afford a mistake. But the bogey last fence claimed Schwizer as yet another victim, so Vrieling's nerve would not be tested.
The Swiss however were quite satisfied to line up in equal-second place with the British. "Our main goal for the early part of this season was to do well here in St Gallen" said Guerdat afterwards. "We are not in the Top League this year but we are planning to be back soon and this was great performance here today" he added.
Dutch Chef d'Equipe, Rob Ehrens, had the broadest smile. "Our whole team was excellent today!" he said. His plan for the year is working to perfection. Before the first leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ at La Baule last month, he said he wanted the Dutch to be super-competitive in the early part of the series so that they would be under less pressure at the latter-end of the season, because the FEI European Championships in Madrid in September are a big target. That has all fallen into place now as they now take over at the head of the FEI Nations Cup™ leaderboard.
And Eric van der Vleuten was a proud father this evening. "To be on a team like this with my son is very special. It has given me extra motivation - to be honest, I might have quit from the sport a long time ago but for the opportunity to have a great day like this!" he said.
For further information on the third leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series in St Gallen (SUI) go to website www.csio.ch or contact Press Officer Peter Wyrsch, Email firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel +41 794065207. The next leg takes place in Falsterbo, Sweden on Friday 8 July. For information on the Swedish fixture visit website www.falsterbohorseshow.se
1. Netherlands 5 faults: VDL Groep Utascha SFN (Eric van der Vleuten) 0/0, Van Schijndel's Rascin (Piet Raymakers Jr) 9/4, VDL Groep Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) 0/0, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 1/NS.
Equal 2. Great Britain 8 faults: Fresh Direct Kalico Bay (Tim Stockdale) 4/15, Talan (Robert Smith) 5/0, Intertoy Z (Scott Brash) 0/0, Carlo (Nick Skelton) 4/0.
Equal 2. Switzerland 8 faults: Jalisca Solier (Steve Guerdat) 0/0, Kiamon (Werner Muff) 4/0, Uptown Boy (Janike Sprunger) 5/8, Carlina 0/4.
4. USA faults 16 faults: Athena (Charlie Jayne) 4/12, Romantovich Take One (Christine McCrea) 0/0, Flexible (Rich Fellers) 0/4, Indigo (Margie Engle)4/8.
5. France 20 faults: Kraque Boom (Kevin Staut) 12/Elim, Napoli du Ry (Simon Delestre0 8/4, Topinambour (Penelope Leprevost) 0/4, Lord de Theize (Olivier Guillon) 0/4.
6. Belgium 22 faults: Vigo D'Arsouilles STX (Philippe Le Jeune) 0/4, Bufero VH Panishof (Dirk Demeersman) 12/12, Challenge V. Begijnakker (Rik Hemeryck) 5/4, Cavalor Valentina Van-T Heike (Jos Lansink) 8/1.
7. Ireland 35 faults: Will Wimble (Alexander Butler) 4/23, SF Uryadi (Jennifer Crooks) 8/4, API Largo (Jessica Kuerten) 8/13, Amaretto D'Arco (Shane Sweetnam) 5/1.
8. Denmark 45 faults: Uno's Safier (Andreas Schou) 9/13, Caballero (Emilie Martinsen) 21/0, Cartani (Charlotte Lund) 13/9, Amarone (Thomas Sandgaard) 5/9.
9. Germany - Retired in Second Round: Che Guevara 17 (Jorg Oppermann) 5/28, Pacini (Jan Sprehe) 5/Elim, Argelith Stakkato (Eva Bitter) 4/NS, Cefalo (Holger Wulschner) 4/NS.
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 3 at St Gallen (SUI):
1. Netherlands - 23.5
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
Facts and Figures:
This was a back-to-back win for the team from The Netherlands who also came out on top in the FEI Nations Cup™ in Rome, Italy seven days ago.
The winning Dutch team included father-and-son Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten who both jumped double-clear.
This was only the second Top League FEI Nations Cup™ appearance for Maikel van der Vleuten. He previously rode alongside his father on the Dutch team in Rome in 2009.
Mirroring the result in Rome last Friday, the last Dutch rider, Jur Vrieling, did not have to jump in the second round.
This was the fourth Dutch victory in the history of the Swiss Nations Cup. The Netherlands previously came out on top in 2008, 2004 and 1999.
The Swiss Nations Cup dates back to 1927.
The German team retired in the second round today.
The bogey fence of the competition was the final white oxer. It fell 8 times in round one, and 13 times in round 2.
There were two eliminations - Kevin Staut and Kraque Boom for France in the second round and Jan Sprehe riding Paolini for Germany, also in round two.
There was a total of five double-clear performances in today's competition - they came from The Netherlands' Eric van der Vleuten (VDL Groep Utascha SFN) and Maikel van der Vleuten (VDL Groep Verdi), Great Britain's Scott Brash (Intertoy Z), Switzerland's Steve Guerdat (Jalisca Solier) and the USA's Christine McCrea (Romantovich Take One).
The oldest horse in today's competition was the 18 year old stallion Argelith Stakkato ridden by Eva Bitter from Germany. He had a single fence down in the first round.
Maikel van der Vleuten, talking about his horse VDL Groep Verdi "He's a good horse who always likes to do his best in the ring, he's scopey and he wants to be careful. We have a yard near Eindhoven in Holland and my father and I have about 20 show horses at a time and we usually ride our own horses and don't share them. But we've had Verdi since he was five - he's now 9 - and my father rode him first and then I got him about 18 months ago".
Steve Guerdat, talking about the last fence on today's course which proved very influential - "It was a really big, wide oxer and you were riding towards the ringside as you came down to it. It was a little downhill, and some of the horses were a bit empty when they got there while others were a bit too forward coming down to it so they were running a bit"
Maikel van der Vleuten "It was very nice for me and my father to be on this team together and for both of us to jump double-clear rounds!"
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.
Photo Caption: The Dutch team scored a back-to-back double when winning the third leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ at St Gallen, Switzerland today. Pictured (L to R) Peter Stoessel, CSIO St-Gallen President; John Roche, FEI Director of Jumping and Dutch team-members Eric Van Der Vleuten, Maikel Van Der Vleuten, Chef d’equipe Rob Ehrens, Piet Raymakers Jr and Jur Vrieling. Photo: FEI/Katja Stuppia.