The Dutch continued their triumphant rampage through the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series when recording their third victory of the season on the hallowed turf of Aachen, Germany tonight. In a cliff-hanger of a competition, filled with all sorts of drama, the result was not decided until the last man entered the arena.
As it came down to the closing stages, it seemed the host nation might follow the success they enjoyed in Sweden last Friday with another memorable night on their home ground. But two late fences down for anchorman Ludger Beerbaum and Gotha snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and Germany was obliged to share runner-up spot with the come-back kings from Ireland and the impressive new-look British side.
The last-to-go French looked like challenging the eventual winners in a two-way showdown, but a double-error from Michel Robert and Kellemoi de Pepita put paid to that. In cold, wet weather conditions, tonight's contest was the toughest of tests, but an unforgettable evening of great sport.
The result has reinforced the Dutch hold at the top of the series leaderboard, but for Belgium, the USA and Denmark, things are now getting critical. With just three legs left to go, the Americans remain in second-last spot with only the struggling Danes behind them and the Belgians 2.5 points ahead. The Belgians failed to complete today as their recent run of form seriously unravelled. And the French are only a single point ahead of the Belgians going into the next leg at Hickstead in two weeks time. The battle at the bottom of the leaderboard is intensifying with every round.
Big And Bold
Frank Rothenberger's track was typically big and bold, but eight riders went clear first time out and the British, Germans and French held the lead with just four faults at the half-way stage while the Dutch were next in line carrying eight. The Americans and Irish shared a score of 12, but the Belgians had already accumulated 32 when having to count the 11 picked up by Rik Hemeryck when his round with the nine year old Chellenge V. Begijnakker was disrupted by a stop at the second element of the double at fence nine and and another mistake at the final oxer, and 17 more collected by the anchor partnership of Jos Lansink and Cavalor Valentina Van T'Heike. Their tour fell apart with a mistake at the water which nearly unseated the man who won the individual world title at this very venue five years ago.
Their score had to be taken into account however because it was still better than the 21 picked up by Judy-Ann Melchior and As Cold as Ice Z who already had three fences down before the mare baulked in front of the final line. Carrying 36 into the second round were the Danes after second-line rider Charlotte Lund (Cartini) was eliminated, and the addition of 49 more left them with a massive score of 85 faults at the end of the night. As it turned out however, Chef d'Equipe Achaz von Buchwaldt's wish, expressed yesterday during the draw press conference, would be realised when they didn't finish last. It was Belgium who filled that spot when Hemeryck's horse recalled his dislike of the double after the water and stopped twice for elimination while last-to-go Lansink retired.
The Irish rallied in the second round with a lovely clear from Shane Breen (Carmena Z) and just a toe in the water for Shane Sweetnam (Amaretto D'Arco) who had been clear first time out. In contrast, American chances went into decline with 16-fault results for both McLain Ward (Antares) and Margie Engle (Indigo), while the remaining four nations all reached the half-way stage of the second round carrying eight faults apiece. A clear from Denis Lynch (All Inclusive) suggested the Irish might be able to finish on a 12-fault total but when Billy Twomey's Tinka's Serenade faulted at the water that was increased to a 16-fault final tally. American chances were gone however, despite another four-fault round from Laura Kraut (Cedric) and a fabulous clear from Beezie Madden (Coral Reef Via Volo).
At the sharp end, there was game of cat-and-mouse going on, and the result was undecided to the very end. Clears from pathfinder Eric van der Vleuten (VDL Groep Utascha) and a second fault-free performance from anchorman Jeroen Dubbeldam (BMC Van Grunsven Simon) meant Gerco Schroder's four faults was all the Dutch had to add to their eight-fault first round total, so it was up to the remaining three countries to match that. Single errors from Guy Williams (Titus), Scott Brash (Intertoy Z) and Michael Whitaker (GIG Amai) had to be included in the British scoreline when Nick Skelton's Carlo left two on the floor however, so they moved to a 16-fault scoreline.
For the Germans, it seemed likely that Ludger Beerbaum could make amends for Christian Ahlmann's double-error with Taloubet Z which was followed by just the last fence down for Jann-Friederike Meyer and Lambrusco and then a second lovely clear from Carsten-Otto Nagel and Corradina. But German hearts were broken when it all went horribly wrong for their hero. You could hear a pin drop as Beerbaum turned down the final line of three fences with nothing to add so far. But there was a gasp of horror when Gotha connected with the Rolex oxer at fence 10, and then, having negotiated the following vertical, also hit the final oxer.
It wasn't quite over yet though. Despite two down for Penelope Leprevost (Mylord Carthago), the French would force a jump-off with the Dutch if Michel Robert could follow the single second-round mistakes from Olivier Guillon (Lord de Thieze) and Kevin Staut (Silvana de Hus) with a foot-perfect run. And it seemed the veteran might escape a possible penalty at the open water when the three judges spent some time poring over the tape as Robert and Kellemoi de Pepita continued around the track. As they cleared the oxer three from home however, the flag was raised at the water and shouts rang out around the arena, and the mare then hit the final oxer to return a costly eight-fault total which dropped them right down to fifth place.
The winning Chef d'Equipe admitted it had been "a difficult competition", but Rob Ehrens, whose team also dominated at St Gallen (SUI) and Rome (ITA) this season, had plenty to celebrate. "The class was tough, the weather was not sunny - it was wet and cold, but my riders did a perfect job in the second round and I'm really happy to have this win here in Aachen" he said. "We were pretty nervous all day about this course" said 2000 Olympic champion Jeroen Dubbeldam, "but it was good because we were sharp and in the right mood to compete and bring in a good result. This is such a big ring, horses have to gallop a long way and they need to be very fit to have two good rounds. This is the third time this season that we've come back in the second round, so it's a sign that our horses are very fit" he added.
Eric van der Vleuten was delighted with his mare VDL Utascha. "She's doing really well this year and she was jumping like a lion today!" he said. And German Chef d'Equipe pointed out "it was very close to the very end. The chance was there today to win or have a jump-off, I would never expect that Ludger would have two down, the mare jumped fantastic until then, but the Dutch had less faults to win and actually we can live with the second place!' he pointed out.
Scott Brash, British team rider put tonight's competition into perspective. "This is the second time I've ridden in Aachen. The first time I had 25 faults in the first round and then four, this time I was clear and four, so I'm close to jumping a double-clear! Well done to the lads who jumped double-clear at the best horse show in the world!". Just to compete at Aachen is an honour for every rider. To win therefore, as the Dutch did tonight, means everything, and more....
For further information on CHIO Aachen 2011 go to website www.chioaachen.de or contact Press Officer Niels Knippertz at Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel +49 (0)2419171182. The next leg of the series takes place in Hickstead (GBR) on Friday 29 July. For details of the British fixture go to website www.hickstead.co.uk or contact Press Officer Victoria Spicer, Email email@example.com or Tel +0228 8600630.
1. Netherlands 12 faults: VDL Groep Utascha SFN (Eric van der Vleuten) 4/0, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 8/17, Eurocommerce New Orleans (Gerco Schroder) 4/4, BMC Van Grunsven Simon (Jeroen Dubbeldam) 0/0.
2. Ireland 16 faults: Carmena Z (Shane Breen) 8/0, Amaretto D'Arco (Shane Sweetnam) 0/4, All Inclusive (Denis Lynch) 4/0, Tinka's Serenade (Billy Twomey) 8/5.
2. Great Britain 16 faults: Titus (Guy Williams) 8/0, Carlo (Nick Skelton) 8/8, Intertoy Z (Scott Brash) 0/4, GIG Amai (Michael Whitaker) 0/4.
2. Germany 16 faults: Taloubet Z (Christian Ahlmann) 4/8, Cellagon Lambrasco (Janne-Friederike Meyer) 0/4, Corradina (Carsten-Otto Nagel)0/0, Gotha (Ludger Beerbaum) 4/8.
5. France 20 faults: Mylord Carthago HN (Penelope Leprevost) 0/8, Lord de Theize (Olivier Guillon) 0/4, Silvana de Hus (Kevin Staut) 4/4, Kellemoi de Pepita (Michel Robert) 4/8.
6. USA 32 faults: Antares F (McLain Ward) 4/16, Indigo (Margie Engle) 12/16, Cedric (Laura Kraut) 4/4, Coral Reef Via Volo (Beezie Madden) 4/0.
7. Denmark 85 faults: Uno's Safier (Andreas Schou) 8/16, Cartani 4 (Charlotte Lund) Elim/DNS, Luganer (Rikke Haastrup Pedersen) 16/21, Alcamo Vogt (Torben Frandsen) 12/12.
8. Belgium 1052.00 faults: Vigo D'Arsouilles STX (Philippe Le Jeune) 4/8, Challenge V. Begijnakker (Rik Hemeryck) 11/Elim, As Cold as Ice Z (Judy-Ann Melchior) 21/12, Cavalor Valentina Van T'Heike (Jos Lansink) 17/Ret.
Facts and Figures:
This was only the third victory for The Netherlands in the history of the FEI Nations Cup at Aachen which dates back to 1929.
The Dutch previously won in 1991 and 1997.
Two double-clears in today's competition - from The Netherlands' Jeroen Dubbeldam and BMC Van Grunsven Simon and Germany's Carsten-Otto Nagel with Corradina.
Two riders were eliminated - Denmark's Charlotte Lund (Cartani 4) in the opening round, and Belgium's Rik Hemeryck (Challenge V. Begijnakker) in round two.
1 retirement - Belgium's Jos Lansink (Cavalor Valentina van't Heike in round two.
The bogey fences in round one on the 12-obstacle course were the plank-fronted oxer at fence two, the double at fence nine and the fences down the final line from 10 to 12.
In round two, the open water proved highly influential.
Course designer was Germany's Frank Rothenberger.
The Netherlands Jur Vrieling who collected 17 faults in the second round - "I was really glad I have really good riders with me. Maybe my horse got a little afraid at the white oxer - in the second round I was in the wrong position after the white oxer".
Show Director Frank Kemperman - "I'm very happy - we had a fantastic day. We had a full house in the dressage stadium with 5,000 spectators and a full house for jumping tonight - 42,000 - so that is 47,000 spectators in total!"
Irish Chef d'Equipe Robert Splaine when asked if today's team will be his selection for the European Championships - "it's possible but I have a few others on the longlist. I'd like to congratulate the Dutch team on doing a fantastic job.
Shane Sweetnam, Irish team member - "This is my first time in Aachen, I am based in America, hopefully we can keep going and win in Dublin!".
British Chef d'Equipe Rob Hoekstra, when asked if today's team will be his selection for the European Championships - "it could be. The Dutch are slightly my second team! I'm very proud of my team - Scott is only 25 - this was an experimental team with some more experienced riders and some new ones and we came close to forcing a jump-off. As far as the weather is concerned - we're used to it!".
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 5 at Aachen (GER):
1. Netherlands - 39.5
2. Ireland - 30.0
3. Germany - 27.0
4. Great Britain - 25.0
5. France - 22.0
6. Belgiium - 21.0
7. USA - 18.5
8. Denmark - 7.0
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.