The eight-leg FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 series reaches the halfway stage when it resumes, after a four-week break, at Falsterbo, Sweden next Friday (8 July), and with The Netherlands holding a solid lead at the top of the league table. Once again this will be a nine-nation contest as the host country is entitled to compete despite being relegated to the Promotional League last season.
They cannot earn Top League points, but the Swedes could well pull off a big result because they won here on their home turf last summer and they have been fighting hard, and very successfully, in this year's Promotional League series. They may well be on their way back to the elite level of the sport.
Swedish Chef d'Equipe, Sylve Soderstrand, named his side earlier this week and it includes the young lady who set the Gothenburg leg of last season's Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series alight with a superb winning performance. Riding the Cruising mare Midtown du Tillard, 24 year old Angelica Augustsson became an overnight sensation when producing a devastating turn of speed in the 12-horse jump-off which left Australian star Edwina Alexander and German ace Ludger Beerbaum in her immediate wake. Beerbaum was moved to comment afterwards - "this is the cream - it doesn't come better than this, and we will remember today for a very long time". And Augustsson will be in the distinguished company of Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Peder Fredricson. It seems the Swedes really do intend to make an impression next Friday afternoon.
The Dutch will be feeling super-confident after their back-to-back double of victories in Rome (ITA) and St Gallen (SUI) which have ensured their 4.5 advantage at the head of the leaderboard. Team manager Rob Ehrens said from the outset that he wanted to do most of the hard work early this season to ease the pressure closer to the FEI European Championships in Madrid in September - and it has worked like a dream. He is, however, still taking a strong squad that includes Piet Raymakers Jr, Leon Thijssen, Maikel van der Vleuten, Vincent Voorn and Albert Zoer.
The Irish, lying second on the series table following their opening win at La Baule and a good placing in Rome, have an interesting new recruit to the senior side in the shape of 23 year old Nicola FitzGibbon. The Engineering graduate from Trinity College Dublin already has the 2009 Irish National Championship title under her belt and, riding her super gelding Puissance, she made the Dublin Grand Prix track look like a walk in the park last summer. She then came out to jump a great opening clear to help Ireland to runner-up spot in the Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows (CAN) and so far this season has been fourth in the Grand Prix at Bourg-en-Bresse (FRA) and foot-perfect for the Irish side competing in the Promotional League leg at Drammen (NOR) recently. She will be joined in Falsterbo by Shane Breen, Denis Lynch, Cian O'Connor and Niall Talbot.
The Belgians are in third spot and are looking very comfortable indeed about their return to the Top League after a spell in the second division, but team manager Philippe Guerdat has an entirely new squad this time out, and will rely on the skills of Niels Bruynseels, Pieter Devos, Jerome Guery, Jan Vinckier and Patrick Spits. The British are just a single point behind them in fourth place, and Rob Hoekstra's selection includes veterans Peter Charles, Michael Whitaker and Tim Stockdale along with Bruce Menzies and Simon Crippen.
The Americans meanwhile had a bit of a struggle over the first two legs before bouncing back with a good fourth-place finish at St Gallen, but they have only a half-point lead over the Germans and French who, surprisingly, are lounging about at the bottom of the table with only the Danish side below them. US Chef d'Equipe George Morris will be hoping that Christine McCrea, Charlie Jayne, Schuyler Riley and the "newbies", Saer Coulter and Lucy Davis, will keep that distance between them and the danger-zone at the lower end of the table. That could, however, be a tall order because the Germans will be out in force.
Despite the fact that it is less than a week ahead of their own leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ on the hallowed ground of Aachen, German Chef d'Equipe Heinrich-Hermann Engemann has Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum, Marco Kutscher, Carsten-Otto Nagel and Jorg Naeve on call-up. It is a powerhouse of a squad, so clearly Germany intends to jump out of the lower end of the table and into a much more prominent position. And the French too, who have been reeling from the effects of a series of unexpected dramas, are throwing everything they've go into this leg with Patrice Delaveau, Simon Delestre, Penelope Leprevost, Michel Robert and Kevin Staut all called into action. It's going to be an almighty battle, but most difficult of all for the Danes.
The Danish team has picked up only four points over the first three legs and needs to pull off something very special indeed if they are to survive their first season at Top League level. The pressure on Linnea Ericsson, Torben Frandsen, Tina Lund, Christian Schou and Thomas Velin is going to be colossal as the fourth leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ gets underway next Friday afternoon. How they respond to that remains to be seen....
The draw takes place on Thursday evening and the action kicks off on Friday afternoon at 14.30 local time - you can watch it all LIVE on FEI TV www.feitv.org
For the latest list of entries for Falsterbo Horse Show 2011 click http://goo.gl/niQnD
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
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: USA Nations Cup team