French To The Fore at Hickstead

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The defending champions from France will lead the way as the sixth leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 kicks off at Hickstead in Great Britain tomorrow afternoon.  The action begins at 14.15 local time, and the competition is expected to be fierce as the countries on the lower half of the league table will be battling to ensure a stronger position going into the penultimate round in Dublin, Ireland next week.

Following the final leg at Rotterdam, The Netherlands later next month, the nations occupying the last two places on the leaderboard will be relegated to the FEI Promotional League.  So the pressure is on, and the ones really feeling the heat are France, Belgium, the USA and Denmark.

The draw took place this afternoon, and the order-of-go in tomorrow's competition will be: 1, France; 2, Great Britain; 3, The Netherlands; 4, Ireland; 5, Belgium; 6, Denmark; 7, Germany; 8, USA.  The French were also the pathfinders at Hickstead in 2010.

The British will be determined to repeat their success of last season when they were the only ones capable of coping with the notoriously difficult track on their home ground.  They won by a massive margin of 15 faults that day when Germany came in second with 22, the Americans were third with 29 and the French claimed fourth place with 34 faults.  The Swiss picked up a massive 36 penalties in the first round alone on that high-scoring afternoon - this year's teams will be hoping for a much easier passage, but Hickstead has a way of testing horses and riders like no other venue.

Commanding Lead
The Dutch, of course, don't have much to worry about.  Rob Ehrens' side holds a commanding lead on the league table after three terrific wins including their latest success at Aachen two weeks ago where spectators witnessed a thrilling piece of sporting theatre in which the result was not decided until the very last man into the ring.  
Part of the magic of Nations Cup jumping is the sheer unpredictability of it, and the ability of teams to recover quickly when things are not going their way can see extraordinary turns of fortune.

The Irish look fairly comfortable too in second place ahead of Germany, while the British lie fourth on the leaderboard going into the closing stages of the series.  Only three points separate them from the French in fifth however, while the Belgians are just one point further adrift in sixth.  It is tight at the lower-end of the series table, and these countries must ensure they stay clear of the bottom two if they are to safely remain amongst the eight elite nations who will qualify for next season's FEI Nations Cup™ top league series.

Last Two Places
Holding the last two places are the Americans and Danes, but while the latter already look set for a return to the Promotional League from which they emerged as winners at the final of that series last September, the US could yet be rescued by a couple of good late-season results.  They are only trailing the Belgians by a 2.5 point margin and Chef d'Equipe, George Morris, is sending out Beezie Madden, Christine McCrea, Kent Farrington and Laura Kraut in an attempt to rectify the situation.  It is difficult to know what they have to do however, because he sent out his big guns in Aachen too but it just didn't go their way.  He will be hoping that tomorrow will bring better things and will ensure they retain their place in the annual tournament to which the USA has contributed so much in terms of competitiveness, style and sportsmanship in recent years.

Every jump will count and every round is crucial.  You can watch all the exciting action LIVE on FEI TV - - starting at 14.15 tomorrow afternoon.

For further information on the sixth leg of the FEI Nations Cup™2011 go to website or contact Press Officer Victoria Spicer, Email, Tel +0228 8600630.

Facts and Figures:
Hickstead presents the sixth leg of the eight-round FEI Nations Cup™ top league series.
The British won this event on their home turf in 2010.
France are the defending FEI Nations Cup™ champions - they won the series in both 2009 and 2010.
The Dutch have scored three victories in the series so far - at Rome (ITA), St Gallen (SUI) and, just two weeks ago, in Aachen (GER).
Hickstead is Great Britain's premier equestrian venue and home to the world-famous Derby which was created by the late Douglas Bunn.

Rob Hoekstra (Chef d'Equipe Great Britain) - "There are eight very strong teams, anyone could win it on the day, it's never over till it's over.  The Netherlands have had a fantastic run, but we will be trying"

Rob Ehrens (Chef d'Equipe Holland) - "The improvements (at Hickstead) have made an enormous difference. We always come to Hickstead with good riders and horses and we are looking forward to tomorrow"

Robert Splaine (Chef d'Equipe Ireland) - "When we are dealing with teams at this level, the starting order has some bearing on the day but the riders are so professional that they can cope with whatever starting order we get".

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.

FEI TV will broadcast LIVE from Hickstead. Tune into the action here at 15.15 CEST. Highlights will be streamed following the event.

Photo Caption: Sophie Ruiz-Leimer, FEI Commercial Coordinator and John Young, President of the International Ground Jury at the top table with (below) Chefs d'Equipe Rob Hoekstra (GBR), Rob Ehrens (NED), George Morris (USA) and Henk Nooren (FRA) at the draw for the sixth leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 at Hickstead (GBR) this afternoon.  Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.