The luck of the draw went in favour of France for the first time this season today, so the defending double-champions will be last into the arena for tomorrow's final leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 in Rotterdam (NED). French form has been unexpectedly weak throughout the series, and they are one of three nations that could possibly face the prospect of joining Denmark, already assured of relegation, in the Promotional League in 2012.
The order-of-go for the eighth leg of the series is as follows : 1, Germany; 2, The Netherlands; 3, Denmark; 4, Great Britain; 5, USA; 6, Ireland; 7, Belgium; 8, France. And there is plenty of tension in the air ahead of the final clash.
The rules dictate that, after the last of the eight legs in the premier tournament, the two lowest-placed nations are demoted to the second-tier Promotional League. And the countries in most danger of joining the Danes are the Americans and Belgians. But after the previous round in Dublin (IRL) three weeks ago, the French are lying fifth on the leaderboard and just four points ahead of Belgium. Should they experience yet another bad day, the country that has dominated the sport of Nations Cup Jumping for the last two seasons could be in a very vulnerable position.
French Chef d'Equipe, Henk Nooren, acknowledged that situation following the draw that took place at the Kralingsbos Arena in Rotterdam this evening. "It's good to have the chance to go last, for once - at the last few shows we were first into the ring, and we are not completely out of the danger zone where relegation is concerned. But that's why we've brought our European Championship team here - Kevin Staut, Penelope Leprevost, Olivier Guillon and good old Michel Robert!" he said.
Denmark's Achaz von Buchwaldt knows that there is no way for his side to rectify the situation in which they find themselves as the final leg looms on the horizon. The Danes qualified through victory at the 2010 Promotional League final, but have struggled to raise their game to the top level this season. The Chef d'Equipe believes it has been a useful experience however. "It was a good chance for our team even though we had a difficult time because we didn't have so many horses" he explained.
In contrast, Germany's Otto Becker is optimistic about what tomorrow may bring. "We have a small chance of winning the series" he pointed out, "and if we get the opportunity, then we'll take it!" These are never words to be taken lightly where the mighty Germans are concerned, and with Marco Kutscher, Thomas Voss, Carsten-Otto Nagel and Ludger Beerbaum flying the flag, then the leading Dutch will need to stay sharp if they are going to clinch the title. Germany lies just four points behind The Netherlands, sharing a tally of 40 points with the team from Great Britain. And British Chef d'Equipe, Rob Hoekstra, is feeling comfortably confident as he sends out a bunch of veterans to round up a solid season. "We were not spectacular, but we were consistent all year, and we've taken the opportunity to introduce some new horses and riders which has been a useful exercise" he reflected. He sends out brothers Michael and John Whitaker, Guy Williams and Ben Maher.
Ireland's Robert Splaine was being his usual mysterious self, and declined to list his final choice prior to the last competition of the day today. ""I don't believe I'll be using Billy (Twomey), but I won't make the decision until later" he said. The remainder of his squad is Shane Breen, Alexander Butler, Denis Lynch and Niall Talbot, and Splaine added, in the spirit of comradeship that pervades the FEI Nations Cup™ series which sees the top eight nations in the world travel to eight of the top destinations on the circuit to decide which is the greatest of the them all, he pointed out "whichever team leaves the series tomorrow will be missed by the rest of us".
George Morris knows that the Americans could be waving goodbye. The USA lies second-last on the leaderboard as the competition begins and must produce something special if they are to save the day. "We've had plenty of good individuals on the team this year but we didn't have enough depth. We've loved being in the top league, but if we go down then we go down and we'll compete at the next level. I love every horse show!" the American team manager exclaimed. He fields a formidable all-female side tomorrow however, and Beezie Madden, Lauren Hough, Christine McCrea and Laura Kraut won't be going down without a fierce fight.
Belgian Chef d'Equipe, Philippe Guerdat, recognised that his side too is far from safe, with such a narrow advantage over the Americans. The Belgians regained their place in the top-level series through outright victory in the 2010 Promotional League, but he said "it has been difficult during the season, because we don't have so many riders". Reigning World Champion Philippe Le Jeune, 2006 World Champion Jos Lansink, Gregory Wathelet and young Nicola Philippaerts will be battling in the Belgian corner tomorrow afternoon.
The man with the least to worry about is Dutch Chef d'Equipe Rob Ehrens. Like Robert Splaine he was not prepared to finally name his team and, also like his Irish colleague, he pointed out that the forthcoming FEI European Jumping Championships in Madrid are now his main priority. "But we would like to win tomorrow on home ground" he said, "and we will have a very strong team". And he added that the Dutch would be delighted to accept the €100,000 in prize-money on offer to the team that wins the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 series. Plenty of incentive then to put the best foot forward as the action gets underway tomorrow at 17.15 local time.
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For further information on the eighth and final leg of the FEI Nations Cup™2011 series, go to website www.chio.nl or contact Press Officer Anita Lussenberg, Email: email@example.com, Tel: +31 (0)6 21585878.
Facts and Figures:
Tomorrow's competition is the final leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011.
This is the 63rd edition of CHIO Rotterdam.
Two teams will be relegated to the Promotional League series after tomorrow's competition. Denmark is already assured of relegation, having collected only nine points over the previous seven legs of the series.
The Dutch team goes into tomorrow's competition with a four-point lead over Germany and Great Britain.
The British won the seventh leg of the series in Dublin (IRL) three weeks ago.
There has been a festival of top-class equestrian sport at the Kralingsbos arena in Rotterdam for the past two weeks. The FEI European Dressage Championships 2011 concluded at the venue last Sunday evening.
There is €200,000 in prize-money on offer in tomorrow's competition, while an additional €100,000 will be presented to the team that wins the 2011 series.
Emile Hendrix, Sports Director CHIO Rotterdam, - "It is unusual for Rotterdam to be the last leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ series and it's also unusual for the Dutch team to be in the lead! So it's very exciting going into tomorrow's competition".
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 7 at Dublin (IRL):
1. The Netherlands - 44
2. Germany - 40
3. Great Britain - 40
4. Ireland - 39.5
5. France - 34.50
6. Belgium - 30.50
7. USA - 28.50
8. Denmark - 9
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 draw for the eighth and final leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 series took place in Rotterdam (NED) today.
FEI TV - watch the action LIVE on www.feitv.org