The French are drawn first to go in tomorrow's crunch leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 series at the Discover Ireland Horse Show in Dublin, Ireland. It's getting down to the wire with just one more leg remaining following the Irish fixture, and the draw took place this morning at the gracious Royal Dublin Society showgrounds which is widely recognised as the birth-place of the sport of show jumping.
The order-of-go is as follows: 1, France; 2, The Netherlands; 3, Belgium; 4, Denmark; 5, USA; 6, Great Britain; 7, Ireland; 8, Germany.
The host nation is not under great pressure, as the Irish are lying comfortably third on the series league table which is headed by The Netherlands followed by Germany, while the British are in fourth. But there's nothing quite like the expectation of the Dublin crowd. As team manager Robert Splaine acknowledged today, "the last time we won at home was in 2004, and the Aga Khan Cup is one of the most coveted trophies in the world - we want to do well tomorrow and give the home spectators something to cheer about, and we'll be going out there to give it a try!"
No Room For Complacency
The pathfinders from France however are amongst the four nations occupying the lower end of the FEI Nations Cup™ league table, and the double-champions have no room for complacency going into tomorrow's competition. Denmark has picked up only eight points from the previous six rounds, and seems destined for a return to the Promotional League in 2012, but just 4.5 points separates the French, winners in 2009 and again last season, from the Americans who are in second-last place behind Belgium.
French Chef d'Equipe, Henk Nooren, missed the press conference so couldn't react to the draw. And Danish team manager, Christer Ericsson, was stoic in his acceptance of the unfortunate situation in which the Danes find themselves. "We've been struggling very hard", he admitted. "Last year we qualified at Barcelona and we had good combinations of horses and riders, but unfortunately this year our horses and riders are not so strong. We will just go out and try to do our best", he added. He will decide his line-up later this evening.
Belgium's Philippe Guerdat said he has just one aim in tomorrow's competition - "the goal is to finish in front of the team of my old friend, George!", referring to American Chef d'Equipe George Morris who, in an instant, typically replied "that's alright for him, he has two World Champions on his side and I have four little girls!" But Mr Morris's 'little girls' are no shrinking violets. He is sending out Lauren Hough who devastated the opposition with a scorching round to win yesterday's feature event in the Dublin main arena, the right-on-form Christine McCrea and Olympic team gold medallists Laura Kraut and Beezie Madden. Guerdat's crack side includes 2006 World Champion Jos Lansink, 2010 World Champion Philippe Lejeune, Gregory Wathalet and Dirk Demeersman.
Spoiled For Choice
Great Britain's Rob Hoekstra said he was spoiled for choice when deciding not to run John Whitaker. "To leave John out I must have a strong team, but Peppermill is just back competing, and I don't want to put pressure on him" he explained. And Scott Brash will be realising a life-time ambition when he lines out in the Dublin arena tomorrow. "He's just 25, so he helps to balance up the age level of my team!" joked Hoekstra, whose selection also includes veterans Michael Whitaker, Nick Skelton and Robert Smith.
Germany's Otto Becker said "my colleague Sonke Sonksen has been to Dublin 20 times and has always done well and he was in Hickstead like week where the team won, so I'm under pressure this week!" Handling that pressure will be Philipp Weishaupt, Rene Tebbel, Holger Wulschner and Hans-Dieter Dreher.
The Netherlands' Rob Ehrens is sitting pretty at the top of the table with a handsome lead, and the Dutch are returning to the scene of the victory that secured their place in the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series at the end of a season of uneven results in 2010. "We've had three victories so far this year, and it is always nice to win in Aachen, but the feeling we had here last year when we held that trophy - it's special. The Dublin audience is great. And we intend to try to do it again!" He had no hesitation in naming his side. "I'm always clear about who is on the team before we come to a show and I only change things if something goes wrong. I find it much easier and happier that way" he explained. So Leon Thijssen, Piet Raijmakers Jr,. Leopold Van Asten and Wout Jan van der Schans will be galloping into action as the competition begins tomorrow at 14.55 local time.
Ireland's Robert Splaine will not announce his team until this evening. And what can the riders expect from the course tomorrow? "A nice balanced jumping course in which good riders and good horses will be rewarded", said course designer Alan Wade.
Facts and Figures:
Tomorrow's competition is the seventh round of the eight-leg FEI Nations Cup™ series.
This is the 138th horse show at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in Dublin, Ireland.
The Dutch are returning to the scene of their memorable victory in 2010.
A capacity crowd of 12,000 spectators will fill the Royal Dublin Society main arena in Dublin tomorrow afternoon.
The Aga Khan Challenge Trophy has been won outright five times. The current trophy was presented by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1980 following Ireland's outright win in 1979.
US Chef d'Equipe, George Morris - "I love Dublin, I have so many great memories of here - the single bank that was as big as that building, a double bank and a wall with pebbles on it - if you knocked the pebbles off it was four faults - different days...."
Pat Hanly, Show Director Dublin Horse Show - "We've had a fabulous reaction form the Irish public in advance ticket sales this year and we had a very strong first day yesterday. We expect a full house for the FEI Nations Cup™ tomorrow."
Irish Chef d'Equipe, Robert Splaine - "I've got a good team who are used to pressure."
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 6 at Hickstead (GBR);
1. The Netherlands - 42.0
2. Germany - 37.0
3. Ireland - 32.5
4. Great Britain - 30.0
5. France - 29.0
6. Belgium - 25.0
7. USA - 24.5
8. Denmark - 8.0
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 - watch the action LIVE on www.feitv.org
Photo Caption: FEI Director Press Relations, Grania Willis, and Pat Hanly, Show Director at the draw for order-of-go at the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show in Dublin, Ireland yesterday. Photo: FEI/Tony Parkes.