Germany did the double when winning both the last leg of the series, and the overall FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 title, at the thrilling finale in Rotterdam, The Netherlands this evening. Birthday boy, Ludger Beerbaum, was the hero of the day, but it was a desperate fight to the very end, with a strong challenge from the impressive British that was only settled by a third-round jump-off against the clock.
The Dutch hosts, who headed the leaderboard throughout the closing stages of the eight-leg tournament, had seemed likely to clinch the honours in front of their home crowd following a great run of form. But yesterday German Chef d'Equipe, Otto Becker, warned that his side would pounce if the opportunity arose, and today, when it did, they seized it and held on tight.
It was a sad day for the USA however. Despite their best efforts they could only manage sixth place, one spot behind the Belgians who were also lying in the relegation danger-zone. And although Belgium collected 17 faults in a high-scoring competition, the 18 collected by the Americans was simply too much, and they now join the long-resigned Danish side in the Promotional League for 2012.
The Danes were already lying last at the end of the first round with 21 faults on the board. But the big surprise was the 16 faults collected by the Dutch who were positioned seventh of the eight competing nations at the halfway stage. Irish chances were hampered by the elimination of Alexander Butler when his grey, Will Wimble, slammed on the brakes at the 4-metre-wide open water at fence eight and they were carrying 14 faults, while the Belgians appeared to be seriously compromised when racking up 12-first round faults - 2010 world champion Philippe Le Jeune (Vigo d'Arsouilles), 2006 world champion Jos Lansink (Cavalor Valentina Van'T Heike) and Gregory Wathalet (Copin van de Broy) each coming home with single errors while young Nicola Philippaerts (Carlo VHPZ) had the discount score of nine.
As the second round began it seemed the Americans were in a much stronger position, sharing second place and a tally of eight faults with the French and holding a one-fault advantage over the British who carried nine. The Germans were already in the driving seat, counting just the five picked up by Thomas Voss and Carinjo 9 after both Marco Kutscher (Cornet Obolensky) and Carsten-Otto Nagel (Corradina) went clear. Beerbaum's eight with Gotha would not be counted this time around.
Lost Their Grip
As round two progressed however the Americans lost their grip and the British began their relentless ascent. The tight time-allowed continued to take its toll, and now the opening oxer joined the oxer at fence three as one of the bogeys on the clever course set by Spanish designer Santiago Vareles - the man who will build the tracks for the FEI European Jumping Championships in Madrid (ESP) in three weeks' time. America's Lauren Hough and Quick Study were one of the many partnerships to lower the first fence second time out, and when they also put a foot a foot in the water and picked up a time fault then their nine-fault result put the pressure on their team-mates. But Christine McCrea just gritted her teeth and galloped home with a brilliant clear from Romantovich Take One that seemed to put them right back in the game.
It all fell apart however when third-line rider, Laura Kraut who had produced a fabulous first-round clear, uncharacteristically missed her strike at the big white oxer before the water where her brave gelding Cedric took control of the decision-making process when deciding that not just the back pole, but even the front pole, was much too far away and slid into the fence instead. Typically courageous and honest however, he willingly cleared it when the pile of poles had been replaced, but with the vertical two from home also on the floor and two time faults to add, American hearts were sinking. Their relegation rivals from Belgium had fared little better when Le Jeune posted an eight-fault result but a clear from Wathalet and just four from Philippaerts were followed by only a time fault from Lansink. So even though US anchor, Beezie Madden, also collected just one time fault with Coral Reef Via Volo, there was no way back.
The French might have clinched it if anchorman Michel Robert could have cancelled out Penelope Leprevost's second-round four-fault effort with Mylord Carthago as both Kevin Staut (Silvana de Hus) and Olivier Guillon (Lord de Theize) went clear. But Kellemoi de Pepita hit the very last fence to bring the French total to 12 and this left the Germans and British to battle it out.
Kutscher's stallion, Cornet Obolensky, has a real spring in his step again these days and followed his sparkling opening clear with just a single time fault so, although Thomas Voss and Carinjo added 13 to their tally, when Nagel and the lovely Corradina - one of three to jump double-clear on the day - kept a clean sheet then Beerbaum's four faults at the first element of the penultimate double put the German total at 10. The British meanwhile added just a single time fault, from Michael Whitaker and GIG Amai, to their first-round nine when Ben Maher (Tripple X) and John Whitaker (Peppermill) both went clear leaving Guy Williams five faults with Depardieu Van'T Kiezelhof as the discount.
For the third time in the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series it would come down to a jump-off. And there was more than just the competition result hanging in the balance. The British and Germans were sharing second place on the league leaderboard coming into this final clash, and with the disappearance of the Dutch who eventually finished fourth behind the French in third, the series title would now be decided between these two.
British Chef d'Equipe, Rob Hoekstra, sent Ben Maher and Tripple X into the decision maker, and when they left the third fence on the floor in 39.79 seconds then that was the target as Beerbaum set off. The German rider was confident he could do the job even though he hadn't left the course intact during his previous two tours of the arena. "From round to round Gotha kept getting better and better, we had two fences down in the first round but the second round was good even though she had one fence down and in the end, the jump-off is always easier" said the man who has seen so many in his time. He had watched Maher go, and had his plan all worked out. "Over the first four jumps I went inside everywhere I could so that coming down the last I could be slower - by then I knew I had the time" he explained. And with a clear in 39.29 seconds he clinched it.
"The sport won today" said course designer Vareles afterwards. "The Germans did a great job - great riders and good horses - but the British were also fantastic and it's always a great competition when it comes down to the last rider and the last horse!" he added. He said he was surprised when it was Ludger who came in to jump against the clock for Germany - "the other horses on the team had jumped better, but of course as Otto Becker said afterwards Ludger is one of the best riders in the world and he chose the right man!" Becker was really proud of his team. "It's unbelievable and very exciting - and this is the first German victory this season with myself as Chef d'Equipe!" he pointed out.
John Roche, FEI Jumping Director, said he was sorry to see the USA leave the series along with Denmark, "but I'm confident that they will be back with us soon again" he added.
Ludger Beerbaum, who celebrated his 48th birthday with yet another wonderful moment in his long and stellar career put the season, and the series, into context and paid it the highest of compliments. "Today we had a really exciting competition in which several teams nearly made it to the jump-off and which wasn't decided until the very end. This Nations Cup formula is the best thing we have in our sport, and I'm not just saying that because we won! It's exciting for everyone - the riders and the spectators - it's the best our sport has to offer" he concluded.
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.
1. Germany 0 faults in third-round jump-off: Cornet Obolensky (Marco Kutscher) 0/1, Carinjo 9 (Thomas Voss) 5/13, Corradina (Carsten-Otto Nagel) 0/0, Gotha FRH (Ludger Beerbaum) 8/4/0.
2. Great Britain 4 faults in third-round jump-off: GIG Amai (Michael Whitaker) 9/1, Depardieu Van'T Kiezelhof (Guy Williams) 5/5, Tripple X (Ben Maher) 0/0, Peppermill (John Whitaker) 4/0.
3. France 12 faults: Mylord Carthago (Penelope Leprevost) 4/4, Silvana de Hus (Kevin Staut) 5/0, Lord de Theize (Olivier Guillon) 0/0, Kellemoi de Pepita (Michel Robert) 4/4.
4. Netherlands 17 faults: VDL Groep Utascha (Eric van der Vleuten) 8/1, VDL Bubalu (Jur Vrieling) 8/8, vdl Groep Verdi (Maikel Van der Vleuten) 4/0, BMC Van Grunsven Simon (Jeroen Dubbeldam) 4/0.
4. Belgium 17 faults: Vigo d'Arsouilles (Philippe Le Jeune) 4/9, Copin Van de Broy (Gregory Wathelet) 4/0, Carlos VHPZ (Nicola Philippaerts) 9/4, Cavalor Valentina van-t Heike (Jos Lansink) 4/1.
6. USA 18 faults: Quick Study (Lauren Hough) 5/9, Romantovich Take One (Christine McCrea) 4/0, Cedric (Laura Kraut) 0/10, Coral Reef Via Volo (Beezie Madden) 4/1.
7. Ireland 29 faults: Nicos de la Cense (Niall Talbot) 5/5, Will Wimble (A Butler) Elim/DNS, Abbervail van het Dingeshof (Denis Lynch) 5/6, Romanov (Billy Twomey) 4/4.
8. Denmark 33 faults: Uno's Safier (Andreas Schou) 5/5, Regino (Camilla Enemark) 10/1, Begegaardens Apollo (Emilie Martinsen) 6/6, Calvara Z (Torben Frandsen) 26/DNS.
Facts and Figures:
1 elimination - Ireland's Alexander Butler (Will Wimble).
3 double-clear performances in today's competition from Germanys Carsten-Otto Nagel (Corradina), Olivier Guillon (Lord de Theize) from France and Great Britain's Ben Maher (Triple X).
This brought the total number of double-clears for the season to 19.
The bogey fences of the day were the oxer at fence one and the oxer at fence three.
Prince William Alexander of The Netherlands performed the official opening of the new stand at the Kralingsbos Arena today. He marked the opening by ringing the bell which has been used since competitions first began and the Dutch venue back in 1948.
The venue is located in the Kralingsbos - a 200-acre forest located in the city of Rotterdam.
Course designer was Spain's Santiago Vareles, who will also be creating the tracks for the forthcoming FEI European Jumping Championships in Madrid (ESP).
In addition to the €200,000 prize-money on offer into today's final leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011, an additional €100,000 also went to the series champions from Germany.
This was Germany's fourth time to win the top-level Nations Cup series. They enjoyed a hat-trick of wins in the Samsung Superleague series between 2006 and 2008.
Ludger Beerbaum, talking about today's course - "fences one and three fell a lot today, the third fence was difficult because it was at a difficult angle and it came early on the course".
Ludger Beerbaum, talking about his mare Gotha - "I was very happy with Gotha today, there's still some work to do with her rideability which is not 100% but I was very pleased with her today".
Course designer, Santiago Vareles - "the most important thing for me is to build a course that is not against the horse but which tests the riders and produces fair sport. We need to protect the horses. When the riders walked the course today they thought the line from fences 6 to 7 to eight (vertical, white oxer, water) would be a problem but if they took 6 strides between the first two then the five strides to the water was fine. I don't like to make courses where one fence gets many faults".
Otto Becker, talking about his decision to send Ludger Beerbaum into the jump-off - "we had not made the decision about what would happen if we had a jump-off, but it was a logical decision for Ludger to go".
Dutch Chef d'Equipe, Rob Ehrens - "My team was good in the second round and I'm not upset about how it worked out today in terms of the overall series. We will do better in Madrid!".
FEI Jumping Director John Roche - "It was a really exciting competition right to the very end with the teams fighting for both the competition and the series title, and from the point of view of the sport it could not have been better!".
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 8 at Rotterdam (NED);
1. Germany - 50.00
2. Netherlands - 48.50
3. Great Britain - 47.00
4. Ireland - 41.50
5. France - 40.50
6. Belgium - 35.00
7. USA - 31.50
8. Denmark - 10.00
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 German team celebrate their double victory in Rotterdam (NED) tonight where they won the last leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 along with the series title - L to R - Carsten-Otto Nagel, Ludger Beerbaum, Otto Becker (Chef d'Equipe), Marco Kutscher and Thomas Voss. Photo: FEI/CHIO Rotterdam Press.