The home team and defending champions from France won the first leg of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ series at La Baule today, but victory came only at the very end of a nail-biting contest, with the USA chasing them all the way to line. It was a good day for the British as they shared third place with Germany ahead of Spain in fifth and the battling Irish in sixth, but there were a few shocks in store.
The 2009 European team gold medallists from Switzerland had to settle for seventh ahead of Sweden in eighth spot while the reigning World Champions from The Netherlands didn't even make the cut into the second round, and the only ones they beat today were the Polish team who finished last despite a spirited performance from all four riders.
This season however, the danger-zone is bigger than ever because after the eighth leg concludes in Dublin next August, the last four teams on the leaderboard will be relegated. Dutch Chef d'Equipe Rob Ehrens said yesterday that his team tends not to do well when he expects great things of them, so he therefore said he didn't wish them any luck in the hope that this would bring a good result. It didn't work however, and with no points on the board going to the next leg in Rome in two weeks time, a significant improvement will be required.
The intense battle that would be played out in the closing stages was already taking shape by the end of the first round when the French, Americans and British shared a four-fault tally. Frederick Cottier's 12-fence track didn't seem too overwhelming when 14 horse-and-rider combinations left all the poles intact and crossed the line inside the 87-second time limit. But it was a masterful course that wore them down as the competition unfolded - the biggest test coming three fences from home with a tall and narrow oxer at fence 10 followed by a big, wide oxer at 11 on a short five-stride distance that just wouldn't come up right for many. With 20 faults the Polish team disappeared from the reckoning, but only last-line rider Klein Tomasz really struggled with the track, while the unfortunate Andrzej Lemanski, who was first into the ring with Bischof, faulted only at the FEI vertical at fence five in an otherwise excellent tour of the arena.
It was such a surprise when the Dutch failed to feature. Vincent Voorn's opening clear with Audi's Alpapillon Armanie suggested it was going to be a breeze, and even after Piet Raijmakers Jr. had two fences down and Harrie Smolders added one more it seemed Gerco Schroder would rescue the situation when last man in. Three mistakes from Eurocommerce New Orleans however scuppered Dutch chances and they had to sit it out with the Poles as round two began.
It was extremely tight at this stage. with the Spanish living up to expectations and stalking the leading three nations by just one fault as they carried five into round two. And the Irish, Swedes, Swiss and Germans were all tied on eight faults ensuring it was a close-fought affair with no room for error. The Swedish effort faltered with the addition of 17 more to their scoreline however, and although World No 1 Pius Schwizer added only a single time fault to his first-round four with Carlina, the Swiss had to count nine more to finish with a total of 17.
Ireland's Shane Breen produced one of just six double-clears on the day but the Irish challenge was seriously undermined by the absence of a second-round score for Niall Talbot after his good mare, Tequi D'I, had to be retired after over-reaching badly. Young Darragh Kenny, who like the considerably more experienced Steve Guerdat from Switzerland fell victim to the long gallop down to the water in the first round, kept his head to improve from an eight to a four-fault result this time out, but despite only a single error from last man Cameron Hanley with Southwind VDL the Irish accumulated 16 faults in total, while two German clears left them on a final score of 12.
The Spanish meanwhile lost their grip to drop below Germany when Pilar Cordon and her lovely stallion Herald made a mistake at the water, and despite a clear from Julio Arias Cueva and Jarnac and just five from Jose Echevarria, the loss of their anchor partnership of Sergio Alvarez Moya when his mare Madame Pompadour was unsound proved punishing. The Spanish however showed that they are more than ready for this level of the sport today.
Double-clears from both Richard Spooner with Cristallo and Mario Deslauriers with the super-talented nine year old Urico firmed up the American position, but Hillary Dobbs and the brave little Quincy B picked up 14 faults over their two rounds. And when Mark Armstrong's Thesaura took out a stride after jumping too big over the opening triple bar and then demolished the remaining elements of the combination along with the first part of the final double, then Michael Whitaker's eight faults with GIG Amai had to be added to the British account. Not even the brilliant second-round clear that followed an edgy opening effort from newcomers Scott Brash and Intertoy Z and two foot-perfect tours of the course by Peter Charles and Murka's Pom D'Ami could keep the British in contention as they dropped down to join the Germans with 12 faults apiece.
The French however were holding fast. Pathfinders Penelope Leprevost and Topinambour belied their lack of nations cup outings together to lower only one fence in each round and when the veteran Michel Robert (Kellemoi de Pepita) and team-mate Olivier Guillon (Lord de Theize) added their names to the double-clear list the result rested with reigning individual European champion Kevin Staut.
The Americans needed to discard Dobbs' nine faults, and a clear from anchorman McLain Ward with Sapphire would maintain their first-round scoreline and pile the pressure on the French. But Ward's mare, who was one of eight victims at fence ten in the opening round, hit the first fence this time out and that moved their final tally to eight. One mistake from Staut would create a jump-off with the USA but the home crowd erupted when their hero steered Kraque Boom home clear for outright victory.
Dedication and Commitment
According to Chef d'Equipe Laurent Elias, French success is all due to the newfound dedication and commitment of his side. He likes the work ethic of his team. "There has been a big change in attitude and that's part of the reason why we've been so successful in more recent times, along with some great support from our Federation which has given our riders the means to succeed" he said. "Our riders are serious and focused, and they work in a structured way. They are more modest and when you go to a show these days the French will be first into the practice paddock in the morning - not the last anymore" he pointed out.
Olivier Guillon explained that the squad has been training with Henk Nooren - "we've been working very hard on our flatwork. It means many early mornings and riding in all weather conditions but its paying off in the long-term, that's for sure" he insisted. Michel Robert explained that he forfeited competing at Hamburg this weekend in order to serve his side. "I was asked to support the team and I was honoured to do it. They had the confidence in me and I am happy about that" he added.
As always Kevin Staut was at his modest best, blaming himself for his first-round error at fence 11 - "all my fault" he said, "nothing to do with my great horse!" And when asked what it felt like to be under such huge pressure in the second round he insisted that the rest of his team had taken the pressure in the first round - "so it was my turn to do a good job!".
He did just that, and the French now head for Rome with their tails up and knowing that, with maximum points after today's thriller, all the other nations now have to catch them.
For further details on the first leg of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ at La Baule go to website www.labaule-cheval.com
The NEXT leg of the series takes place in Rome (ITA) on Friday 28 May. For further information on the Italian fixture check out website www.piazzadisiena.com or contact Press Officer Caterina Vagnozzi at Email: email@example.com, Tel: + 39 335 6107070.
1, France 4 faults: Topinambour (Penelope Leprevost) 4/4, Kellemoi de Pepita (Michel Robert) 0/0, Lord de Theize (Olivier Guillon) 0/0, Kraque Boom (Kevin Staut) 4/0.
2. USA 8 faults: Cristallo (Richard Spooner) 0/0, Quincy B (Hillary Dobbs) 5/9, Urico (Mario Deslauriers) 0/0, Sapphire (McLain Ward) 4/4.
Jt 3. Germany 12 faults: Chacco Blue (Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst) 0/0, Lacapo IAlexander Hufenstuhl) 8/4, Lassen Peak (Rebecca Golasch) 0/4, Souvenir (Philipp Weishaupt) 12/0.
Jt 3. Great Britain 12 faults: Gig Amai (Michael Whitaker) 0/8, Intertoy Z (Scott Brash) 8/0, Thesaura (Mark Armstrong) 4/13, Murka's Pom D'Ami (Peter Charles) 0/0.
5. Spain 14 faults: Herald (Pilar Cordon) 0/4, Jarnac (Julio Arias Cueva) 4/0, Lord du Mont Milon (Echevarria Garmendia) 1/5, Madame Pompadour M (Sergio Alvarez Moya) 4/DNS.
6. Ireland 16 faults: Carmena Z (Shane Breen) 0/0, Tequi D'I CH (Niall Talbot) 8/Ret, Obelix (Darragh Kenny) 8/4, Southwind VDL (Cameron Hanley) 0/4.
7. Switzerland 17 faults: Jalisca Solier (Steve Guerdat) 4/4, Acomet (Theo Muff) 8/4, Campione CH (Werner Muff) 0/4, Carlina (Pius Schwizer) 4/1.
8. Sweden 25 faults: H&M Actrice (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 4/8, Isaac (Alexander Zetterman) 13/16, Madick (Helena Lundback) 4/4, Caramell KS (Svante Johansson) 0/5.
9. Netherlands 12 faults in FIRST round: Audi's Alpapillon Armanie (Vincent Voorn) 0, Van Schijndel's Rascin (Piet Raijmakers Jr.) 8, Exquis Walnut de Muze (Harrie Smolders) 4, Eurocommerce New Orleans (Gerco Schroder) 12
10. Poland 20 faults in FIRST round: Bischof L (Andrzej Lemanski) 4, Castello (Aleksandra Lusina) 8, Just Cruising (Jan Chrzanowski) 8, Camerino (Tomasz Klein) 20.
2010 MEYDAN FEI NATIONS CUP™ - STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 1 AT LA BAULE:
1. France - 10
2. USA - 7
3. Germany - 5.5
3. Great Britain - 5.5
5. Spain - 4
6. Ireland - 3
7. Switzerland - 2
8. Sweden - 1
9. Netherlands - 0
10. Poland - 0
Facts and Figures:
Both Spain and Portugal were upgraded from the Promotional League in 2009 and this is the first year for these two countries to compete in top-level Nations Cup competition.
The oldest horse in today's competition was the 16 year old mare Tequi D'I CH ridden by Ireland's Niall Talbot.
The youngest horses in today's competition were all nine year olds - the gelding Urico ridden by America's Mario Deslauriers, the gelding Camerino ridden by Klein Tomasz from Poland and the mare Carlina ridden by World No. 1 Pius Schwizer of Switzerland.
The course designers were Frederic Cottier and Serge Houtmann from France.
There were six double-clear rounds
The most influential fences on the 12-obstacle course were fences 10 and 11 - oxers on a difficult five-stride related distance.
Lauren Wickins, Meydan's Marketing and Commercial Manager - "Meydan is proud and honoured to be involved with the FEI Nations Cup™. The culture in Dubai is closely connected with the horse and equestrian sport is very dear to the heart of our country".
Course designer Frederic Cottier - "I always try to build a course that is difficult for the riders but not to tire the horses. I like to make the riders think about the time, today they had to move on after fence number seven, that was the way I intended it should be. I'm pleased that France has won and I am also pleased that we didn't have a jump-off".
French Chef d'Equipe Laurent Elias - "my team was exceptional today, their team spirit is something special and I'm very pleased that when I needed them they rallied to my call for France!".
MEYDAN FEI NATIONS CUP™
A Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ event is organised as a five-star Nations Cup, i.e. a 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 2010 season the team with the highest points wins the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ and the four teams with the lowest points are relegated to the FEI Nations Cup series (Promotional League). Following the Promotional League Final, the two best placed teams from that series join the Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ for 2011.
The World’s Top 10 Teams: France, the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, Spain and Poland.
The World’s Best Eight Venues:
La Baule (FRA), Friday 14 May; Rome (ITA), Friday 28 May; St. Gallen (SUI), Friday 4 June; Rotterdam (Ned), Friday 18 June; Falsterbo (SWE), Friday 9 July; Aachen (GER), Thursday 15 July; Hickstead (GBR), Friday 30 July; Dublin (IRL), Friday 6 August.
The complete rules, latest news, results, standings and photos are on www.meydanfeinationscup.org
To learn more about the FEI go to www.fei.org
To learn more about Meydan, the title sponsor of the Meydan FEI Nations Cup, go to www.meydan.ae
FEI TV - Extensive coverage of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ is available on FEI TV, the official video website of the Fédération Equestre Internationale. Simply check www.feitv.org for live coverage, event reports, highlights programmes and interviews.
Photo Caption: Reigning European Champion Kevin Staut and Kraque Boom sealed the French victory in the first leg of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup™ at La Baule, France today. Photo: Christophe Bricot.