Surprise Victory for Ireland at Hickstead

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The Irish produced the shock of the season when beating crack sides from Germany and France to win the seventh leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2012 series at Hickstead (GBR) this afternoon.  Trailing at the bottom of the league table after an inconsistent run that included a miserable last-place finish in Falsterbo, Sweden just seven days' ago, Robert Splaine's side appeared to have it all to do in this penultimate round of the eight-leg tournament.

But they came out with all guns blazing to finish with just four faults for a definitive victory over the French who completed with eight, while Germany slotted into third with 12.  The host nation lined up fourth when collecting a total of 20 faults, and Sweden and Belgium shared fifth with 24 apiece.  A first-round total of 20 put paid to Dutch chances and they concluded the day with 28 faults on the board for second-last spot ahead of the Swiss, whose 40-fault result left them last by a long margin.

As always, the Hickstead fences took their toll, but faults were spread all around the track set by Great Britain’s Bob Ellis - the man who will build the courses for the forthcoming London Olympic Games at Greenwich Park. 

In the opening round, the formidable open water, located early on the track at fence 4, took its toll, and the line of fences that included a triple bar to a double of verticals followed by a big, square oxer also proved influential.  But it was the double at fence three that was a major trouble-spot in the second round, claiming three of the French amongst its many victims. 

Zero Scores
The teams that eventually filled the top three spots all completed round one on a zero score, with the British next best carrying eight.  Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland were all on level pegging with 16 on the board, while the Dutch were lying last with 20 when the only clear for Rob Ehrens’ side came from anchorman Albert Voorn (Tobalio).

It seemed possible that the Irish would be overwhelmed by the quality of their rivals second time out.  After all the French side included Olympians Leprevost (Topinambour) and Kevin Staut (Reveur de Hutebise) along with the very-much-on-form Eugenie Angot (Old Chap Tame) and Aymeric de Ponnat (Armitages Boy).  And the German side was just as intimidating, with Philipp Weishaupt (Catoki) joined by Ludger Beerbaum (Chiara) and Marco Kutscher (Cornet Obolensky) along with Holger Wulschner (Cefalo).  But that wasn’t going to make an impression on the boys in green.

Splaine had selected four riders with a real hunger to prove their worth.  And although Shane Breen double-faulted second time out with Cos I Can, Richie Moloney produced one of only two double-clears on the day from the 10 year old Ahorn van de Zuuthoeve before Darragh Kerins picked up just four faults with Lisona to keep the pressure on the French.  German chances faded with single second-round errors from both Weishaupt and Beerbaum, and when the anchor partnership of Kutchser and his grey stallion hit the very last fence then that had to be counted in order to drop the 12 collected by Wulschner at his second attempt, so their chances were gone.

It was the superb second round clear from Clem McMahon that clinched it for the winning side, the Irishman refusing to be discouraged by the decision to retire Pacino after three fences down in the first round, and returning to show just how good this relatively inexperienced eight-year-old stallion can be.  French pathfinder Angot produced the second of the double-clear performances of the day, but Staut and de Ponnat each lowered a fence so Leprevost would have to be clear to force a jump-off now. And when the poles fell, she retired as she could not improve on her country’s eight-fault tally.

Delighted
Splaine was naturally delighted with the result - “it’s fair to say we’re not going to win the FEI Nations Cup, but we’re really hoping for another good result in Dublin” he said.  The Irish capital city plays host to the final leg of the 2012 series in four weeks time.  The Irish Chef d’Equipe described the earlier part of the season as “a bit of a misfortune” and insisted that last week’s bottom-place finish in Falsterbo was “out of character” for his side.  “There are more downs than ups in this sport, and you have to be very strong to come back from that” he pointed out, adding “when you are a professional showjumper, you have to know how to bounce back from difficult times”.

Team-member Moloney, whose sensational double-clear on his Top League Nations Cup debut comes after finishing third with the same horse in the Grand Prix during Nations Cup week in Florida earlier this year and fifth in the recent Spruce Meadows Grand Prix in Calgary, Canada, was, like Kerins, selected for this event from the deep pool of Irish riding talent resident in the USA.  “This is my biggest result so far” said the rider whose father, Tom, is a legendary Irish horse producer and whose brother, Eddie, is a former Irish national champion.  Moloney’s horse however was not a complete newcomer to the Hickstead ring, as Ahorn originally came from England’s Henry Charles who lives close by - “he had been in the ring before as a novice horse, and he was quite happy about seeing it all again, it didn’t bother him at all” said the rider who shares his time between American bases in Florida and Long Island, New York.

Slightly Improved
Despite the satisfaction of securing only their third victory in the 65-year history of the Nations Cup of Great Britain, the Irish however have only slightly improved their position on the FEI Nations Cup™ leaderboard after today’s success.  They go into the last leg on their home ground with just a 0.5 point lead over Belgium who are now in bottom spot, while Germany remains at the top of the table with a 10-point advantage over France in second while Britain holds third.

Moloney described today’s result as “a dream come true - it can’t get much better really!”, but there is more work to be done if the Irish are to finish the season on an upbeat note.  “All the lads came here highly motivated - we needed a big result, and we got a big result” said team manager Splaine this evening.  They will be looking for another one of those in four weeks’ time....

For further information on the seventh leg of the 2012 FEI Nations Cup™ series at Hickstead (GBR) on Friday 20 July check out website at www.hickstead.co.uk or contact Press Officer Victoria Spicer at Email press@hickstead.co.uk , Tel: +4478 1111 3185.  The eighth and last leg of the series takes place in Dublin, Ireland on Friday 17 August.  For details of the Irish fixture check out website www.dublinhorseshow.com or contact Press Officer JP Montgomery, Email jp.montgomery@rds.ie

Result:
1.  Ireland 4 faults: Cos I Can (Shane Breen) 0/4, Ahorn van de Zuuthoeve (Richie Moloney) 0/0, Lisona (Darragh Kerins) 0/4, Pacino (C McMahon) Ret/0.
2.  France 8 faults: Old Chap Tame (Eugenie Angot) 0/0, Reveue de Hurtebise (Kevin Staut) 0/4, Armitages Boy (Aymeric de Ponnat) 0/4, Topinambour (Penelope Leprevost) DNS/Ret.
3.  Germany 12 faults: Catoki (Philipp Weishaupt) 0/4, Cefalo (Holger Wulschner) 4/12, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) 0/4, Cornet Obolensky (Marco Kutscher) 0/4.
4.  Great Britain 20 faults: Billy Angelo (William Funnell) 4/4, Murkas Nevada (Peter Charles) 4/4, Hello Sailor (Tina Fletcher) 0/4, Argento (John Whitaker) 8/4.
5.  Sweden 24 faults:  Udermus (Douglas Lindelow) 4/0, Carrento Ztar (Angelie Von Essen) 4/8, Glory Days (Daniel Zetterman) 8/0, Chamonix H (Helena Persson) 8/8.
5.  Belgium 24 faults: Conisha van de Helle (Niels Bruynseels) 8/0, Dylano (Maurice Van Roosbroeck) 16/4, Quarco De Kerambars (Rik Remeryck) 0/8, Cor van de Wateringhoeve (Dominique Hendrickx) 8/4.
7.  Netherlands 28 faults: Tyson (Leon Thijssen) 8/4, Sam (Albert Zoer) 12/4, Cerona HS (Hendrik-Jan Schuttert) 16/0, Tobalio (Albert Voorn) 0/8.
8.  Switzerland 40 faults: Touchable (Claudia Gisler 12/8, Clipmyhorse Cash and Go (Simone Wettstein) 0/13, Tamira (Marc Oertly) 4/4, Loxy de la Reselle (Andreas Ott) 24/12.

FEI Nations Cup™ 2012 - Standings after Round 7 at Hickstead (GBR):
1. Germany  -   47
2. France  -  37
3. Great Britain  -  32
4. Sweden  -  31.5
4. Switzerland  -  31.5
6. Netherlands  -  29.5
7. Ireland  -  29
8. Belgium  -  28.5   

Facts and Figures:
Hickstead presented the seventh round of the eight-leg FEI Nations Cup™ 2012.
Three teams finished the first round on a zero score - Germany, Ireland and France.
Prior to today's competition, the Irish were lying last on the FEI Nations Cup™ 2012 league table.
13 clears in first round.
Two double-clears in today's competition - from Ireland's Richie Moloney (Ahorn van de Zuuthoeve) and French rider Eugenie Angot (Old Chap Tame).
Course designer was the man who will build the Jumping tracks for the forthcoming equestrian London Olympic events at Greenwich Park - Great Britain's Bob Ellis.
The Irish have now pulled themselves off the bottom of the leaderboard, but, in seventh place, are just 0.5 points ahead of Belgium who hold eighth and last place going into the final leg in Dublin, Ireland on 17 August.
This was Ireland's third time to take win the Nations Cup of Great Britain in the 65-year history of the event.  They previously secured a back-to-back double at Hickstead in 2000 and 2001.
Irish rider Shane Breen's wife, Chloe, is the daughter of the late "Master of Hickstead", Douglas Bunn, and Shane lives with his family at the Sussex venue.

Quotes:
Irish Chef d’Equipe, Robert Splaine - “We’ve had a bit of misfortune so far but these guys stayed motivated and focused, so I was very optimistic about today”.

Clem McMahon, talking about having to jump clear after having retired with Pacino in the first round: “My horse is only 8 years old and it’s the first time he’s jumped in such a big arena but he was clear and it worked out really well.”

Shane Breen, talking about the Hickstead arena “It’s a fantastic ground. One of the best 3 grounds in the world.”

Photo Caption :  The Irish team secured a much-needed victory at the penultimate leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ 2012 series at Hickstead (GBR) today.  Pictured on the podium: (Left to right) Richie Moloney, Darragh Kerins, Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine, Clem McMahon and Shane Breen.  Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.

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