Brilliant Belgians top first round at Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ 2015 Final

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Santiago Varela's tough course created an exciting start to three days of thrilling competition

Judy-Ann Melchior and As Cold as Ice Z picked up just a single time fault to help Team Belgium to victory

We will try to do the same on Saturday but it is a whole new day

The Belgian team came out on top in the super-tough first round of the €2.3 million Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final 2015 at Real Club de Polo in Barcelona (ESP) today. With only eight places up for grabs for Saturday’s second and deciding round, there was a ferocious battle between the 19 competing nations, and some heroic performances from sides that didn’t make the cut.

Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, USA, the defending champions from The Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland claimed the remaining qualifying spots in that order, and the stage is now set for a spectacular finale on Saturday night.

The testing course set by Spain’s Santiago Varela produced only seven clear rounds from a starting field of 76 horse-and-rider combinations, and the penultimate triple combination claimed a huge number of victims. A total of 33 horses faulted here, and at least 24 of those left the middle element on the floor. All four members of the French team picked up penalties at this one, and the country that won the first Furusiyya Final back in 2013 finished well down the line in 16th place on their final tally of 24 faults.

The countries that just missed out were Qatar, Mexico and Brazil who shared ninth place on a 16-fault scoreline at the end of the day, and it was interesting to note that three of the rare clear rounds were posted by riders from countries that finished outside the qualification zone. Pedro Veniss got Brazil off to a perfect start when fault-free with Quabri de L’Isle, while both Australian pathfinder Jamie Kermond (Quite Cassini) and Egypt’s anchorman Karim Elzoghby (Amelia) did likewise - the latter two countries sharing 12th place at the end of the day.

Fair but unforgiving

Varela’s course was fair but unforgiving, riders having to plan every step of the way in order to leave all the timber intact and to avoid exceeding the 81 seconds time-allowed. The pressure really began on the roll-back to the planks at fence five which was followed by a big double, and then a right-bending line to the open water. As the Spanish course designer explained afterwards however, the majority of mistakes later on the track were created by loss of control after the open water which was followed by a big oxer and then a turn back to a two-metre-wide triple bar.

“It was six (strides) to the vertical after the triple bar and oxer, but the majority of the riders went on seven and some upset the balance of their horses” he explained this evening. Many paid the price at the blue oxer at fence 11, the front pole kicked out time and again before riders turned down the final line.

Every element of the triple combination at 12 saw plenty of action. “It was at the end of the course, and the jump in was a bit short”, Varela said. The red poles at the vertical second element were further complicated by a water tray below them which distracted some of the horses. The course wasn’t only difficult to ride, Varela said it was also difficult to build. “We only had the warm-up competition and then a 1.60m class - I think it was a fair course with faults everywhere from the start to the end. The question today was not to win, it was to be in the eight teams that qualify for Saturday” he pointed out.

Impossible to predict

It was impossible to predict how the competition would play itself out until the very end as each rider had only one chance to get things right, but the British looked secure having posted a nine-fault scoreline by the end of the third-rider rotation, while Christian Ahlmann’s opening clear with Taloubet Z helped seal Germany’s eight-fault total. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson did the same for Sweden when third to go for his side, but the Dutch had a bit of a moment when one of their dream-team combinations - Maikel van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdi - collected 17 uncharacteristic faults. However with a foot-perfect run from the superstar partnership of Jeroen Dubbeldam and Zenith they finished with 10 on the board after five-fault efforts from both Jur Vrieling (VDL Zirocco Blue) and Gerco Schroder (Glock’s Cognac Champblanc), and the defending Furusiyya champions still look well set to continue on the glory trail they have been following over the last year.

The final placings were undecided to the very end however, the Americans heaving a huge sigh of relief that at last, after missing the cut at the previous two Furusiyya Finals, they are through on a nine-fault finishing score while the Irish and Swiss claimed the last two places when posting scores of 13 and 15 faults respectively.

Clear winners

The clear winners today however were the Belgians who confidently cruised home with a final tally of five faults thanks to a fantastic last-to-go clear from newly-crowned European silver medallist, Gregory Wathelet.

Their pathfinder, Olivier Philippaerts (H&M Armstrong van de Kapel) made a mistake at the planks at fence five, but, next to go, Judy-Ann Melchior, collected only a single time penalty with the ever-reliable Cold as Ice Z. Jos Lansink fell victim to the middle part of the combination with For Cento, but Wathelet’s clear sealed it in style.

Wathelet said afterwards “for sure I am really happy about my clear round, but today my team was really good and they made it easy for me! There was not so much pressure when I was going in so I could ride a nice, quiet round. I’m happy for my team, and I hope we can keep it this way for Saturday. We will try to do the same on Saturday but it is a whole new day. Our goal was to be in the top eight this evening, and the main thing is we succeeded in that” he said stoically.

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Louise Parkes
Fédération Equestre Internationale
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