Team USA won the Challenge Cup at the 2014 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final this afternoon, but it took a second-round jump-off against the clock to place the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 team bronze medallists ahead of a relatively rookie Australian side.
In a competition that epitomised the concept of the Furusiyya series, which has opened up the sport of Nations Cup Jumping to a whole new range of countries over the past two years, the talented, keen and hungry Australian quartet pushed their considerably more-experienced opponents all the way. And suddenly the boys and girls from Down-Under have staked their claim as a force to be reckoned with over the coming years.
This competition was open to the six nations that failed to qualify for tomorrow night’s gala Furusiyya Final, and it was some surprise to find the Americans and the defending Furusiyya champions from France amongst the starting line-up. The French slotted into third this afternoon ahead of Spain in fourth, Venezuela in fifth and the three-man team from Qatar in sixth and last place.
With €300,000 on offer there was plenty to play for, and several Chef d’Equipes decided to give their fifth team members an outing. Margie Engle stood in for Kent Farrington in the US side while James Paterson-Robinson came into the Australian line-up in place of Edwina Tops-Alexander. And both played a pivotal role on an intriguing afternoon of great sport.
Once again course designer Santiago Varela asked a simple question – could riders stay in rhythm at speed over a big but straight-forward track. So once again rideability and control proved key to success and brought the cream to the top.
The Australians challenged from the outset when Jamie Kermond steered Quite Cassini home for just one time fault having survived a good rattle at the white plank that adorned the top of the vertical at fence nine on the 13-obstacle course. So when Paterson-Robinson and Boris lll followed with a lovely clear they were right in the game.
McLain Ward got the Americans off to a perfect start with a concentrated and copybook run with Rothchild, and when Engle returned with just a single time fault from Royce, that left the two teams on level pegging so far. The target time of 79 seconds was influential and Australian third-line rider Julia Hargreaves also fell foul of it, but with just a single time fault to add after an otherwise super-smooth round from Vedor it seemed almost possible that things might go Australia’s way today. Because Lauren Hough’s Ohlala clipped both the oxer at eight and the following plank at nine for eight faults which left the US looking vulnerable.
A fabulous clear from Amy Graham and Bella Baloubet piled all the pressure on the shoulders of American anchor Beezie Madden who would now have no room for error if the US were to stay in the game. But if you want anyone in your corner when the going gets tough, then the lady who took team and individual bronze at last month’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy, and her horse who never touched a pole during that thrilling final-four afternoon, would always be your first choice. And they lived up to expectations to secure a jump-off against their unlikely challengers.
While the ding-dong battle between the Australians and Americans was going on, last year’s Furusiyya champions from France were having another day when clear rounds evaded them. However with just a single error each from Penelope Leprevost (Nayana), Jerome Hurel (Quartz Rouge), Simon Delestre (Qlassic Bois Margot) and Kevin Staut (Estoy Aqui de Muze HDC) they settled into third place on a final total of 12 faults.
Spain were only two faults further adrift in fourth while the Venezuelan side racked up a 17-fault finishing score and Qatar completed with 21 on the board.
When it came to the jump-off the final result never really seemed to be beyond doubt. Each team sent back three riders, and their scores and times were added together to decide the winners.
Kermond was first to go with his big, strong stallion, and taking a long stride to the last he broke the beam in 44.03 seconds to post a great opening clear. But three of the fastest riders in the world were flying the US flag, and when Ward cruised home with Rothchild in 40.18 the Americans quickly took control.
Speed didn’t suit Patterson-Robinson’s tall gelding who left two fences on the floor to open the gate wide for the opposition, and Hough took full advantage when clear in 44.76 seconds. Amy Graham was last to go for Australia and produced another foot-perfect run with Bella Baloubet, but Madden had two fences in hand as she went out to seal it for the USA. And Cortes C was cool as a cucumber as he skipped home effortlessly to secure the win with a third American clear.
This is the second successive year for the USA to win the second competition at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final. It was a good result, but it wasn’t what they came to Barcelona for – they clearly had their sights on tomorrow night’s Final competition and while they were pleased with today’s success they had every reason to reflect on why things have not quite gone their way this week.
Bit of a surprise
Lauren Hough admitted that yesterday’s ninth-place finish was more than a bit of a surprise. “We are happy to win today but sorry not to be in tomorrow…I think we were all a little bit shocked to be where we were yesterday, but that’s showjumping!” she said.
McLain Ward wasn’t in any mood to beat about the bush concerning his side’s performance. “Honestly, those aren’t scores that we should deliver. Maybe without a warm-up the first day, maybe he (Rothchild) was just a little relaxed and I’m not paying attention myself and taking my horse for granted. To be honest it’s a pretty unacceptable result, we were professional and pulled it together today, but I think on our part it has been a very disappointing result” he said bluntly.
Madden said “my horse might have done with a class before (yesterday’s competition). I thought he jumped very well but he was a bit tense which is the way he is when he’s on form – that said I think it was a light four faults I had”.
While the Americans were combining the delight of their win today with their puzzlement about where it all went wrong yesterday, there was nothing but positivity oozing from the Australians at this afternoon’s post-competition press conference. They came out of nowhere to test the very best, and they have every intention of building on that.
Stevie Macken, son of Irish jumping legend Eddie Macken, has been Chef d’Equipe for the side for the last 12 months and they have have really started to gel as a team during that time. “The four riders that are here really pulled together – we wanted to be jumping tomorrow rather than today – and to beat the US would have been the icing on the cake. We aspire to be better but we are very happy with today’s result” he said.
The Australians talked about their background and their horses this evening. “I’ve had Bella since he was six years old and we’ve grown together” said Amy Graham. “We moved one year ago to Normandy. I’m building my own professional training facility there. To be part of this team is a great experience for me, and now we are planning our road to Rio!” she added.
Julia Hargreaves moved her base to Bonn in Germany over the last few weeks. She was delighted with her performance with Vedor. “I’ve had him since he was seven and I’m very lucky to have him because he looks after me every time I go in the ring!” she said.
Jamie Kermond moved from Australia to Europe in January of this year, having just won the Australian FEI World Cup™ Jumping series and the Australian National Championship title. “I started riding Quite Cassini just before Christmas so he is quite a new mount for me” he explained. ”I came over (to Europe) and we went to the World Cup Final. I knew it was going to be a little bit much at that time but it was great experience and the horse is just getting better and better. We are planning to stay here for the next two years and then probably go back to Sydney” said the rider who put in a really impressive performance in Normandy last month.
James Patterson-Robinson has been based in Europe for the last 14 years. “I work at Ger Poels dealing stable in Holland, and Boris is quite a new horse for me, I’ve had him since April” he explained. “I was in the WEG team with him and it didn’t go according to plan so I’m very happy that he jumped so well today” he said.
Stevie Macken pointed out that the format for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final has created great sport. “Starting on a zero score for both finals, today and tomorrow, adds to the suspense” he said. And he complimented Santiago Varela for the job he has done so far this week. “The course builder deserves a huge amount of respect because it is his job to create these exciting competitions” he pointed out.
Tomorrow Mr Varela will present one more jumping test to decide the fate of the 2014 Furusiyya trophy.
1. USA 0 faults in second round jump-off: Rothchild (McLain Ward) 0/0 40.18, Royce (Margie Engle) 1, Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 8/0/ 44.76, Cortes C (Beezie Madden) 0/0 44.22.
2. Australia 8 faults in second round jump-off: Quite Cassini (Jamie Kermond) 1/0 44.03, Boris lll (James Paterson-Robinson) 0/8 45.21, Vedor (Julia Hargreaves) 1, Bella Baloubet (Amy Graham) 0/0 44.02.
3. France 12 faults: Nayana (Penelope Leprevost) 4, Quartz Rouge (Jerome Hurel) 4, Qlassic Bois Margot (Simon Delestre) 4, Estoy Aqui de Muze HDC (Kevin Staut) 4.
4. Spain 14 faults: Nuage Bleu (Pilar Cordon) 5, Prunella D’Ariel (Paola Amilibia Puig) 5, Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot (Eduardo Alvarez Aznar) 5, Action-Breaker (Sergio Moya) 4.
5. Venezuela 17 faults: Caballito (Andres Rodriguez) 5, Hardrock Z (Emanuel Andrade) 11, Antares (Pablo Barrios) 1, G&C Quitador Rochelais (Gustavo Arroyo) 21.
6. Qatar 21 faults: Eurocommerce California (Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani) 5, Come Soon (Faleh Suwayed Al Ajami) 12, Victoria (Basem Hassan Mohammed) 4.
Full result here.