It wasn’t all smooth sailing as the Dutch swept to victory in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Sweden at Falsterbo (SWE). Reduced to a three-man team following first-round drama for Michel Hendrix (31) and Baileys, and only making the cut into the jump-off after a successful appeal against four faults at the water for Maikel van der Vleuten (30) and IDI Utopia in round two, it might well have been too much to hope for that it would all come right in the end.
But when you combine great leadership with passion and pride, and you add in the quality of a partnership like Johnny Pals (36) and his super-stallion Chat Botte du Ruisseau Z who produced no less than three spectacular clears, and the final one the quickest of all, then you have all the ingredients for an epic afternoon of sport.
You don’t get days like this too often, and even the Irish who finished second, the Swedes who lined up in third and the fourth-placed Italians couldn’t argue with that. It was a Nations Cup classic, with just fractions of seconds deciding the result.
“Today was an absolute thriller,” said Rob Ehrens, Chef d’Equipe, Team Netherlands.
It was the triple combination at fence five that led to the withdrawal of The Netherlands’ Hendrix when Baileys stopped and then tipped off his rider when they tackled it again. The Irish, hot favourites to win after a spectacular week of success at the Swedish fixture, held the lead on a zero score at the halfway stage while the Dutch, Swedes and Italians lay close behind with four faults apiece.
When Bertram Allen’s Gin Chin van Het Lindenhof put a foot in the water second time out and then Mark McAuley’s Utchan de Belheme left a pole on the floor the Irish advantage began to slip however. But clears from Daniel Coyle (Cita) and Paul O’Shea (Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu) steadied the ship and they went into a four-way jump-off with Italy, Sweden and eventually The Netherlands, all on a two-round four-fault tally.
First against the clock was Italy’s Luca Marziani, setting the target when clear in 42.71 seconds with Tokyo du Soleil, but the Swedish crowd went wild with delight when their hero, Henrik von Eckermann, steered Toveks Mary Lou through the timers more than a second faster in 41.52. As Johnny Pals set off you could hear a pin drop. “Rob said – you go for it – so I went for it!” said the Dutchman whose fabulous chestnut stallion jumped like a cat to put a time of 39.33 on the board. Last man in, Ireland’s Daniel Coyle gave it his best shot with Cita who broke the beam in 40.47 seconds for runner-up spot. But it was the Men in Orange, and the 2017 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ champions, who would stand top of the Falsterbo presentation podium for the second year in a row.
The exceptional team spirit of the Dutch has delivered a stream of success for many years now. Maikel van der Vleuten reflected that when he looked back on the story of the day and how it all fell into place. “Michel was a bit unlucky in the first round, his horse just wasn’t feeling it today but that’s why we are a team and we were still strong enough to do the job!” And as Jur Vrieling (48), who produced an all-important anchorman double-clear with VDL Glasgow v. Merelsnest NOP this afternoon pointed out, supporting your team-mates is at the core of Nations Cup Jumping. “I’ve had it before where I’ve gone wrong and others have helped, so I was happy today to be able to do my job this time around,” he pointed out.
And as for Johnny Pals, he couldn’t help but be thrilled with the sensational performance of his 10-year-old stallion who never looked like putting a foot wrong all day.
“His breeding is Casall and Darco and he’s the horse of a lifetime,” said Pals.
“He has so much scope and so careful! I have him two years and at the beginning he was a bit strong but he always had a great mentality,” he said of the horse who seems to have unbounded enthusiasm for his job.
And what now for the Dutch who have moved into sixth place on the Europe Division 1 leaderboard which is still headed by Belgium? “We have two more legs at Hickstead and Dublin left….we are going to try to beat the Belgians and win the League,” said Ehrens.