The French will be first to go as the final leg of the FEI Nations’ Cup™ 2012 gets underway at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in Dublin, Ireland tomorrow afternoon. Monsoon-like weather conditions descended on the Irish capital city yesterday making conditions very difficult for competitors on the opening-day. But the sun returned this morning, and all is set for an exciting conclusion to the eight-leg, eight-nation annual series.
The draw was conducted by FEI Jumping Director, John Roche, and Dublin Horse Show Show Director Pat Hanley. And there was a big smile on the face of Irish Chef d’Equipe, Robert Splaine, when his side got the coveted last-to-go spot. “The time-allowed is likely to be tight and the course will be technical, so its always helpful to be drawn last. Running late gives us time to assess things” the Irishman pointed out.
The order-of-go for tomorrow’s competition is: 1, France; 2, Sweden; 3, Belgium; 4, Great Britain; 5, The Netherlands; 6, Switzerland; 7, Germany; 8, Ireland.
A Team that Can Win
Splaine says he believes he has “a team that can win”, but Great Britain’s Rob Hoekstra was having none of that during today’s Draw Press Conference. The man who led the London 2012 Olympic Games host nation to jumping team gold just over a week ago pointed out, “we are returning to defend the trophy, and to do the favour that Ireland did to us at Hickstead!” Great Britain won the Aga Khan Cup in a two-way third-round showdown in Dublin 12 months ago, but the Irish turned the tables on them when coming out on top at the British fixture last month, so the age-old rivalry rumbles on.
And Hoekstra added with conviction, “we have a strong team here”.
With so many nations battling to improve their position, as all the countries placed from third to eighth on the FEI Nations Cup™ leaderboard are bunched so closely together, tomorrow’s battle is likely to be intense. Germany holds a strong 10-point lead over France at the head of the league table.
Belgian Chef d’Equipe, Philippe Guerdat, said he had to make some last-minute changes to his side but that he expects them to put up a big fight. He also talked about how it feels now that his son, Steve Guerdat who will compete on the Swiss team tomorrow, is an Olympic gold medallist – “I’m very proud of him”, he said. And he mentioned that he competed at Dublin Horse Show himself – “when I was 20, and that was 40 years ago, it has always been one of the best shows in the world” he said.
The Netherlands’ Rob Ehrens said that Olympic team silver medallist Jur Vrieling will partner the horse with which he competed at the Games. “He will ride Bubalu, Marc Houtzager will ride Opium, Jeroen Dubbeldam will compete with Quality Time – he missed London but is in great shape – and we also have Albert Voorn who has a lot of experience”. Asked about his side’s chances of winning tomorrow he said, “I have a strong team on paper, but I’ve had that many times before and it didn’t work out! It is sport, it goes with the flow of the day and you need the wind in your back if you want to have a marvellous win like we had here two years ago. It was the best feeling ever that day when we won the Aga Khan Cup!” he enthused. On reflection he added, “well to win two silver medals in London was the best day, but to win here is very special because Dublin is world-famous and I hope we can do it again!”.
It was a surprise when Germany failed to qualify for the closing stages of the team competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games. German Chef d’Equipe, Sonke Sonksen said today, “you always need the luck, and we didn’t have any in London. I hope we will be back on track tomorrow”. Sweden’s Sylve Soderstrand has Daniel Zetterman in his squad. “He jumped double-clear here two years ago and I hope he will repeat that” he said. He described the 2012 FEI Nations Cup™ season as “up and down for everyone – except the Germans!”.
Not Our Favourite Place
Switzerland’s Urs Groenig said, “Dublin is not our favourite place, we have not had good results here in the past”, but he is the only team manager sending out the reigning individual Olympic champion tomorrow when Steve Guerdat will be joined by Pius Schwizer, Janika Sprunger and Arthur da Silva. The latter, who formerly competed for Brazil, put his name in the frame when winning yesterday’s main class with the 17 year old veteran La Toya, and Guerdat moved into top gear this afternoon when cruising into the winner’s enclosure with Jalisca Solier.
The French also failed to make the cut in the team competition in London, but they have their big guns in action again this week and Kevin Staut, Penelope Leprevost, Jerome Hurel and Roger-Yves Bost can be expected to make their mark.
Pat Hanley, Show Director at Dublin, said that “the culmination of the FEI Nations Cup™ series here in Dublin is special for us. Equestrian is in our DNA in this country, and we hugely enjoy the top-level sport this series has brought to us. For the last 10 years we have been sold out on Nations Cup day, and Cian O’Connor’s bronze medal at London has moved the excitement up to another level ahead of tomorrow”, he added.
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche, said Dublin Horse Show offers “some of the best facilities in the world. We had incredible rain yesterday but the condition of the footing today is amazing. There have been many improvements to this show in recent years and the footing is one of them. The sport of jumping started in Dublin in 1864 when they held a High Leap and a Long Leap competition. Things have progressed a bit since then”, he added with a smile, “and the London 2012 Olympic Games showcased equestrianism in a way that will promote and popularise our sport for years to come. I know we can look forward to a great day tomorrow” he concluded.