Four fabulous clears from Henk Nooren’s French side put them clearly at the head of affairs in the first round of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2022 at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain today where Ireland finished second ahead of the hosts from Spain in third.
The top eight nations have qualified for Sunday’s title-decider in which they will all start again on a zero score, and the remaining countries that have made the cut are Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain.
For Team Brazil it was an agonising afternoon when they finished level with the British on a final scoreline of 12 faults, because when the combined times of the three best riders on each team were taken into account they were squeezed down to ninth place by a tiny margin of just 0.4 seconds. Along with all the other nations that finished below eighth today they have the option to now compete in Saturday night’s Longines Challenge Cup.
Meanwhile the battle for the single qualifying spot on offer for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will be a two-way affair between Belgium and Switzerland on Sunday. The French are automatically qualified and the Spanish are not eligible because they are competing as hosts this week without qualifying for the Longines Final. Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain all booked their tickets to Paris at the ECCO FEI World Championships 2022 in Herning, Denmark last month.
The French finished sixth in Herning with the same team of horses and riders that came out on top this afternoon. Simon Delestre and the electric little 10-year-old gelding Cayman Jolly Jumper led the way, storming around to set it up for the rest of their team who didn’t disappoint. Gregory Cottard and his ever-reliable 11-year-old mare Bibici followed suit before Julien Epaillard and Caracole de la Roque wrapped it up. So when fourth-line rider, Kevin Staut, also produced a copybook performance from Scuderia 1918 Viking D’La Rousserie it was just the icing on the French cake.
Delestre said the French horses have blossomed over the last few weeks. “We were just saying how much they have grown since Herning. They are super quality horses with a good mind, they are fighters and really modern horses and they proved that again today. My horse has had an amazing Nations Cup season this year. He’s never easy but the way he jumps really helps. He’s always improving and I think he’s getting more confidence in himself and also in me. Today I had a really nice warm-up and in the arena the rideability is always better”, he pointed out.
Olympic course designer, Spain’s Santiago Varela, set them a 14-fence track with 17 jumping efforts including open water at five, a double at fence nine and a triple combination at fence 13 leading to the final vertical with a plank on top. It was no walk in the park but 16 of the 51 starters left all the poles in place and came home inside the time-allowed of 81 seconds. And two of those clears, from Trevor Breen with Highland President and Jack Ryan with BBS McGregor, secured second spot for the Irish who counted only the opening four faults, at the very first fence, for Andrew Bourns and Sea Top Blue.
At just 21 years old, Ryan is a prodigious talent and he was delighted with his result. “It was fantastic, Andrew was very unlucky at the first jump and the horse jumped amazing after that, and then Trevor went clear. There was a little bit of pressure because today is all about qualifying for Sunday and to get the clear round but I think we’re in now so it’s very good. McGregor is very special, my mother bred him and he’s been a fantastic horse. He’s a great character and everything he’s been asked to do so far he’s done it with ease. He has a big heart and every time he goes in the ring he wants to do his best and you can’t ask for more than that!”, he said.
The Spanish may not have qualified for this year’s Final but they are giving a great account of themselves so far.
“We were aiming to be in Sunday’s Final so we couldn’t be more happy!”, said Eduardo Alvarez Aznar whose last-to-go clear round with Full Option Van’t Zand sealed his country’s result. “We don’t have the strongest team on paper but we have a good string of horses and the riders are all fighters so we are always going to try, and on Sunday it’s one day, one round and anything can happen! Manuel (Fernandez Sara) had an unlucky time fault with Jarlin de Torres and Mariano (Martinez Bastida) had the first fence down (with Delano v. Wijnhoeve Z) and I thought it would be a long trip to the end but he fought. Alberto (Marquez Galobardes) had three down but the horse (Aldo du Manoir) got tired at the end and needs a bit more experience at this level maybe”, he explained.
Di Lampard’s young British team just squeezed into that last place for Sunday’s finale and the clear posted by 22-year-old Joe Stockdale with Equine American Cacharel proved pivotal.
“The mare jumped fantastic, she went in there and felt very comfortable, and I sort of knew even from jumping the first three fences that she was on good form. Since Herning she had a few weeks of downtime, a couple of weeks in the field, and then I’ve slowly built her up with work at home and then she did two shows, one week jumping very small just getting her back in the ring and relaxed, and then a Grand Prix the second week in Sentower in Belgium where she finished fourth. For some horses switching them off for a few weeks and switching them back on is tricky but she took to it well. You can tell when she’s ready because she gets a bit bored in the field!”, he said.
It’s a wide-open book again on Sunday when the eight teams return to battle once more for the coveted Longines title. The French last came out on top in Barcelona in 2013 and they look set to be the ones to beat again this time around, so don’t miss a hoofbeat…..