By Berry Pattison
Hot off their superb win at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy (FRA) just over a year ago, Spain continued its reign at the top of the Endurance world when Jaume Punti Dachs took individual honours and led the Spanish to team gold at the FEI European Endurance Championships 2015 in Samorin (SVK) on Saturday 12 September.
The Samorin Elements Resorts, a state-of-the-art, multi-sport facility covering over 100 hectares, hosted the biggest event on the 2015 Endurance calendar and saw competitors from 20 nations gathering to challenge for the title of European champion.
Marijke Visser (NED) and Laiza de Jalima, silver medallists at the Games in 2014, were back to see if they could climb to the top step of the podium this time round, but with other strong combinations such as Jean Philippe Frances (FRA) with Secret de Mon Coeur, and four of the five members from last year’s Spanish gold medal team, the bid for victory was never going to be easy.
This year’s Championships differed from the usual format seen in Endurance events of late with linear sections and a remote Vet Gate providing a logistical challenge for both crews and officials alike. Loop 1 followed the course of the Danube River north, skirting around the Slovakian capital Bratislava and, 40km from the start line, arriving at the first vet gate, nestled at the foot of the Little Carpathian Mountains.
Spain looked strong at this stage with all of their athletes within the top 10. Frances and Visser, along with three Hungarian competitors, were all within five minutes of leading rider Jordi Arboix Santacreu (ESP) aboard the 10-year-old bay gelding Aquiles.
The second loop was the toughest loop of all and climbed from 125 metres up to 550 metres and then descended back to the same vet gate, all within 33km. The difficulty of this section saw the leading speed of just under 23kph drop to 17.7kph. Visser (NED) took a 30-second lead over second-placed Frances (FRA) followed by the entire Spanish team, all of whom were less than three minutes behind the leading horse.
A surprising exit at Vet Gate 2 for Laurent Mosti (FRA) and Reve de Sauveterre meant France could only afford to lose one more team member if they were to hold on to a chance of a team medal. Belgium’s chances were severely hampered here when both Morgane Boulanger and Peter Bastijns failed to qualify for the third loop.
From the remote Vet Gate, athletes retraced their steps along the 40km stretch of the River Danube and back to the Samorin Elements Resort. Top 10 placings remained pretty much unchanged over loops three and four, but the race for team placings were dashed for Belgium, Poland, Norway and Hungary following the high drop out rate at Vet Gate 3.
Jaume Punti Dachs (ESP) and the chestnut mare Ajayeb snatched the lead at the final Vet Gate and headed out on the last 20km loop with just three seconds to spare over Visser (NED). The pair were neck and neck throughout the final phase and a thrilling sprint finish saw Punti Dachs (ESP) take the top spot at an average speed of 22.58kph. Visser (NED) and the stunning 11-year-old grey mare Laiza de Jalima were just a second adrift and had to settle for silver once again.
Despite making up over a minute on the final loop, Alex Luque Moral (ESP) and Calandria PH finished outside the individual medals just two seconds behind bronze medallist Jean Philippe Frances with Secret de Mon Coeur. This means that Frances continues his perfect record and has completed every FEI event he has started.
Former World Champion Maria Alvarez Ponton (ESP) crossed the line aboard Selif de la Nie some 20 minutes later to secure team gold for Spain, but the Spanish weren’t finished yet and, just to really stamp their dominance on the competition, sixth place also went to a Spanish athlete, Javier Cervera Sanchez-Arnedo with his striking 13-year-old gelding Strawblade.
A total team time of 22:42:28, some 52 minutes slower than Spain, was enough for France to take silver, with Nina Lissarrague riding Keeshan D’Aillas and Enora Boulenger with Guarfao de Bozouls finishing 8th and 11th respectively.
As well as individual silver and team bronze with a total team time of 23:54:31, the Netherlands also went home with a 100% completion rate – the very first time this has been achieved in an Endurance Championship. Italy and host nation Slovakia were the only other nations to successfully complete with a team result.
With a starting field of 62 combinations and 37 finishers for a completion rate of just under 60%, the 2015 European Championships was a great example of excellent sportsmanship and team performance.
With team podium finishes at the last three Championships, and reigning current World and European Champions, Spain are looking like a formidable force and are surely tipped for great things at the 2016 World Championships.
“The Championships were a great success, held in a magnificent venue that delivered really great sport” FEI Director of Endurance Manuel Bandeira de Mello commented. “Congratulations to everyone involved, but particularly to all the medallists and all those that completed the Championships.”
Gold - Spain – 21:50:59
Jaume Punti Dachs/Ajayeb – 07:05:13/22.58kph
Alex Luque Moral/Calandria PH – 07:13:33/22.14kph
Maria Alvarez Ponton/Selif de la Nie – 07:32:13/20.11kph
(Javier Cervera Sanchez-Arnedo/Strawblade – 07:37:07*)
Silver - France – 22:42:28
Jean Philippe Frances/Secret de Mon Coeur – 07:13:31/22.14kph
Nina Lissarrague/Keeshan D’Aillas – 07:41:03/20.82kph
Enora Boulenger/Guarfao de Bozouls – 07:47:54/20.52kph
Bronze - Netherlands – 23:54:31
Marijke Visser/Laiza de Jalima - 07:05:14/22.58kph
Carmen Römer/Siglavy Bagdady Zeusz – 08:24:38/19.02kph
Melisa Huijsman/Kain – 08:24:39/19.02kph
(Iris van der Horst/Benthe – 08:36:46/18.58kph*)
(Jarmila Lakeman/Okkie – 08:44:16/18.31kph*)
* Scores not included within team score as only the top three are used for the total time
Gold - Jaume Punti Dachs/Ajayeb (ESP) – 07:05:13/22.58kph
Silver - Marijke Visser/Laiza de Jalima (NED) - 07:05:14/22.58kph
Bronze - Jean Philippe Frances/Secret de Mon Coeur – 07:13:31/22.14kph