In a competition containing all the ingredients of drama and surprise that combine to make the sport of team Jumping such a crowd-pleaser, Belgium came out on top in the penultimate leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup 2015 Europe Division 1 League at Hickstead this afternoon. It took a three-way jump-off to decide the result, and hero of the day at the iconic British venue was Pieter Devos who, last to go against the clock, showed exactly why Belgian Chef d’Equipe, Dirk Demeersman, placed his faith in him.
Janika Sprunger claimed runner-up spot for Switzerland, while an uncharacteristic mistake from Beezie Madden and Cortes C saw the USA having to settle for third. With five teams fighting for points towards the Furusiyya 2015 Final in Barcelona, Spain in September there was a lot hanging in the balance and today’s result has rocketed Belgium to the head of the leaderboard, demoting France to second ahead of the defending champions from The Netherlands in third. And when the Europe Division 1 League draws to a close in Dublin, Ireland next Friday it will be the host nation that will be feeling the heat along with Italy, as they are both languishing at the bottom of the table from which only seven of the 10 nations will make the cut to the Spanish finale.
The Italians were really relying on a good result today to boost their chances, but they had no joy when finishing last. Hampered by elimination for Giulia Martinengo when her mare, Fixdesign Funke van‘t Heike, stalwartly refused to take on the four-metre-wide open water in either round, they racked up 37 faults to stay well out of the frame. But although Patrice Delaveau was also eliminated first time out when Lacrimoso 3 HDC took a similar dislike to it, three second-round clears from his team-mates ensured fourth place for France.
British course designer, Kelvin Bywater, set them a track without a triple combination but including three doubles, all of which proved influential. The white gate at fence three claimed a number of scalps, while the top pole of Longines vertical three from home often threatened an otherwise clear run. The time-allowed of 80 seconds also played its part, but the Belgians and Swiss already had the bit between their teeth when posting zero scores first time out. The USA carried just four faults into round two while the French carried five and the host nation had six on the board. The British added five more in the second round which allowed Germany to overtake them for fifth place in the final analysis, but the real battle was played out between the Belgians, Swiss and Americans.
As round two drew to a close, the Swiss looked set to clinch a clean victory when both Paul Estermannn (Castlefield Eclipse) and Janika Sprunger (Bonne Chance CW) posted a second clear. Because if anchorman Pius Schwizer could leave the course intact then the single error from Martin Fuchs and Clooney could be discarded to leave them with nothing to add to their clean sheet to date. But Schwizer didn’t jump his nine-year-old stallion Giovanni van Het Scheefkasteel when his team-mates were all fault-free in the first round, and when the pair returned with 15 on the board it moved the Swiss onto a four-fault tally.
The Americans meanwhile jumped into contention when Laura Kraut was clear second time out with Nouvelle and Todd Minikus (Babalou 41) and Beezie Madden (Cortes C) completed two more of the nine double-clears on the day. This left them carrying just Kraut’s single first-round error, Charlie Jayne (Chilli RZ) providing the discard score in both rounds.
And the Belgians began to look vulnerable when Devos led the way second time out with 12 faults. However clears from Judy-Ann Melchior (As Cold as Ice Z) and Olivier Philippaerts (H&M Armstrong van de Kapel) kept them in the game despite the fact that Gudrun Pateet (Sea Coast Pebles Z) left the massive Hickstead planks on the floor.
With all three sides now level on a four-fault total it would take a jump-off to separate them.
Madden was first to go, but she left the door wide open when her superstar gelding hit the first element of the double, the third fence on the revised track, and then ground to a halt in front of the second element to finish with eight faults in 55.32 seconds. Sprunger and her exciting new nine-year-old mare Bonne Chance set the first real target when galloping home in 44.17 seconds, but Devos smashed that when breaking the timers in 42.60 to clinch the win.
His choice for the jump-off was a real puzzle for most onlookers, because the 29-year-old had collected 16 faults over the first two rounds with his 14-year-old grey gelding. But Dirk Demeersman knew exactly what he was doing. “I chose Peter and Dylano because I really believe in the combination. The second round today was quite unusual for them, and I was quite sure he would do something good - the horse is very careful and Pieter was really motivated to improve on his second round” the Belgian team manager explained.
“I was really disappointed after my second round and really, really wanted to ride the jump-off to end on a good note. And thanks to my team I was able to do that!”, Devos said. “I didn’t see Janika’s round, but Dirk said to just go for it. We had the same scenario in Mannheim and ended second because I was not fast enough so I didn’t want that again! I’m very relieved!” he added. He admitted his decision to use a hackamore (bitless) bridle in the second round was a mistake. “I had no control, and that’s why we had all those fences down” he explained. Dylano was competing in only his third show after sustaining an injury at the Belgian rider’s local fixture in Lummen in June. “I have a very good feeling about this horse” he said of the gelding he has had for the last nine months.
This was Belgium’s first time to put their name on the coveted Hickstead trophy, and team manager Demeersman was more than pleased. “Finally we have won here! When I came as a rider I had many disasters - I’m very happy for the win and it’s great that we are now qualified for Barcelona, that was our goal” he said.
Source: FEI press release written by Louise Parkes
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