On a tough afternoon of top-class competition, Team Belgium produced a pugnacious performance to win the fourth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 Europe Division 1 League in St Gallen in Switzerland. Lying third at the halfway stage they fought back with three fabulous second-round clears to pin the host nation into runner-up spot ahead of Ireland in third.
Like the Swiss, Team Germany were also chasing their first Furusiyya points of the season and sent out their big guns in an attempt to maximise their chances. But in the end they had to settle for fourth spot ahead of France in fifth, while the high-scoring British, Italian and Dutch sides filled the last three places.
Today’s result confirms the growing strength of Dirk Demeersman’s Belgian side, and it was all the more memorable for the fact that this was only the second Nations Cup victory ever recorded by a Belgian team on Swiss soil. Their single previous success was 81 years ago - at Geneva in 1934.
The course designed by Switzerland’s Gerard Lachat looked deceptively elementary when Germany’s Hans-Dieter Dreher and Embassy ll (Escudo I x Silvio I) produced a copybook tour as the first pair into the arena. But although eight other horse-and-rider combinations would also find the key at their first attempt, it presented a very big test.
Even the opening vertical took its toll, while the sweeping left-hand turn to the big oxer at fence four proved troublesome, yet most managed to leave the following Longines triple combination - oxer, vertical, vertical - intact. Apart from the fence dimensions, horse-and-rider combinations were also challenged by the stride distances at various points on the course, and many found it difficult to leave the flimsy white planks up after crossing the 4-metre-wide open water at fence seven whether they went on six or seven strides. The double at fence nine was located just past the entrance to the arena and reigning European champion, Roger Yves Bost, had to sit out some histrionics from Pegase du Murier (Adelfos x Le Toto de Semilly) here before also hitting the following wide oxer for a first-round total of 11 faults.
But on a day of great horsemanship, the Frenchman and his big-jumping grey stallion cruised home next time out, while Italy’s Emilio Bicocchi was greeted by loud cheers from the crowd when he persuaded the nine-year-old Ares (Ephebe F.Ever x Rebel) to take on the open water which the horse had stalwartly refused to do in round one. The last two fences also proved influential, the penultimate tall rustic vertical hitting the floor on numerous occasions.
It was the Irish who held the whip hand at the halfway stage on a zero score after clears from Shane Breen with Golden Hawk (Vigo d’Arsouilles x Chin Chin), Greg Broderick riding MHS Going Global (Quidam Junior I x Cavalier Royale) and Bertram Allen with Romanov (Heartbreaker x Fedor), but the Swiss were hot on their heels carrying just four faults, followed by the Belgians and British, each carrying nine. The German team were just one fault further adrift, while France went into round two carrying 12 and Italy carried 24. But The Netherlands’ day was already done, with a massive 38 faults already posted.
The British slipped right out of contention when adding 20 more to their scoreline, but second-round clears from Christian Ahlmann and Epleaser van T Heike (For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve) and Ludger Beerbaum riding Chiara (Contender x Coronado) meant Germany added just four from Mario Stevens Brooklyn 17 (Balou du Rouet x Arpeggio) which stabilised their position. However the real battle was played out between the Irish, Swiss and Belgians - the latter simply proving too good for the rest at the end of the day.
Clears from Pieter Devos riding Dream of India Greenfield (Gem Of India x Night And Day) and Gregory Wathelet aboard Conrad de Hus (by Con Air) and the second part of a double-clear for Jos Verlooy and Domino (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Azur) cemented their scoreline at those nine first-round faults - Niels Bruynseels’ single time-penalty with Pommeau du Heup (Helios de la Cour II x Thurin) providing their discard. Switzerland’s Romain Duguet and Martin Fuchs also jumped double-clear, but when Steve Guerdat’s Olympic champion, Nino des Buissonnets (Kannan x Narcos II), lowered the second element of the double at nine and the following oxer at 10 then his score had to be counted because Pius Schwizer’s anchor round with Amira (Air Jordan Z x Chellano Z) went seriously awry after they mis-timed their jump at the open water.
Meanwhile the Irish lost their grip with double-errors for Breen and Allen and five faults from O’Connor. Broderick’s double-clear however ensured they could drop one of the eight-fault results to finish on a total of 13, and slot in behind the Swiss who rounded up their score at 12.
The winning Belgians rallied brilliantly second time out, and Chef d’Equipe, Dirk Demeersman, was asked afterwards what he had said to his riders during the half-time break. “I said we are strong, so let’s show it that we are strong, and they showed it! We hoped to finish in the top three, so first is even better!” he replied. “The goal was to stay in Division 1 and to qualify for Barcelona (Furusiyya Final). I want to congratulate Gerard Lachat (course designer). I thought it was a super course today”, he added.
Pieter Devos said he was a little disappointed with his first-round effort - “my horse jumped well, but I made a mistake” he insisted. He came out filled with resolve after the half-time team-talk however. “I really wanted to go clear in the second round. We have a very good team spirit and we wanted to come back good and we did!” he said.
For 19-year-old Jos Verlooy, this was a result to savour. The super-talented young Belgian has produced the 12-year-old Belgian-bred gelding Domino since he was a five-year-old and has achieved great things with him. Today’s double-clear that helped his team to victory made him very proud. “Domino was great - as always. This course was tough, so the double-clear felt extra good!”, he said.
Gregory Wathelet said he wasn’t sure why he faulted twice in the first round. “Maybe I was a little bit too relaxed. But Dirk asked me to change a few things and I did, so the second round was great!” he said.
Source: FEI press release.
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