Team Great Britain clinched victory in the second leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Europe Division 1 in La Baule, France today. In a cliff-hanger of a competition it fell to one of the most popular riders on the international circuit, Michael Whitaker, to seal the result. He endured a heart-stopping first effort with the stallion Cassionato (Cassini I x Quidam de Revel), but when it comes to grit and determination the world-famous Whitaker family are never found lacking. And the 55-year-old was the hero of the day when bringing the spectacular grey home with just two time faults at his second attempt to claim pole position for his country.
British pathfinder Joe Clee showed his class when producing one of four double-clears with Utamaro D’Ecaussines (Diamant de Semilly x Quidam de Revel), and with just four faults from Spencer Roe and Wonder Why (Padinus x Laurin) and five from Guy Williams and Titus (Lancelot x Rex Magna), British Chef d’Equipe Di Lampard had every reason to be pleased.
The host nation lined up a close second ahead of Ireland in third, while Spain and Belgium shared fourth spot, Brazil and Switzerland shared sixth and the defending Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup champions from The Netherlands finished last of the eight competing nations.
French course designer, Frederic Cottier, tested jumping and pace over his 12-fence track, and, at this early stage in the outdoor season, many horses grew in confidence in the second round. Faults were well-distributed, but the bending line after the double at fence four often led to a falling pole at the following oxer. The time-allowed of 75 seconds was influential, and although the distance from the preceding oxer at eight required some serious decision-making in order to leave the following triple combination intact, it was the last three fences that required most concentration.
The oxer at 10 brought horses towards the in-gate, and several decided that they were quite ready to go home at this stage, leaving their riders working very hard indeed to complete the course.
As the second round began, the Dutch, already lying last with 22 faults on the board, had their chances further undermined by elimination for pathfinder Gert Jan Bruggink. In stark contrast however, Jean-Maurice Bonneau’s Brazilian side, carrying 20 faults, were transformed by the second of two clear rounds from Pedro Veniss and foot-perfect runs from the exciting Karina Johannpeter and Felipe Amaral. And the Spanish also rallied brilliantly, adding nothing to their 13-fault scoreline when Manuel Fernandez Saro and Eduardo Alvarez Aznar were fault-free this time out and Sergio Alvarez Moya went double-clear with Carlo 273 (Contender x Cascavelle).
The Swiss however were forced to add eight faults when Steve Guerdat retired his Olympic ride, Nino des Buissonnets (Kannan x Narcos II), who was having an off day, and the real battle was played out between the French, Irish, Belgians and British.
Lying fourth on nine faults, the hosts piled on the pressure when Jerome Hurel’s single time-fault was the discard as Nicolas Delmotte and Number One D’Iso Un Prince (Baloubet du Rouet x Si Tu Viens) produced the second part of their double-clear and both Simon Delestre on Ryan des Hayettes (Hugo Gesmeray x Ryon d’Anzex) and anchorman Kevin Staut on Reveur de Hurtebise HDC (Kashmir van’t Schuttershof x Caprisieux des Six Sences) returned penalty-free.
The Irish were just a single fault ahead as round two began, and looked set to hold their advantage if their young super-star, Bertram Allen, and his brilliant mare Molly Malone V (Kannan x Cavalier) could leave the course intact once again. But two mistakes in the triple combination ensured the single error posted by Greg Broderick and the promising MHS Going Global (Quidam Junior I x Cavalier Royale) had to be added, allowing the French to move ahead.
Meanwhile the Belgians, carrying four faults, lost their grip on runner-up spot when adding nine more to their tally. Jos Verlooy and Gregory Wathelet followed first-round clears with single errors, and those had to be added to Niels Bruynseels‘ single time-fault when Pieter Devos had two fences down.
Clee’s second clear round seemed to set the British up for success, but when both Roe and Williams‘ geldings both lowered the penultimate vertical, the pressure was all on Michael Whitaker’s shoulders, because if he had a fence down then his side would be forced into a jump-off with the French. Like Williams, he put only a single time fault on the board first time out, but what a first tour of the arena he had, drawing gasps of disbelief from the crowd as he coaxed the big-jumping grey through some extraordinarily dramatic moments including a one-handed ride over the open water when the stallion backed right off it. He had hardly any contact on the right rein approaching the following oxer, but although he joked afterwards that he looked “a bit like John Wayne” going around the track, it was in fact a work of sheer genius produced by a masterful horseman. Few others could have returned the same result.
Fortunately his second effort was considerably less of an effort, and, knowing he could play with the time but not the fences, his two time-faults were plenty good enough to secure the win.
Typically modest, he said afterwards, “I was in a winning position every time I went in, so it was pretty comfortable for me. Sure, I had to do my part - I felt a bit like John Wayne at that water - but it all worked out and I am delighted to be part of this team!” And as Clee pointed out, “the team spirit is high, and Di is doing a great job!”
British Chef d’Equipe, Di Lampard, said she is “lucky to have so many good riders to choose from. It makes it difficult sometimes, but competition is good for everybody, it’s healthy and it helps me make my choices.” Youngest member of the winning side, 22-year-old Roe, said “it felt really good today. My first round was perfect, the second not as good but you also get to learn when you’re making mistakes, and it was my mistake, not my horse’s”, he insisted.
Clee joked about Whitaker’s trick-riding antics in the first round. “I think Michael was just showing off really, the rest of us were jumping pretty good so he just wanted to get some attention for himself!”
From a French perspective, this was a big day too. Chef d’Equipe, Philippe Guerdat said this evening, “Our first objective of the season was to get qualifying points for the Furusiyya Final in Barcelona. We’ve done that, and unless we have really bad results in the last two events, we’re pretty much certain to have secured our spot. Our second objective is to prepare for the FEI European Championships in Aachen” he explained.
The British weren’t chasing Furusiyya points today, but they will be when they arrive at Piazza di Siena in Rome, Italy next week. And there is just a possibility that the entire British side could consist of members of the Whitaker family next Friday, as five of them, including Michael, have been selected for the third leg of the Europe Division 1 League.
Source: Press release from the FEI written by Louise Parkes
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