On another day of fabulous sport, the host nation of Hungary claimed pole position at the sixth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 2 League in Budapest. It was hard-won however, with the result decided in a nail-biting jump-off against the clock.
In the closest of contests, Team Italy’s Luca Marziani left the door open with a fence down in the third-round decider, only for Hungary’s Gabor Szabo to also make a mistake. But as his team-mate, Mariann Hugyecz, said this evening, “Gabor was an absolute genius! The way he took the last fence was breathtaking, and we thank him so much as a team and as a country tonight for winning it for us!”
Denmark finished a fairly distant third with a final total of 12 faults while Norway, Austria, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and Luxembourg filled the remaining top-eight places. With a massive field of 14 countries it was a long, tough competition, but the spectators were rewarded with a truly thrilling finale. And from a Hungarian perspective it was an historic moment, as it is 18 years since the last home-side victory in their hallowed Budapest arena.
German course designer, Werner Deeg, measured the test to perfection with a track that didn’t over-stretch even the least experienced partnerships, but which required plenty of jump from the horses and good judgement from their riders.
The wall adorned with piano keys at fence four stood at the maximum 1.60m metres, but the 11-year-old stallion, Heart Stealer, was the only one to throw in a major objection when stopping there for Slovenia’s Tomaz Laufer. The following double claimed a number of victims as did the triple combination at fence seven, but it was the run over the last five fences on the 12-fence track that mainly took a toll. The four-stride distance after the oxer at eight came up short for many, leading to mistakes at the following 1.60m vertical, and the 1.55m Furusiyya vertical at 10 also saw plenty of action with many horses arriving too deep to this one.
The last two oxers also took their toll, but 13 horse-and-rider combinations managed to leave all the timber intact first time out, and when three of these were from the host nation then the Hungarians already had the bit between their teeth at the halfway stage on a zero scoreline.
The Italians and Danes were stalking them with just four faults apiece as the second round began. Only the top eight nations would make the cut, so they were joined by Norway with eight, Poland and Russia with nine and Austria and Switzerland who had already racked up 12 faults each. Team Luxembourg missed out by the narrowest of margins when posting 13 first-round faults and had to watch the remainder of the competition from the sidelines along with the riders from Slovakia, Finland, Slovenia and Bulgaria who finished the day in that order.
As the second round evolved, the Danes began to slip despite another clear from openers Soren Pedersen and Tailormade Chaloubet when Rikke Haastrup’s Charleston K clipped the bogey Furusiyya vertical at fence 10 and Torben Frandsen suffered that most irritating fault of all, a mistake at the very first fence in an otherwise copybook round with Highrise.
The Italians also looked threatened when Luca Moneta’s Connery had a second four-fault result, but when Paolo Paini’s double-clear with Ottava Meraviglia di Ca’ San G was followed by a foot-perfect run from Paolo Cannizzaro’s handsome grey mare, Cinnamon, then that began to pile the pressure on the leading Hungarians. Because although Mariann Hugyecz and the sensational Chacco Boy also produced one of the seven double-clears of the competition when first to return to the arena for the host nation, Gabor Szabor’s Timpex Bolcsesz hit the dreaded fence 10.
Balazs Horvath and the impressive stallion Zordon however pulled it back with the second part of their exciting double-clear performance, so the ball was now back in the Italian court as the last-line riders took their turn in round two. And Luca Marziani’s nine-year-old stallion Tokyo du Soleil didn’t flinch, producing his second clear of the day to ensure that his side would add nothing to their first-round four-fault tally.
As Hungarian anchorman, Laszlo Toth, entered the arena for the second time you could hear a pin drop. A clear round would clinch the win on a zero score, but a pole down would leave the host nation on level pegging with their Italian rivals while two mistakes would see them defeated. Toth and his 13-year-old grey gelding were looking good until clipping the first element of the triple combination, and the crowd held their breath until he crossed the line with nothing further to add. It wasn’t over yet, but it was impossible to know how it might play itself out in a third-round showdown.
With the jump-off track reduced to eight jumping efforts and with a long run to the last, the bogey Furusiyya vertical, it was Marziani who set the target with a pole off the penultimate oxer in a time of 42.79 seconds. It wasn’t super-fast, and Hungary’s Szabo admitted afterwards that he really put his foot to the floor once he made a mistake himself at the first of the two remaining elements of the triple combination - four fences from home.
“After Luca made a fault I decided to ride for a clear round while paying attention to the time as well, but I had to change my plan quickly once I faulted myself!” the 24-year-old rider explained tonight. And he knew he nearly over-did it - “maybe I risked too much, because my time was more than three seconds quicker!” he said, having cleared that difficult final vertical at an incredible angle in his race against the clock.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this win here in Budapest!” said team-mate Mariann Hugyecz who was delighted with the performance of her 11-year-old gelding Chacco Boy. “He’s fantastic. I qualified for the Gothenburg World Cup Final with him this year, and that was his first really big championship and he handled it really well. We finished in the top 30 there and I was very happy and said that I believe this is just the beginning for this horse! He is ready now for the highest level of top sport - that is where he belongs!”
Anyone who has watched the 32-year-old rider bringing this horse along for the last few years will have witnessed the strong bond between the two of them. “I’ve had him since he was four years old and nobody else has ever ridden him. I taught him from the time he first jumped an 80cms course and I know him inside out and he knows me as well. His mother was my first Grand Prix horse - she taught me everything, and now I teach Chacco!” Hugyecz added.
She said the closing stages of today’s competition were “very intense!” and that Gabor Szabo did a great job to secure the victory. “But in the end it came down to great team-work, and we are all very proud!” Today’s result has boosted Hungary to sixth place in the European Division 2 rankings ahead of the final leg of this league at Gijon (ESP) at the end of August.
Source: FEI Press release by Louise Parkes
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