The Irish sprang something of a surprise when a team of first-time horses, that also included a rider making his Nations Cup debut, beat superstar sides from the USA and Canada in the first leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup 2015 series in Ocala, USA on Friday.
In a competition that was very much a game of two halves, the winners stamped their authority in the early stages with four fantastic clears. And although they came under pressure second time out, they held on to win thanks to rock-solid performances from Kevin Babington and Conor Swail. It was left to Swail to clinch it in the closing stages, and he did it in considerable style with his attractive nine-year-old stallion, Grafton.
The USA had to settle for runner-up spot while Canada and Columbia shared third place. And, in the field of six nations, it was the Venezuelans who finished fifth ahead of Mexico in sixth place. However only Canada, USA and Mexico were chasing points in today’s class which was the first of three North America, Central America and Caribbean qualifiers for the Furusiyya Final at Barcelona in September. After today’s result, the Americans hold the lead going into the next round which will be held at Coapexpan, Mexico on 24 April.
New to the Furusiyya circuit, the HITS showground at Ocala drew great praise today, and course designer, Germany’s Martin Otto, didn’t over-stretch them with the height of the fences in the first round during which 16 of the 24 starters stayed clear.
The penultimate triple combination however was the bogey of the competition, and both the USA’s pathfinders, Lauren Hough with Ohlala, and their third-line partnership of Laura Kraut with her great grey, Cedric, ran into problems at this one to leave the host country looking vulnerable at the halfway stage.
There was a three-way tie at the top of the order as round two began with Canada, Columbia and Ireland on a zero score followed by Venezuela and USA carrying four each while Mexico already trailed with 12 on the board. And with 16 more to add, the Mexicans would make no progress.
Only six horse-and-rider combinations kept a clean sheet at their second attempt, and as round two got underway, home chances were not improved when Hough lowered the vertical at fence two. Georgina Bloomberg had a great day, producing two fabulous clears from her mare, Juvina, but Kraut found herself in trouble again at the triple combination.
The Venezuelans slipped off the radar with 12 to add despite a great double-clear from anchors Pablo Barrios and Antares, but the Columbians and Canadians also began to lose their grip. Columbia’s fourth-line partnership of Roberto Teran Tafur with Woklahoma were again foot-perfect, but one of the double-errors from Juan Pablo Betancourt (Troya Retiro) and Ilan Bluman (Exacto LS) had to be counted along with the mistake made by pathfinder Daniel Bluman (Conconcreto Apardi) at the water. Not one horse faulted at the water in the first round, but there were several second time out.
And it was here that Yann Candele and Showgirl got into a muddle, the mare scrambling for a stride that wasn’t there, and never getting airborne. When that was followed by a 12-fault score from Tiffany Foster and Verdi lll, and the legendary Ian Miller’s gelding, Dixon, also got his feet wet, then Eric Lamaze’s single mistake with Zigali PS in the middle of the triple combination would leave the Columbians and Canadians on 12 faults apiece.
Meanwhile a great double-clear from the last-line US duo of Beezie Madden and Simon put the pressure on Ireland’s Swail. The Irish second-round effort began with eight faults for Darragh Kenny and Picolo, and when Lorcan Gallagher followed with an unlucky foot on the tape at the water with Diktator v/d Boslandhoeve then Babington’s second clear with the busy mare, Shorapur, was badly needed.
With the American score now standing at eight faults, Swail knew a single mistake would lead to a jump-off as he arrived in the ring, but he showed incredible cool despite the inexperience of his horse, skillfully steering the young stallion home to clinch it with a four-fault final total.
“On paper the US were very strong and the Canadians had their WEG team here, so this was a great result!”, the Irishman said afterwards. “It was my horse’s first Nations Cup and it was same for Kevin’s, and it was Lorcan’s first time to ride a Nations Cup while Darragh Kenny was on his speed horse!” he added.
Gallagher is relatively unknown in his native Ireland, but the 23-year-old from County Down, who had never before competed in a team at any level of the sport, has been based with Shane Sweetnam at Spy Coast Farm in Florida for the last few years. Sweetnam loaned him the horse for today’s competition, and he more than justified the faith placed in him by both the horse’s usual rider and Irish Chef d’Equipe, Robert Splaine. “I grew up watching Robert ride, and it’s a dream being here!” Gallagher said today.
Babington talked about his feisty mare, Shorapur. “She is such a fighter, I’m so proud of her to jump clear twice in her first FEI Nations Cup. She always comes right back and fights for the next jump every single time” he said.
Swail pointed out that although he and his team-mates were not favorites to win today, he said “we came here to try and do a good job. Our horses jumped well and we handled everything that came at us”. He continued, “I knew a good first round would help us win in the second round. When you ride a good horse and jump a nice first round, it’s all about carrying the momentum and keeping your cool”.
It wasn’t the easiest of days for the home team, as US Chef d’Equipe, Robert Ridland, pointed out. “Georgina and Beezie got us out of some deep trouble” he said. “At this early stage in the season it is difficult to really hit the ground running, and some interesting things can happen. We would have liked to have won, but we got maximum points which is all that matters.”
1, Ireland 4 faults: Picolo (Darragh Kenny) 0/8, Diktator v/d Boslandhoeve (Lorcan Gallagher) 0/4, Shorapur (Kevin Babington) 0/0, Grafton (Conor Swail) 0/0.
2, USA 8 faults: Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 4/4, Juvina (Georgina Bloomberg) 0/0, Cedric (Laura Kraut) 6/15, Simon (Beezie Madden) 0/0.
3. Columbia 12 faults: Conconcreto Apardi (Daniel Bluman) 8/4, Troya Retiro (Juan Pablo Betancourt) 0/8, Exacto LS (Ilan Bluman) 0/9, Woklahoma (Roberto Teran Tafur) 0/0.
3. Canada 12 faults: Showgirl (Yann Candele) 0/4, Verdi lll (Tiffany Foster) 4/12, Dixon (Ian Miller) 0/4, Zigali PS (Eric Lamaze) 0/4.
5. Venezuela 16 faults: Verdi (Andres Rodriguez) 4/4, Wilco (Emanuel Andrade) 4/16, Atlodetto FZ (Luis Fernando Larrazabal) 0/8, Antares (Pablo Barrios) 0/0.
6. Mexico 28 faults: Caressini L (Luis Alejandro Plascancia) 13/DNS, Jumex Sport Archimdes (Sofia Larrea B) 4/8, Bariano (Eugenio Garza Perez) 0/4, Barbaro (Nicolas Pizarro) 8/4.
Source: Press release from fei.org written by Louise Parkes
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