They came, they saw, they conquered: Great Britain repeated their win from last year in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in Rome on Friday with their two veterans Michael and John Whitaker saving the best for last in a competition that saw an otherwise very vocal Piazza di Sienna fall silent while collectively holding the breath in excitement for the last fence to be jumped.
In a Nations Cup with twists and turns, and changing fortunes – it was again the British team that came out on top and just like last year it was soon to be 61-year-old John Whitaker that saved the day for his team. France and USA shared the second place after both finishing on twelve penalties, eight more than Great Britain.
After round one, the Brits were in the lead following three of their four riders producing clear rounds. The younger side of the team – Ben Maher on the 13-year-old stallion Tic Tac (Clinton x Darco) and Jessica Mendoza on the 15-year-old mare Spirit T (Tornado x Carnaval Drum) – both pulled off clears, and when anchor rider John Whitaker did the same on the 11-year-old mare Ornellaia (For Pleasure x Calato) his brother Michael’s score of eight aboard Cassionato (Cassini I x Quidam de Revel) could be discharged.
Of the seven other teams in the competition, USA, France, Netherlands and Italy were the closest to the British team. All on a score of four penalties after round one, they were all within the reach of a place on the podium and just a pole behind the leaders. Sweden followed on eight faults, while Germany and Canada both had a disappointing start with nine penalties each.
The twelve fence track set by Uliano Vezzani opened for multiple choices when it came to distances, and was more than delicate enough with a triple combination early on at 4abc and then later a gate at fence 7 followed by five or six strides to a oxer-vertical combination. Many faulted here, on one of the two elements – but especially the back bar of the wide oxer hit the ground on numerous occasions. With the open water late on as fence 10, followed by six or seven strides to a final line from an oxer at 11 and then four strides to the plank at 12 – it was no easy ending either and the horses had to be kept alert and careful all the way.
Despite a double clear from Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Cue Channa (Cardento x Robin Z), Sweden struggled and finally ended last on 24 penalties together with host nation Italy that fell down the ranks in round two. Not far behind followed Canada, on 22 penalties.
Surprisingly it was the Dutch team – winners of the first Europe Division 1 leg in La Baule – that finished fifth on 20 penalties after a disappointing second round that saw double World and European Champion Jeroen Dubbeldam ending up with the discharge score on Zenith SFN (Rash R x Fuego du Prelet) after finishing on 16 faults in the second round. Harrire Smolders was maximum unlucky when he – like many others – had the final plank down after being clear the first time around, and Jur Vrieling could not repeat his first clear either. When Gerco Schröder finished on a score of eight, it was game over for the Dutch.
For a while, it looked like things were turning for the German team. Marco Kutscher opened the second round with a clear on Van Gogh (Numero Uno x Bernstein) and got his team mates off to the best possible start. Unfortunately for Mario Stevens, a rail on the white vertical at nine fell to the ground in a round that otherwise was flawless. When Patrick Stühlmeyer added only a time penalty, things were starting to look a whole lot brighter for the Germans and coming into the final line-up of riders Marcus Ehning and Cornado NRW (Cornet Obolensky x Acobat) – clear in the first round – had it in their hands to move the team even more upwards. Ehning yet again displayed some fantastic riding, and it all looked so easy – but then, out of nowhere the final planks caught the two out and four faults had to be added to the score putting the Germans on fourteen penalties overall.
The final line was again and again proving troublesome as the second round progressed. Several horses dropped a foot in the water, some hit the penultimate oxer while others joined Smolders and Ehning in their misfortunes at the last plank.
Among them was USA’s pathfinder Kent Farrington, who after a fantastic first clear on Voyeur (Tolano van't Riethof x Goodwill) looked like he was about to do it again – but then the 14-year-old gelding hit the planks with the hind legs and the two were left on four faults. Callan Solem and VDL Wizzard (Gentleman x Ahorn) finished on four faults, as did Laura Kraut on the very well jumping 9-year-old Zeremonie (Cero II x Quick Star) so approaching their last rider the Americans where on a score of twelve penalties just behind the French.
After an uncharacteristic twelve faults in round one, things were back to a more normal state in round two for world no. one Simon Delestre on Hermès Ryan (Hugo Gesmeray SF x Ryon d'Anzex) and it was only a small hoof dipping in the water that separated the two from a clear round on the second attempt. Kevin Staut – clear in the first round – had the front pole on the penultimate oxer down on Reveur des Hurtebise HDC (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Capricieux Des Six Censes), but when Penelope Leprevost jumped a double clear on Vagabond de la Pomme (Vigo d'Arsouilles x For Pleasure) the French bounced upwards and was sitting on eight faults breathing the Brits in the neck.
After a good start, Ben Maher had to add eight faults in round two – also falling victim to the last plank and when Jessica Mendoza took down the vertical at fence six it was clear that things were about to tighten. Michael Whitaker, who had the discharge score in round one, bounced back however to ride a brilliant clear on Cassionato – and kept his team on a four fault score after fighting back in true gladiator style.
McLain Ward was last to go for the US team. After a breathtaking first round on the stunning 10-year-old mare HH Azur (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui) – that looks to be McLain’s next horse of a life time – hopes were high that the two could copy that into round two and so they did. Not putting a foot wrong, the mare yet again jumped a beautiful round to make it possible for the US team to remain on a score of twelve.
The French could not have any mistakes to keep their position, but unfortunately for last-to-go Roger Yves Bost things did not go quite according to plan and with two down mid-way eight faults was the result as well as the drop score, and the French were left on a score of twelve as well having to count Delestre and Staut’s four faults.
When Great Britain’s John Whitaker entered the ring to close off the competition, it was all down to him: A clear or a four-fault round would give them the win, two down and it would be a jump-off with the Americans and French. With a few decades of experience under his belt, John Whitaker is no stranger to pressure though and to a very untypical complete Italian silence the living legend set off on his round. It was a masterful performance from John, who showed everybody how it should be done and crossing the finish line he showed an unusual display of emotion punching both hands in the air and later on laughing while clutching his chest – showing that even for a seasoned Whitaker winning a Nations Cup as last to go, and doing it by a double clear, is still something special.
Text © World of Showjumping // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson
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