By Louise Parkes / FEI.
The Belgian team cruised to victory at the tenth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2013 series in Lisbon, Portugal tonight and grabbed the lead at the top of the Europe Division 2 league table. Helped by double-clears from both Pieter Devos and Judy Ann Melchior, they left the rest trailing in their wake when finishing with just four faults on the board, while second-placed Great Britain finished a full 18 faults behind with 22, and Brazil and Ireland shared third spot when posting 24 faults apiece.
There were 11 teams on the first-round start-list, but only eight returned for round two by which time the Swiss, Spanish and Australians were already sidelined. Just two countries were fighting for those all-important qualifying points towards the Furusiyya Final in Barcelona, Spain next September at this fixture, and the Belgians netted the maximum 100 points to see them overtake Sweden on the Europe Division 2 leaderboard, while the 50 collected by fifth-placed Italy leaves them lying eighth.
France finished sixth ahead of The Netherlands and Portugal in equal seventh spot. But the winners were in a class of their own, securing their success without having to call on anchorman Philippe Le Jeune in the second round.
Unseasonally cold and wet weather conditions prevailed throughout the competition but, despite some heavy rain, the footing in the Lisbon Hippodrome, which has been home to many days of vintage equestrian sport during its long and distinguished history, remained good. The 12-fence course designed by Portugal's Bernardo Costa Cabral included several linked lines that required forward movement and rhythmic riding. "There were a lot of mixed teams and the course was not easy but it was technical and fair - you had to keep a rhythm and there were faults everywhere" Melchior said afterwards.
The questions came up quickly, with the oxer at fence three followed on a bending line by the open water at four, another oxer at five and just four strides to the following planks which had a water tray at the back of it. Cabral has spent a lot of time working with London 2012 Olympic Games course designer Bob Ellis and also favours full circles on his courses, and the 1.60m Furusiyya vertical at fence seven came at the end of one of these, with riders then turning right-handed to the triple bar at eight and the following Longines double at nine which claimed a large number of victims. But it was the thin white wall at fence 10, standing 1.60m tall and topped by red bricks, that fell most often throughout the long night of jumping, while those who failed to line up properly for the penultimate triple combination consistently paid the price. Both Switzerland's Nadine Traber (Ramses de Virton) and Australia's Olivia Hamood (Glen Haven Eternal Flame) were eliminated when their horses stopped here, just one fence from home and, frustratingly, within sight of the finishing line in the opening round.
The Belgians were already out in front with four faults at the halfway point, but had only a one-fence advantage over Brazil, Italy and France who carried eight into round two while Ireland and Portugal had 12 on the board giving them a one-fault edge over the British with 13. The Dutch made the cut into the second round when lying eighth with 16 faults. A further 20 would ensure they would remain well down the order at the end of the day however.
Di Lampard's youthful British selection really rose to the challenge second time out, 18-year-old Chloe Aston improving from a 13-fault first-round result with Quiet Easy to register just six at her second attempt, 20-year-old Spencer Roe adding five to his first-round single time fault with Wonder Why and 21-year-old Jessie Drea once again returning with four faults picked up at the wall with Touchable. Anchor rider on this relatively inexperienced British side was 22-year-old Louise Saywell whose father, Mike, rode many talented horses during his own sparkling career during which he competed at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. And, having double-faulted first time out, Saywell's well-measured second-round clear really bolstered her team's position as it secured the British scoreline with just an additional nine faults.
That would be good enough for runner-up spot when most of the remaining teams began to crumble. Only the Irish held fast with 12 faults in both rounds, 18-year-old Bertram Allen recovering from a mistake at the planks at fence six first time out to return a great second-round clear with Romanov. France added 19 faults and Italy added 17 to slip down the order but despite 16 additional penalties, the Brazilians dropped only one place to stand third alongside the Irish.
Meanwhile however the Belgians had it in the bag without having to call up Philippe Le Jeune for a second time. It was his opening-round four faults with Loro Piana Boyante de Muze that they were carrying following a double-error from Donaat Brondeel and Breemeersen Adorado at the end of round one, but pathfinders Pieter Devos and Candy and third-line rider Judy-Ann Melchior and Cold as Ice Z were crystal clear both times out so when Brondeel left the course intact at his second attempt it was all over.
Reigning World Champion Le Jeune was determined that his side should not get too carried away with today's success however. "First of all we are not in the final yet. Belgium still has to go to Sopot (POL) and Budapest (HUN) and see where we are standing then. Everything for Belgium is new for now, including the Chef d'Eqiupe. Sixth place in Lummen (BEL) and fifth place in Copenhagen (DEN) was not good enough so we had to set this straight today and I have to congratulate the riders. All three rode fantastically well and made the thing very easy for me. Our goal is to get in the final and do as well as we can. It is going to be a good fight" he said.
New Belgian team manager, Kurt Gravemeier, was also in a sensible mood. "We need points, sure, but next week is another show" he pointed out.
Today's competition began in daylight but, following a lengthy break, the second round took place under lights which altered the conditions for the horses. Commenting on that, Devos pointed out, "there is always a difference. The horses are aware of the shadows but the lights are very good here. It was a bit special having the first round in the sun and the second under the lights" he said.
For Judy Ann Melchior this was an important result. She became a first-time mother just 10 months ago and is very excited about being back on the Belgian team. "The pregnancy and having my son is the best thing that has ever happened and was a great experience for me, but for sure I was very quick getting back on my horses! It's lovely being able to combine being a mother with my sport, and I did miss it!" she pointed out. And she was delighted with the ease with which her 11-year-old mare has also returned to action. "She had a break too, we did an embryo with her so she got a son also! We started again in August and our first show was in October. She was born at our place and I've been riding her since she was four or five years old" she explained about the grey horse she knows so well.
Kurt Gravemeier brought the post-competition press conference to a close with a smile. "The riding was beautiful today. I have to say to the course designer that he built a very good course. The ground was good and I am happy, so now I wait for the champagne!" he said with a laugh. It is indeed looking good for his side, but there is still plenty more action to come before the line-up for the inaugural Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping final is decided.
Source: Press release Louise Parkes / FEI.
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