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Hanley’s the hero as Irish victorious at Spruce Meadows

Friday, 14 June 2013

Cameron Hanley and Antello. Photo © Spruce Meadows Media Services.On a day when four double-clear performances were registered, it was the clean sheet maintained by Cameron Hanley that stood out above all others as he clinched victory for Ireland in the eleventh leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2013 series at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada. The anchorman of the Irish side has been to hell and back over the last two years, with his health, and his career, seriously compromised by a freak injury. But today he copper-fastened his return to the top of the sport as he, and his fellow-countrymen, flexed their not-inconsiderable muscle to keep crack sides from the USA and Canada in check.

A total of seven teams from four nations lined out in this competition, with Canada, the USA and Mexico taking the opportunity to field two sides apiece. And although the runner-up US selection was not the one nominated for points-gathering, both America and Canada have qualified for the Furusiyya Final which will take place in Barcelona, Spain in September.

The USA Stripes team lined up second ahead of Canada One in third and USA Stars in fourth, while Canada Two finished fifth and Mexico's Azteca and Maya slotted into sixth and seventh places respectively.

The fabulous Meadows on the Green Arena at Spruce Meadows was bathed in sunshine during the first half of the competition, but weather conditions deteriorated dramatically towards the closing stages to add further drama to the occasion. The Irish already had the whip hand by the halfway point, with four clear rounds that left them well clear of USA Stripes in second spot carrying five, Canada One in third with 13 faults on the board, the USA Stars in fourth with 16 while Canada Two's 18 faults saw them lying fifth ahead of Mexico's Azteca in sixth with 25. The Maya team from Mexico collected only one penalty more to finish on 26 at the end of round one, but didn't return for round two.

Conor Swail and Lansdowne. Photo © Spruce Meadows Media Services.It was tense finale however as, despite a second sparkling run from pathfinders Conor Swail and Lansdowne, both Darragh Kerins (E Muze Yek) and Richie Moloney (Carrabis Z) faulted on their second tour of the track and it was left to Hanley hold his nerve and win the day, which he did in style.

The 12-fence course presented by Leopoldo Palacios included his now-infamous "bicycle" vertical which, when first designed by the Venezuelan maestro some years ago, used to strike fear into the hearts of the bravest due to its pencil-thin poles. But riders have learned how to deal with it over the intervening years, and only one, USA Stripes' pathfinder Brianne Goutal, lowered it in the second round with Nice de Prissey.

The bogey fences of the day proved to be the wavy Canadian planks at fence five which were, in time-honoured fashion, located at the end of a three-fence line following the open water and therefore testing control and carefulness. The triple combination at fence seven was also influential but the Mount Rushmore Wall, an inheritance from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta (USA) which has become another trademark of the Spruce Meadows arenas, claimed a surprising number of victims just three fences from home, while the penultimate double also took its toll.

As round two unfolded, Mexico's Azteca team produced a much-improved result with just 10 faults to add, Nicolas Pizarro recovering brilliantly from three fences down in the first round to go clear this time out with the lovely grey stallion, Crossing Jordan.

The Canada Two team included father-and-son Ben and Jonathan Asselin, but Ben's elimination in round one when unseated from Makavoy, who put in a spooky jump over the open water, left them under pressure. And although the 19-year-old rider steered his 10-year-old steed home for just four faults in round two, a surprise refusal by his father's mare, Showgirl, at the oxer at fence three proved costly. Despite a second-round clear from Christian Sorenson and Bobby, the final team total here was 30 faults.

US Chef d'Equipe, Robert Ridland, was spoiled for choice when deciding which of his two sides he would nominate for points-gathering purposes today. But as it turned out it wasn't his chosen USA Stars side of Kent Farrington (Blue Angel), Reed Kessler (Mika), Charlie Jayne (Chill R Z) and Christine McCrea (Zerly) who finished best, the latter producing the only clear round of this team effort second time out as they completed on 24 faults.

Katie Dinan was honored with the Furusiyya Rider of the Day award, presented by John Madden, Chairman of the FEI Jumping Committee. Photo © Spruce Meadows Media Services.It was double-clears from Katie Dinan (Nougat du Vallet) and McLain Ward (Rothchild) that ensured runner-up spot for USA Stripes, Candice King's two-round total of 22 faults with Campbell VDL discarded to leave them on a final tally of nine faults and three points clear of Canada One in third. Second-round clears from pathfinder Eric Lamaze (Power Play) and legendary anchorman Ian Millar (Dixson) ensured only the single time fault picked up by Mac Cone had to be added to the Canada One scoreline to see them complete with 14 on the board for third place. But it wasn't a completely smooth run for the eventual winners from Ireland.

Swail's second classic clear initially bolstered their position at the top of the order but when Darragh Kerins' E Muze Yek left the planks at five and both elements of the penultimate double at fence 11 on the ground second time out, then they looked a great deal less secure. And when Richie Moloney's fiery stallion, Carrabis Z, hit the wall in an otherwise clean run then Hanley knew that any more than a single error would scupper Irish chances.

This is a man however who knows how to take his chances when he gets them. His hunger to return to the sport he loves has seen him overcome tremendous personal challenges since a simple accident, incurred at his home in Germany while playing with his children, shattered his career and his life two years ago. No less than 17 operations to repair his damaged leg and to deal with subsequent complications left his medical advisors in grave doubt about his ever riding again, let alone at top level. But he climbed back into the saddle last autumn and, just three weeks ago, he showed he was right back in business when winning the Grand Prix at Wiesbaden, Germany with Antello. Last into the ring today the pair never put a foot wrong to seal the result with conviction.

Irish Chef d'Equipe, Robert Splaine, was thrilled for the team and for Hanley. "Cameron made a fantastic comeback at Wiesbaden. He was always a stalwart of the team and one of our strongest team riders so it was a huge loss when we didn't have him for the last couple of years". Explaining the reason for Ireland's participation at the Canadian event he said "Irish riders are based all over the world and many of our horses are not owned by Irish people. Conor (Swail), Darragh Kerins and Darragh Kenny, who was our fifth man today, and Richie (Moloney) all have owners in this part of the world so we had an opportunity to field a team with the future in mind - looking ahead to Dublin, Hickstead and hopefully Barcelona as well as the European Championships. It would be a huge mistake not to field a team here, and they were particularly well mounted. For three of the horses it was their first Nations Cup. Only Conor's Lansdowne competed in a Nations Cup before - at Gijon (Spain) last year" the Irish team manager pointed out.

Hanley's brother, Carl, bought Antello at a local show as a seven-year-old and Cameron rode him a year later, but when he sustained his injury the horse went to fellow-Irishman Alex Duffy and then to Great Britain's Michael Whitaker who competed him successfully. When he returned to fitness, Hanley's new Swiss sponsors Eleonore Paschoud and Yves Bouv told him to find a Grand Prix horse, and there was no doubt in his mind which one he wanted. He bought Antello back and, together with the 10-year-old horse, the 40-year-old Irishman's career is right back on track.

Katie Dinan, second-line rider for the runner-up USA Stripes team, was presented with the Furusiyya Rider of the Day award and the super-talented 19-year-old said "I feel very honoured. This is only my second Nations Cup and I really wanted to show I belonged on the team. It's a little more pressure being on a team, so I was happy with my performance today".

Today's competition brought the North America, Central America and Caribbean League of the Furusiyya series to a close, with the USA finishing first but with just three points of an advantage over the runners-up from Canada while Mexico in third place. The top two teams, USA and Canada, have qualified for the series Final in three months' time.

Talking about today's competition, US team manager, Robert Ridland, commented "in a perfect world, we would have loved to have beaten the Irish. But what we really came here to do was one, qualify for the final. Number two, was really to give some young horses and young riders some experience on competitive teams. To me, the only way to do that is to do what we did, which was a little against the grain. There was no question that normally, as the Canadians did, you stack the deck on one team and that's your point team. That's the more conventional way of doing it. My feeling, the whole way along, is that it's so important for the young riders to be able to experience Nations Cups on contending teams with veterans. We got huge experience today. We saw them perform well. I'm very excited."

The globalisation of team Jumping through the new Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ format has already taken hold. Rider's enthusiasm for the new concept was confirmed by Canadian Chef d'Equipe, Mark Laskin, who remarked, "we had a lot of interest in being a part of these two teams....At the end of the day, I think the two groups that we chose were definitely the right picks. It was a fantastic opportunity for our developing riders. Our two least experienced riders, Chris Sorensen and Ben Asselin, really benefited from their experience today. They both were a little shaky in the first round, but they both came back and were able to redeem themselves. It was an invaluable experience that they'll both draw on in the future. You need riders in the pipeline and on the right horses. We have a lot coming up. This was a tricky course today to be sitting on a horse you're not really familiar with. Three of our riders on our points team were on newer mounts. Ian got his last Fall, but he hasn't had him for a full season. Eric and Tiffany, last week was the first time. We're only going to get better and it bodes well for the future. We're really excited to qualify for Barcelona, and we'll be there!" he pointed out.

Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2013 - Round 11 (Spruce Meadows CAN):

1. Ireland 4 faults: Lansdowne (Conor Swail) 0/0, E Muze Yek (Darragh Kerins) 0/12, Carrabis Z (Richie Moloney) 0/4, Antello (Cameron Hanley) 0/0.

2. USA Stripes 9 faults: Nice de Prissey (Brianne Goutal) 5/4, Nougat du Vallet (Katie Dinan) 0/0, Campbell VDL (Candice King) 13/9, Rothchild (McLain Ward) 0/0.

3. Canada One 14 faults: Power Play (Eric Lamaze) 5/0, Verdi llll (Tiffany Foster) 4/5, Amor van de Rostal (Mac Cone) 5/1, Dixson (Ian Millar) 4/0.

4. USA Stars 24 faults: Blue Angel (Kent Farrington) 8/4, Mika (Reed Kessler) 4/4, Chill RZ (Charlie Jayne) 4/4, Zerly (Christine McCrea) 8/0.

5. Canada Two 30 faults: La Boom (Lisa Carlson) 5/9, Bobby (Christian Sorenson) 9/0, Makavoy (Ben Asselin) Elim/4, Showgirl (Jonathan Asselin) 4/8.

6. Mexico Azteca 35 faults: Crossing Jordan (Nicolas Pizzaro Suarez) 12/0, Spirit Magic (Manuel Alvarez) 13/8, Gitano (Frdeico Fernandez) 13/5, Criptonite (Enrique Gonzalez) 0/5.

7. Mexico Maya 26 faults IN ROUND 1 : Careyes (Patricio Pasquel) 17, Valentina (Claudia Lorenza O Farrill) 13, Vicky van het Geinsteinde (Alejandro Plascencia) 4, Skylubet (Ricardo Nizri) 9.

Source: Press release from Louise Parkes / FEI

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