There were great celebrations in Arezzo today when the host nation won the last round of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Europe Division 2 series. The result was not only a much-sought-after victory on home ground, but it also earned a place at next month's Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain and has promoted Italy to Europe Division 1 for the 2015 season.
There was a whole lot riding in today's event, with Norway heading the Division 2 standings as the day began. But, relegated to runner-up spot after today's Italian triumph, the Norwegians must now go to the Barcelona Final knowing that only a finishing spot in the top eight there will see them join their Italian counterparts in the top league next year.
From the starting field of 13 nations, it was Sweden who lined up second this afternoon while Denmark and Ireland shared third place. There were only two double-clear performances, and the one produced by pathfinders Andres Rodriguez and his lovely grey gelding Darlon van Groenhove (Clinton x Heartbreaker) helped Venezuela line up fifth ahead of Finland and Germany in equal-sixth while Poland slotted into eighth place.
Italy's success owed much to the stunning double-clear produced by Piergiorgio Bucci and Casallo Z (Casall x Carthago Z) who gave their team the best possible start in both rounds. The chestnut gelding simply cruised around Uliano Vezzani's track which proved a great deal more difficult than it initially appeared.
"When we walked the course we thought it was not so difficult, but Uliano knows how to make us make faults - he is amazing!" said Bucci this evening, as the home team relished success in front of their home crowd.
Uliano Vezzani's reputation for excellent course design is second to none, and the Italian maestro said with a grin afterwards "I'm delighted the Italian team has won, although I promise there is no bias involved when creating the course!" The track built in intensity as it progressed, with the Longines planks at fence three creating the first real stir before riders opened up for the following open water at four and a square white oxer at fence five.
The double at six jumped well for most, but the following line presented the real test of the day, the 1.8m-wide triple bar opening horses out only to be followed on a five-stride distance by a narrow gate with a narrow pole on top. This fell 27 times over the two rounds of jumping, 12 of those mistakes coming in the second round when only eight teams returned to the fray.
"Part of the problem there was the colour of the fence, it was black and it was difficult for the horses to see it properly. Also the line was difficult to ride - the riders were pushing to the triple bar and then the distance was often not just right at the vertical" Bucci explained afterwards.
Many who faulted at the gate at eight then found their horses unsettled as they swung left-handed to the triple combination that followed and which also took a heavy toll before they moved on to a water-tray vertical, an oxer, and then the final vertical which was the second 1.60m-high obstacle on the course.
Slovenia arrived at their very first Furusiyya event of the season with just three riders, and when Tomas Laufer was eliminated for refusals at the double at fence six their day finished early.
Switzerland, Brazil, Spain and Austria were also sidelined in round two when only the top eight teams returned to action, and the Italians already held the whip hand, carrying only four faults from their first tour of the track. The Swedes were lying second, with 11 on the board, while Ireland, Finland and Denmark were all close behind sharing a 12-fault total at the halfway stage. Venezuela was next with 13, Germany followed with 16 and the Polish team was the last to make the cut having collected 17 faults so far.
There were only five teams chasing Furusiyya points - Denmark, Finland, Italy, Poland and Slovenia - and the biggest threat to Italy's chances of taking the maximum 100 points on offer came from the Danes who, as the day began, were lying just 30 points behind them. But even though the Danish riders all only dropped a single fence each second time out to improve to joint-third place and collect 90 of those precious qualifying points, it wouldn't be enough to move ahead of Norway and book their ticket to Barcelona.
It came down to a duel between the Swedes and the Italians, although the eventual winners used up much of their first-round advantage as the second round evolved.
A single mistake at the middle element of the triple combination saw Sweden's Linda Heed match her first-round score with Bee Wonderful (Cagliostro 931 x Indus), but like many others who encountered numerous problems at their first attempt, team-mate Angelie von Essen produced a much-improved second effort with Jordan ll (Air Jordan x Voltaire) to add just five to their scoreline. And when Niklas Jonsson and Caral (Casir Ask x Ralme Z) survived a big jump out of the cups for the back pole of the oxer at five to return a clear, then Jens Fredericson's double-error with Lunatic (Landlord 849 x Utrillo) could be dropped to add just nine to the Swedish tally and bring their total to 20 at the end of the day.
Bucci gave his side the best possible start yet again in round two, but double-errors from both Danielle de Rios with For Passion (For Pleasure x Rio Branco) and Lorenzo de Luca riding Elky van het Indihof (Toulon x Thunder van de Zuuethoeve) piled the pressure on anchorman Juan Carlos Garcia. If his team-mates' 16 faults had to be added then Italy would also finish on 20 faults and would be forced into a jump-off against the Swedes, and that was never in the plan.
However as Garcia returned to the arena he knew that Italy was already assured of those qualification spots for both the Furusiyya Final in Barcelona and next year's Europe Division 1 league, because even a 20-fault finishing score would leave them ahead of their nearest rivals from Denmark. As it happened his 14-year-old gelding, Moka de Mescam (Melkior du Montois x Quouglof Rouge) who had been foot-perfect at his first attempt, fell victim only to the bogey gate at fence eight in an otherwise flawless run, so with his four faults now replacing one of the double-error scores, Italy finished clear winners on a final total of 16.
At the post-competition press conference, Piergiorgio Bucci explained just how much this result, and promotion to Europe Division 1, means to the Italians. "It is so very important for us, because we want to prepare well for the European Championships in Aachen next year so we can get Olympic qualification, and it's not so easy to prepare for this top level if you are not competing against the best horses and riders all the time" he said. "The last season we were in the Super League was 2009 and we won a medal at the European Championships in Windsor because we could prepare for our goal. We have good horses and good riders but we need to jump at the bigger shows so we are ready when the time comes" he continued.
He knows the challenge of the top league is not something to be taken lightly. "It will be difficult for us to stay in the top league next year, but it is important for us to get the chance to make our horses ready (for the Olympic qualification at the FEI European Championships in Aachen, Germany). I'm quite positive about it actually. We know what we need to do" he said with determination.
Of course he was particularly pleased with the performance of his own horse. "I was really unlucky with Casallo Z last year, he was injured at the European Championships and then I lost a few months of competition with him. I took the opportunity to bring him back, but I didn't want to do the World Championships because it was too early for him. Now I am very glad. He's a really wonderful horse, and I am very lucky to have him" said the 39-year-old Dutch-based rider.
Daniele Da Rios was thrilled with his result. "I am very happy to be a part of this wonderful team. In truth, I am a bit of an 'outsider', as I haven't really competed at this level. I would like to thank Hans very much for the confidence he has entrusted me with today. Although I lack experience at this level, he also acknowledges that it is by performing in shows like these that I can get to the next level. I am very happy he has allowed me to take part in the team and compete in Arezzo" Da Rios said.
For Italian Chef d'Equipe, Hans Horn, it was mission accomplished. "I am very happy with this win in Arezzo, especially considering it is our home show. We have been preparing several weeks for this event because clinching the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Division 2 title was one of our main goals this year. Needless to say, doing so at home makes it all the sweeter!" he pointed out.
He sees today's result as a major stepping-stone for Italian Jumping. "This will provide us with the platform to create more opportunities for growth within the Federation, and particularly the riders themselves. The less experienced ones who don't have so many chances to take part at this level will be able to do so now. This is an outcome that has key strategic implications" he added.
Lorenzo de Luca said "we are really looking forward to preparing now for Barcelona in the perfect way", and his team manager explained that, with the entries for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final closing next Monday, he will be discussing potential team candidates with Federation officials "over the next couple of days".
Juan Carlos Garcia also recognised the significance of today's result, and the role his team manager has played in it. The Colombian-born rider whose spectacular career highs include team silver in both Jumping and Eventing at the FEI European Championships in 2009, said "I would like to extend my thanks to the Federation and to Hans, who has been very clever in his selection of the four events to compete in. For us, it is absolutely essential to be back in Division 1 so as to prepare the horses and ensure they reach and maintain that particular level. A massive thanks to Hans for all the technical help he has provided us with throughout the year, we are very grateful", Garcia said.
1. Italy 16 faults: Casallo Z (Piergiorgio Bucci) 0/0, For Passion (Danielle da Rios) 8/8, Elky van het Indihof (Lorenzo de Luca) 4/8; Moka des Mescum (Juan Carlos Garcia) 0/4.
2. Sweden 20 faults: Lunatic (Jens Fredericson) 2/8, Bee Wonderful (Linda Heed) 4/4, Jordan ll (Angelie von Essen) 20/5, Caral (Niklas Jonsson) 5/0.
3. Denmark 24 faults: Lenardo der Kleine (Andreas Scho) 0/4, Never Say Never (Thomas Dresler) 12/4, Amarone (Thomas Sandgaard) 0/4, Tailormade Esperanza de Rebel) 23/4.
3. Ireland 24 faults: Isco de Amoranda (Mark McAuley) 12/4, Monastery Stud More Pleasure (Alexander Butler) 8/4, Mullaghbane (Capt Geoff Curran) 4/5, MHS Going Global (Greg Broderick) 0/4.
5. Venezuela 25 faults: Darlon van Groenhoeve (Andres Rodriguez) 0/0, Hardrock Z (Emanuel Andrade) 5/8, Indiana (Angel Karoly) 12/8, Antares (Pablo Barrios) 8/4.
6. Finland 32 faults: Cue Channa (Sebastian Numinen) 14/8, Agropoint Cassius (Kaarlo Kovas) 8/12, Lennox Luis (Henri Kovacs) 0/8, Fardon (Anna-Julia Kontio) 4/4.
6. Germany 32 faults: Queen Mary (Jan Wernke) 8/0, Quinaro (Henry Vaske) 8/8, Cashmoaker (Denis Nielsen) 0/8, Arrivederci (Lawrence Greene) 13/12.
8. Poland 37 faults: Crazy Quick (Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski) 4/8, Abigej (Marek Lewicki) 5/4, Emperio van't Roosakker (Zuzana Gowin) 8/8, Zoewja (Krzysztof Ludwiczak) 12/Ret.
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