The French were strong in force on home soil in Friday's Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in La Baule, taking a popular win ahead of en ecstatic home crowd. With their three first riders clear in the second round, French anchor man Kevin Staut did not even have to ride – leaving Ireland, Great Britain and Belgium to battle it out for the remaining podium positions. After fantastic performances from the respective countries' last riders, Belgium ended second while Great Britain and Ireland tied for third. With France, Belgium and Ireland being three of five countries allocated to pick up points in the Nations Cup Europe Division 1 series the trip paid off.
After round one it was Belgium that was in the lead on a zero penalty score. Apart from their pathfinder Francois Mathy Jr. who had three down, all riders were clear. Olivier Philippaerts showed that he and his lovely stallion Cabrio van de Heffinck (Cassini I x Calato) are definitely back in shape, the 18 year old Jos Verlooy yet again proved that he despite his age has no problems dealing with the pressure when riding on a team being clear on Domino (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Azur Depaulstra) – while anchor man Gregory Wathelet displayed his impressive riding skills on the beautiful Sea Coast Forlap DC (Querlybet Hero x Heartbreaker) to be clear as well.
France was breathing Belgium in their neck though, on a four penalty score. Their leading lady rider Penelope Leprevost was one of two French riders producing a clear round that was good enough to take anybody's breath away riding Dame Blanche van Arenberg (Clinton x Codexco). The second one came from Aymerick de Ponnat on Armitages Boy (Armitage x Feo) – a couple with outstanding presence in the ring. Unfortunately for France Jerome Hurel's horse Quartz Rouge (Ultimo van ter Moude x Emeraude Rouge) dipped a toe in the water – or more precisely on the plastic end of it – leaving him on four faults, and when Kevin Staut and Reveur du Hurtebise (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Capricieux des Six Censes) left the ring with two down that was also the score to discharge.
Ireland, Switzerland and Great Britain all followed on eight penalties – while Spain, Brazil and The Netherlands all were left on twelve. The most drama in the first round came on the expense of Switzerland and Great Britain. As third to go for the Swiss team Steve Guerdat had to see Concetto Son (Concetto x Drosselklang II) throw in a far-off refusal at the water, and in the end the couple was left on twenty faults that had to be discharged. It was even worse for Tim Gredley who was eliminated at the triple combination when Unex Chamberlain Z (Chellano Z x Peter Pan) showed no will to jump.
The course was fair, but definitely hard enough. Faults spread out, but quite a few got in trouble on the vertical jumping into the line on seven strides to the water or out on the oxer that followed on eight or nine strides. The triple combination towards the end at 12abc – consisting of a vertical – oxer – vertical also claimed many victims, and plenty came in agony here. Seven riders ended with double clears.
When pathfinder Penelope Leprevost set her second clear of the day after tremendous riding, the home crowds went wild – and the pressure was on for Francois Mathy Jr, especially as also Ben Maher went clear for Great Britain riding Urico (Zandor Z x Fedor) and doing so increasing the pressure on Belgium. And with two down for Mathy Jr., Belgium looked slightly vulnerable going into the second line-up of riders.
Belgium kept their lead though, as Olivier Philippaerts yet again rode a class clear round on Cabrio van de Heffinck answering to Aymerick de Ponnat who left the ring right before him after another tremendous clear on Armitages Boy – the pair was also double clear in the Nations Cup in Lummen. It was 0-4 to Belgium, while Great Britain followed on eight after Joe Clee, clear in the first round, had to see the a-element in the triple combination fall on the stunner Utamaro d'Ecaussines (Diamant de Semilly x Quidam de Revel).
After such an unlucky fault in the first round, France's Jerome du Hurel set off determinedly on Quartz Rouge. Although the oxer at five rattled properly, there were no mistakes this time around – and the pair brought the atmosphere to a maximum as France was left on their four penalty score from the first round after all the first three riders had been clear. It was down to the two last Belgian riders to keep it together, but unfortunately for Verlooy two fences fell early on and they went into the last round on an eight penalty score. Ireland was on a twelve penalty score after a great third clear from Cian O'Connor on Quidam's Cherie (Quidam's Rubin x Lifestyle), as was Great Britain who yet again had to see Gredley eliminated in the triple combination. It was victory for France before the third line-up of riders had finished, and the celebration could start without Staut having to go in the ring.
Seven of the eight last riders went clear in La Baule, proving exactly why they were placed in this pressurized position. Sergio Alvarez Moya was the first – being double clear on Carlo 273 (Contender x Cascavelle) for Spain, then followed Marlon Zanotelli on AD's Clouwni (Colman x La Zarras) for Brazil with a double clear, as did Jur Vrieling for Holland on VDL Bubalu (Baloubet du Rouet x Nimmerdor). Billy Twomey kept it together for Ireland aboard Diaghilev (Vangelis S x Handstreich), crossing the finish line on a clear sheet – leaving his country with their twelve penalties as did Michael Whitaker on Amai (Nonstop x Bacara) putting the two countries tied. It was all down to Wathelet to save Belgium's honour, but Gregory showed that he has nerves made of steel and yet again he was double clear for Belgium - just like in Lummen. With Wathelet's performance second place was secured for the Belgian team, while Great Britain and Ireland joined in together on the third step of the podium.
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