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The battle of the Top League: Who will win and who will loose?

Monday, 22 August 2011

BMC Van Grunsven Simon and Jeroen Dubbeldam have been fantastic for the Dutch team this season. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.The faith of the teams in the Top League will be sealed in Rotterdam on Friday. The last leg of the 2011 series kicks off in the afternoon at 17.15 pm, and it should be expected to be a tough battle – both for the teams that fight for the overall victory and for those that struggle against the relegation threat at the bottom.

Not a pole down over four Top League rounds; Maikel and VDL Groep Verdi. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Holland is currently the leading team on 44 points; and features a strong team in Rotterdam with Jeroen Dubbeldam/BMC Van Grunsven Simon, Eric van der Vleuten/VDL Groep Utascha SFN, Maikel van der Vleuten/VDL Groep Verdi and Jur Vrieling/VDL Bubalu. Rob Ehren’s choice for Rotterdam is based on the Dutch riders that currently are the strongest. Gerco Schröder is the fifth rider and reserve. The Dutch team won the second leg in Rome with Jeroen and Eric amongst the riders on the team, and when the team repeated their success in St. Gallen in the third leg Eric, Maikel and Jur were all on the team. Maikel also produced some great results for the Dutch team in Falsterbo; he only had one time penalty after the two rounds and has thus not touched a fence over his four Top League rounds. Jeroen, Eric and Jur were also on the winning Dutch team in Aachen – the fourth leg of the league. Jeroen Dubbeldam and his Mr.Blue-gelding have been one of the best pairs on the Dutch team this season, and posted only clears in Rome (0-NP) and Aachen (0-0). Eric van der Vleuten and his Lux Z-mare have also been someone to rely on; they had one out of two rounds clear in Rome (8-0), were double clear in St. Gallen and only had one fence down over the two hard rounds in Aachen. Jur has had more various appearances; but with his recent third in the Global Champions Tour in Valkenswaard he might have found the form needed to contribute to a home win on Friday.

A key player in the German success; Carsten-Otto Nagel. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Germany is just behind the Netherlands with 40 points. The Germans won in Falsterbo after featuring a very strong team consisting of Carsten-Otto Nagel/Corradina (4-0), Thomas Voss/Carinjo (15/4), Marco Kutscher/Cash (0/0) and Ludger Beerbaum/Gotha (0-NS). At Hickstead the Germans were yet again victorious, this time with Janne-Friederike Meyer/Cellagon Lambrasco (0/8), Holger Wulschner/Cefalo (8/8), Philipp Weishaupt/Catoki (4/14) and Marcus Ehning/Plot Blue (0-0) on the team. Carsten-Otto and Janne-Friederike were both on the team in Aachen and posted clears; Corradina was double clear for her rider, and Cellagon Lambrasco had a clear first round. With a strong team of Ludger Beerbaum, Marco Kutscher, Carsten-Otto Nagel, Thomas Voss and fifth rider David Will in Rotterdam, Germany could certainly claim the title.

Great Britain is also fighting at the top of the league after their win in Dublin, were they featured three of their veterans on the team: Michael Whitaker/GIG Amai (4-0), Robert Smith/Talan (4-0)and Nick Skelton/Carlo (0-0). The young addition on the winning team was Scott Brash/Intertoy Z (12-4). The Brits are ranked as the third team in the Top League, also with 40 points. Rob Hoekstra has chosen John Whitaker/Peppermill, Michael Whitaker/GIG Amai, Guy Williams/Titus II, as well as Ben Maher and Laura Renwick as his squad who will represent Great Britain. All riders are strong, and most of them have plenty of experience which hopefully will serve them well on Friday. The Brits could well be the “outsiders” for the Top League title, when most expect the Dutch or the Germans to win.

Robert Smith and Talan have done a great job for the British team this season. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Ireland, which won the first leg in La Baule and was second in Dublin, is in fourth with 39.5 points. In Rotterdam chef d’equipe Robert Splaine has chosen Shane Breen, Alexander Butler, Denis Lynch, Niall Talbot and Billy Twomey as candidates for the team – stating as he did earlier this year to WoSJ that his main focus is the Europeans in Madrid next month, although Splaine says to that “…the selection for Rotterdam is very interesting to me and a good one.”


Newcomer Denmark is definitely out of the Top League with their nine points; only twice this year did they not finish at the bottom and that was in St. Gallen and Aachen where Germany and Belgium respectively has disastrous shows.

Belgium will have to rely on Philippe Le Jeune and Vigo d'Arsouilles in Rotterdam. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.USA and Belgium are the two other teams fighting against relegation to the Promotional League. With USA on 28.5 points and Belgium on 30.50 it’s a close race and everything can happen in Rotterdam. Belgium has had some shows that have been much better then others; in La Baule and Rome they were second – but since it has somewhat fallen apart. The Belgian team does not have too many top level horses to choose from, and this might have affected the results as the league has moved along through the summer. But with a topped team they are strong candidates to do well; there is a reason why they won the WEG bronze last year. Philippe Guerdat has chosen some of his best combinations for Rotterdam in order to survive; Jos Lansink/Cavalor Valentina van 't Heike, Philippe Le Jeune/Vigo d'Arsouilles STX and Dirk Demeersman/Bufero van het Panishof – all members on the WEG team. In addition Gregory Wathelet and Nicola Philippaerts are selected.

The American riders will have to pull of their best performances in order to survive; Laura Kraut and Cedric will be part of the team. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.USA has had few good shows in the Top League this year;it has either been mediocre or just not good enough. The points the Americans have collected this season varies between six at the highest and two at the lowest, which says quite a lot of the team’s performances. We are somehow left with the impression that the US have plenty of good riders individually, but that the team efforts this season have been unable to reflect the individual quality. It looks set to be different in Rotterdam. George Morris has picked super strong combinations for the team; Beezie Madden/Coral Reef Via Volo, Laura Kraut/Cedric, Lauren Hough/Quick Study, Mario Deslauriers/Urico and Christine McRea/Romatovich Take One are all on the team. Hough and Deslauriers both have recent Grand Prix wins with them, and should have pricked the form for this important event. The US riders have to step it up in Rotterdam in order to survive, and Morris’ selection reflects exactly this.

France – the overall winners from 2010 – are also in the danger zone with their 34.5 points, but it seems like their form has improved over the last months and the French team was second in Falsterbo and third in Dublin – at the latter they had only one fence down in the first round and were simply unlucky in the second with all riders seeing a pole each falling to the ground. If they can keep their form up, the French might just manage to stay in the league. Something else must be a big disappointment for this big showjumping nation. It was expected that Henk Nooren would top his team in Rotterdam, and he for sure has. Penelope Leprevost, Kevin Staut, Michel Robert, Olivier Guillon and Simon Delestre are some of the best riders in the world, and with their top horses present in Rotterdam they should have a decent chance of a good result on Friday.

With ten points to the best team, seven to the second and one and two points to the two lowest placed teams it will all be the tiny margins deciding which team that wins, and which teams that must compete in the Promotional League next year. It will be a very, very close race in Rotterdam on Friday. And we will of course be there to bring you a full report and lots of photos.

Click here for all the entries for Rotterdam.

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