I’ve never been to bingo night, but in my mind, it’s sort of like attending the draw I just watched at the CSIO Barcelona.
First off, it took place in a gym. (Bingo takes place in random locations, right?) Yes, this week the room is converted into a lovely modern press room. But the rest of the time it’s a workout room as part of the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona. Maybe you can ignore the polished floors, but you can watch yourself type in the mirrors against one wall and the Internet and electricity cables snake through those floor-to-ceiling ladders you may remember from your high school phys. ed. class.
Other things you need for bingo? A stage, microphone and fishbowl. Check, check, check. Twenty powerhouses from the show jumping world squeezed onto stage to determine the order for tomorrow’s first round of the Furusiyya Nations Cup Final. FEI Director of Jumping John Roche and the Director of the Barcelona CSIO Daniel García Giró took turns plucking balls out of fish bowls to determine the order for tomorrow’s first round, and 18 seasoned equestrians tried to stay stony-faced as they heard their fate. Roche drew the number, and Giró took the country. When low numbers came up, you could see everyone hold their breath, hoping their nation wouldn’t have to go early. Many kept their poker faces, scribbling down an unofficial list for themselves to stress over tonight.
After the order was finalized, the announcer grilled each chef briefly, in alphabetical order of country. Some were brazen, others jovial and some coolly confident. Most were at best cautiously optimistic. It felt like there were plenty of first-time jitters in the room, and many riders, understandably, seemed exceptionally focused and serious today.
Take French Chef d’Equipe Philippe Guerdat. Sure Roger-Yves Bost is off the list as as his top mare Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois is out with an injury, but he's still fielding a powerhouse team (Pénélope Leprevost, Patrice Delaveau, Simon Delestre and Aymeric de Ponnat). Rather than boasting, he just pointed out that this year’s format has little room for error, with lots riding on a strong first round. It's a new format, and no one knows what will happen.
Colombia’s Mauricio Ruiz seems content to get experience this year, already saying he’s sure they’ll be stronger next year.
Poor Japan has to go first, and Chef d’Equipe Hirokazu Higashira took the news gracefully, noting that while he has one weaker rider, he has faith in the others. It seems a touch unfair that they don't even get to watch someone else go once, as they're definitely not one of the favorites to win. Spain, second to go, has a super strong lead-off team in Sergio Alvarez Moya and Carlo 273.
Canada took some ribbing as their new Chef d’Equipe Mark Laskin showed up quite late. Brazilian chef Jean Maurice Bonneau pretended to step in for Laskin when his name was called, and U.S. Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland took it a step further. When asked how Ridland felt about the United States' fifth place draw, he turned toward Laskin, who’d arrived a few minutes earlier to find his team had earned the coveted 18th spot.
“We all know that there are some complicated rules in this new format, and there’s one that not many people are aware of: If a chef d’equipe is absent for the draw, they actually are forced to swap their position with the other team in their league,” he said. “So we’re grateful to the Canadian chef d’equipe for giving us the 18th position in the draw.”
Ridland went on to explain that McLain will go first on Rothchild, Reed second on Cylana, Lucy third on Barron and Beezie will anchor the team on Simon.
“We brought a very young team to this; we’ve probably brought the youngest team ever to a championship competition,” he said. “We brought three riders of our five under the age of 21, so it’s an exciting team; we’re excited for that. They’re the best we have right now. They’ve all been in major Nations Cups all year. They’ve proven it, they’ve earned the right to be here, and we’re excited.”
So how will we do? Well most countries demurred when asked who will be the favorites, but the only person to pick a favorite (besides himself) was Saudi Arabian Chef d'Equipe Rogier van Iersel (his team is fielding not one but two members of the Saudi Royal family). He picked Great Britain and the United States.
5 United States
12 Saudi Arabia
14 The Netherlands
16 Great Britain
Wondering who's on each team? Check out this preview. The first round of Nations Cup Final kicks off tomorrow at 2 p.m. local time. For ongoing coverage of the Furusiyya Nations Cup Final and CSIO Barcelona, check back at chronofhorse.com, and look for a detailed report and analysis in the Oct. 14 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.