Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2024

France Captures Rotterdam Nations Cup By Slimmest Of Margins

In yet another jump-off in the Meydan FEI Nations Cup series, the United States was relegated to second but leads the overall standings.

It was heartbreaking—and historic—for the U.S. team.

In a nail-biting third jump-off in this season’s Meydan FEI Nations Cup series, the United States fell .34 seconds short of victory. But second-placed points allowed the U.S. team to hold an eight-point lead in the series after the Rotterdam CHIO, June 17-21, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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In yet another jump-off in the Meydan FEI Nations Cup series, the United States was relegated to second but leads the overall standings.

It was heartbreaking—and historic—for the U.S. team.

In a nail-biting third jump-off in this season’s Meydan FEI Nations Cup series, the United States fell .34 seconds short of victory. But second-placed points allowed the U.S. team to hold an eight-point lead in the series after the Rotterdam CHIO, June 17-21, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

It all came down to McLain Ward and Sapphire. But their swift clear round wasn’t enough to hold back the talented mare Jubilee D’Ouilly and Pénélope Leprevost.

Jubilee D’Ouilly, painstakingly brought along by Aymeric De Ponnat from a 3-year-old, broke onto the international scene when the pair won the 2007 Longines King George V Gold Cup Grand Prix of Hickstead (Great Britain). They also launched a polemic in France over the delicate owner-rider relationship after the owners took back all of their horses after the win to seek out Olympic fame.

Luckily for them, the mare responded well to the new French equestrian star, Leprevost, 28, of Normandy, who is riding in her first elite series of Nations Cup competitions this year, practically paralleling the success of U.S. rider Ashlee Bond, but in the French press. Rotterdam was Leprevost’s third Nations Cup appearance and the first time she’d ever done a jump-off at this level.

French Chef d’Equipe Laurent Elias said, “Pénélope is a great asset—she rides to win.”

This year’s Meydan FEI Nations Cup was also the showcase for another star—this time in the course-building arena. Louis Konickx built a masterful course of artistry, rhythm and difficulty resulting in a single double-clear performance in the time by the top rider Jessica Kürten on Quibell for Ireland.

Henrik Von Eckermann also went clear in both rounds on Marco Kutscher’s Montender, but he had a single time fault in each round.

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Ireland, which has battled at the bottom of the board for the past several years, shared the top position with France at the half (4 faults), but the course revealed that part of its difficulty was in endurance, and the Irish dropped in the second round, finishing fifth.

As other teams followed the same route, dropping poles due to fatigue in the second round, the U.S. team, in contrast, seemed to have used the first round as a warm-up.

They returned with perfected rides, finishing the second round with 1 time fault by Todd Minikus on Pavarotti, using Laura Kraut’s 4 faults on Cedric as the drop score. (Cedric got his feet wet in both rounds, faulting only at the water.)

Each rider for the U.S. team dropped a rail in the first round, starting off with Lauren Hough and the 10-year-old gelding Quick Study. They took down the vertical at fence 8 on the acclaimed “most difficult line” of the course, a very short six strides after the water jump to a vertical, and then on to a big oxer at fence 9, which caught Ward and Sapphire.

Minikus managed to soar over that line in both rounds, dropping his only rail at the 1.55-meter liverpool that sported the famous windmills, at fence 5.

The U.S. team’s performance in the second round energized the crowds and electrified the atmosphere as the possibility of another U.S. win became palpable.

With all of the strong stallions in the field, it was two mares who vied for the prize in the jump-off; both jumped in magnificent fashion. Leprevost rode after Ward’s fast 32.93-second performance, knowing the time to beat—finally shaving off fractions to claim first for the ecstatic French.

“My horse loves speed! Sometimes she’s hard to control; she’s very hot-blooded. But the more she jumps, the better she gets,” said Leprevost, mimicking word for word former rider De Ponnat after his Hickstead win.

That the United States leads the Meydan FEI Nations Cup League after four of the eight legs really speaks to their strength as a team, as this year many more countries have strong riders and exceptional horses.

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Their comfortable eight-point cushion has them at 29 points, but Chef d’Equipe George Morris said they have no intention of letting their guard down. “We don’t take anything for granted—anything can happen in this sport,” he stated.

The French are now tied for second with Switzerland at 21 points.

Politics came to a head at Rotterdam after Sweden’s team had to compete with only three horses when Calibra, the gelding ridden by Lotta Schultz, wasn’t sound when the class began. With the new formula of 10 teams, many show grounds don’t have the space for accommodating more than four horses per team.

Before the show, Morris, ever the diplomat, responded to requests for a comment: “I think that’s best left to discuss at another meeting. There are many decisions, some of which are highly controversial. They deserve a meeting of their own. I go to horse shows; I adjust to the rules.”

But after the show, Rob Ehrens, the chef d’equipe of the Netherlands, was more outspoken: “This was very exciting jumping today—we have 10 teams that are very strong—not like before with only one or two very strong and all the rest.

“It was a big course, but I think it was a fair course,” he continued. “But to come with only four riders, why? It’s a real handicap not to come with more than four horses in case something happens. These classes are really difficult. To ride with only three—it’s not the same sport.”

Despite the disadvantage, Swedish Chef d’Equipe Maria Gretzer guided her team to a tie for seventh. “We were really competitive today even though we had only three riders,” she said. “I’m very happy with my team’s result.”

David Holmes, Fédération Equestre Internationale director of sports, began the draw by explaining that the idea behind the new formula of 10 teams was to increase universality in sport, which is a major goal for the FEI. This plan, along with the rule that eliminates the two lowest-placed teams after Round 1, will be the subject of review and discussions as part of the year-end review. 

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