Friday, Feb. 23, 2024

U.S. Thrills California Crowd With Second Consecutive Nations Cup Win

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San Juan Capistrano, Calif.—May 14

Team USA took the top podium position for the second time in a row Sunday afternoon at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup USA CSIO5*, held in San Juan Capistrano, California. The team previously topped the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Mexico on April 28 in San Miguel de Allende. 

The 15-effort, 1.60-meter course, designed by Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela, proved as difficult of a test as the grand prix he set Friday. In what started like a repeat of that contest, there were only two riders who jumped clear in the first round, and they were the same two as Friday—McLain Ward (this time riding Contagious) and Mexico’s Jose Antonio Chedraui Eguia on H-Lucky Retto, the same horse he rode to second place Friday—both put in the anchor position for their respective teams.

This weekend’s NetJets U.S. Jumping Team consisted of riders Lillie Keenan, Karl Cook, Laura Kraut and Ward. Out of the four competing nations, the U.S. drew first position and chef d’equipe Robert Ridland chose Keenan to be their pathfinder.

Californian Karl Cook, aboard Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet, was a hometown favorite for the crowd gathered at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park In San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Lindsey Long Photos

“Going first, to be honest, I really enjoy that,” Keenan said. “I love to go first and not watch anyone go, so that worked out for us.” 

She and Argan De Beliard, a 13-year-old Selle Francais owned by Chansonette Farm LLC, put in a solid round, only earning 4 faults by touching the tape of the water jump. That was the best performance of the opening round, as the first riders for Ireland and Mexico (Mark Kinsella on Quality H and Jose Antonio Chedraui Prom on Mighty Mouse) notched 8 faults each and Canada (Erynn Ballard and Narcotique V/H Dingenshof) gained 12. 

Next to ride for the U.S. was California native Cook, who was glad to participate in the first Nations Cup ever held on the West Coast. 

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“It’s great to be able to show 45 minutes from home, and I know it helps inspire the next generation,” he said. “It’s just really important for the West Coast.” Cook and Signe Ostby’s 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare Kalinka Van’t Zorgvliet picked up 4 faults in the first round. 

Kraut was up third for the U.S. aboard Dorado, a 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by St. Bride’s Farm who was making his Nations Cup debut. (Kraut rode her more experienced Baloutinue to three clear rounds to clinch the win for Team USA in Mexico in April.) She was thrilled with his performance. 

Dorado made an impressive Nations Cup debut under Laura Kraut, dropping just one rail in two challenging rounds of competition.

“The first round he definitely was impressed,” she said. “The course was much more difficult than I was anticipating. He was a little bit shy in the first round … but he grew and he rode around beautifully like he’s been doing it a long time.”

The sold-out crowd had to wait until the last quarter of the class to see a fault-free round, the first of which was executed by U.S. anchor McLain Ward and his Tokyo Olympic and Herning World Championship (Denmark) partner Contagious. The 14-year-old chestnut Zweibrucker gelding owned by Beachwood Stables LLC made it look easy, but Ward found the course plenty challenging. 

“When I walked it, I have to say I was a tiny bit surprised by how big it was, but it’s a five-star Nations Cup,” he said. “There are huge consequences to this qualification, and that’s the way it should be.” 

Hot off his victory in Friday’s Longines Grand Prix on Kasper Van Het Hellehof, McLain Ward turned around Sunday to produce the only double-clear of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup USA aboard his 2021 Olympic and 2022 World Championships partner Contagious (pictured).

Two horses later, Chedraui Eguia and H-Lucky Retto, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare he co-owns with P. Dolfsma, repeated the feat with a slightly slower but tidy round. But it was the U.S. that led going into the second round.

Round two saw stronger performances across the board, with Ireland’s top three riders earning no jumping faults and only 1 time penalty between them. But even that strong performance  was not enough to overcome the lead held by the U.S. team. 

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Keenan and Cook each completed the course with one jump down, while Kraut and Ward jumped clear—making Ward and Contagious the only pair to finish both rounds fault-free. After the lowest scores were dropped, Team USA’s combined two-round score was 12 faults, comfortably besting Ireland’s 17 faults. Mexico finished with 33 and Canada with 42. 

Lillie Keenan thanks Argan De Beliard after a strong round.

It’s no coincidence that Tokyo Olympians on some of their strongest partners have been representing the U.S. in the past two Nations Cup competitions, Ridland said, and the results they’ve produced are exactly what he was looking for.

“Qualifying for the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona had to be a major priority, because that’s one of the two ways left to qualify for the Olympics,” he said. “So we took our A-team at the beginning of the year and split it in half. We sent the first half to Mexico … then came here with the other half of the A-team. That was our plan. Plans sometimes work and sometimes don’t, but this time it did.” 

After the hard work of winning the Nations Cup was done, there was time for a little champagne battle and plenty of smiles between Keenan and U.S. chef d’equipe Robert Ridland.

See complete results.

The U.S. has now extended its lead in the North and Central America and Caribbean division to 200 points over Mexico (170 points) and Canada (150). The division concludes June 4 at Thunderbird Show Park in Vancouver, Canada.

Watch Ward’s second round with Contagious, courtesy of FEI.tv:

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