Ukraine has won the opening leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping 2014 series at Al Ain in the UAE, battling to the bitter end against a powerful challenge from Qatar that forced a two-way jump-off against the clock.
The Qatari side lost the top step of the podium by the narrowest of margins at the end of the day, but are on the road to the 2014 Final in Barcelona, Spain, in October along with the third-place side from Saudi Arabia, so for both these countries it is already “mission accomplished”.
The London 2012 Olympic bronze medal winning team from Saudi Arabia looked the ones to beat as the competition got under way, and seemed set to cruise home with one of the two available spots for the series Final on offer at this single qualifying event for countries in the Middle East region. But the uncharacteristic elimination of pathfinder Ramzy Al Duhami got things off to a shaky start, and their 21-fault finishing score left them vulnerable.
A total of six nations started in this season-opener, but only four completed. Syria slotted into fourth place with 34 faults while the UAE, already lying fifth after the first round, retired from round two. Meanwhile it was all over for Jordan by the halfway stage after elimination for two of their four riders. Only three countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates – were chasing the two qualifying spots.
Many of the riders were making their 5-Star Nations Cup debut so course designer, Frenchman Frederic Cottier, had the difficult task of creating a track that would suit both first-timers and others with immense experience. He found the key in a track that didn’t prove easy for either, long distances to big oxers leading to numerous mistakes, and problems for some at the water jumps despite the helpful addition of poles on top.
The biggest surprise of the opening round was the error made by the hugely experienced Al Duhami who, having cleared the oxer at five, turned left-handed to fence 10 instead of swinging wider and running down to the triple combination at six. There was a gasp of disbelief when he jumped the last three fences only to hear the bell ring for elimination. And when HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and the lovely grey, Davos, left the oxer at fence two on the floor and Kamal Bahamdam’s Noblesse des Tess met the oxer at nine on a very long stride to have that down, then the five faults collected by anchorman, Abdullah Al Sharbatly and Unique brought the Saudi first-round total to 13.
The Ukrainians got off to the perfect start with three clears, so anchorman, Ulrich Kirchhoff, retired his grey gelding Chaccland first time out. But the Qatari team was stalking them closely, carrying just the single time fault collected by Khalid Al Emadi and Tamira after both Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani and the lovely Vienna Olympic and Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi and the brilliant Palloubet D’Halong, former ride of Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger, each went clear.
Despite 25 faults for the opening partnership of Chadi Gharib and United King, the Syrian team was lying just five faults behind Saudi Arabia with 18 at the halfway point. The UAE racked up 22, but last rider in, Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, was foot-perfect from start to finish with Peanuts du Beaufour. The team declined to go forward to the second round.
It was all over for Jordan after second rider, 23-year-old Ra’ad Naser, took a fall when Caballero lll stopped at fence nine and then Sunny Morka, ridden by Maysam Bisharat, stopped at fence five and and again in front of the first element of the triple combination at six.
With Ukraine and Qatar on level pegging after two rounds, the addition of eight more faults would see Saudi Arabia already settled into third place as the jump-off began. Rivetti was chosen to take on Sheikh Al Thani against the clock and, first to go, the Qatari rider stopped the clock on 27.24 seconds in a super-cool and typically beautifully ridden round. But Rivetti is a master at speed, and although the 16-year-old Vivant had made a double-error in the previous round, there would be no mistake this time out as they scorched home 0.72 seconds quicker.
“It is just the start we were looking for” said Ukrainian team manager, Najib Chami, afterwards. “This is our first show for the year and we’re glad to have made it. We are building our team ahead of our Division 1 shows,” he said. Ukraine will take no points from today’s competition because they compete in Europe Division 1.
Former Hungarian rider, Ferenc Szentirmai, is looking forward to the start of the European season. “The team plans to go to La Baule (FRA) and Rome (ITA) and this is a very big year for us,” he said. He has been with the Ukrainian team for four years now but had to wait two years before he could compete in Nations Cup and World Cup competitions.
Team anchorman, Ulrich Kirchhoff who claimed individual gold for Germany at the Olympic Games in Atlanta (USA) in 1996, said “we took of a bit of a risk today but we were able to deal with it as we have the experience. In the end we pulled it off and it was very good.”
1. Ukraine 13 faults, 0/26.52 in Jump-Off: Vivant (Cassio Rivetti) 0/8/0 26.52, Carlina (Oleksandr Onishchenko) 0/15, Quickdiamond (Ferenc Szentirmai) 0/4, Chaccland (Ulrich Kirchhoff) Ret/1.
2. Qatar 13 faults, 0/27.24 in Jump-Off: Vienna Olympic (Shk Al Bin Shalid Al Thani) 0/0//0 27.24, Come Soon (Faleh Suwayed Al Ajami) 11/8, Tamira IV (Khalid Al Emadi) 1/5, Palloubet D’Halong (Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi) 0/7.
3. Saudi Arabia 21 faults: Al Capone (Ramzy Al Duhami) Elim/0, Davos (HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud) 4/4, Noblesse Des Tess (Kamal Bahamdan) 4/4, Unique (Abdullah Al Sharbatly) 5/13.
4. Syria 34 faults: United King (Chadi Gharib) 25/28, Little Pezi (Amre Hamcho) 0/8, Gemini (Houmam Al Khouli) 17/4, Quintus (Ahmed Saber Hamcho) 1/4.
5. UAE 22 faults in first round, Retired round 2: Ulme de Feugeres (Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi) 12, Calawo (Nadia Abdul Aziz Taryam) Elim, quote Zavaan (Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri) 10,Peanuts de Beaufour (Shka Latifa Al Maktoum) 0.
6. Jordan Eliminated in first round: Kiamon (Nasouh Kayali) 12, Caballero lll (Ra’ad Naser) Elim, Sunny Morka (Maysam Bisharat) Elim, Kirfa de Dreisker (Ibrahim Hani Bisharat) NS.