The third round of the 2014 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping series gets under way with the first leg of Europe Division 1 at the Longines Spring Classic of Flanders in Lummen, Belgium on Sunday.
Series qualifiers have already been held at Al Ain (UAE) and Wellington (USA) in February. The expansion of the sport around the globe is underpinned by the fact that the 2014 season comprises 20 qualifying rounds in 20 countries.
Al Ain presented the single qualifier for the Middle East, while Wellington hosted the first of three qualifying rounds for riders in the North America, Central America and Caribbean region. The two biggest leagues take place in Europe with eight legs in both Division 1, which is pitched at CSIO5* level, and Division 2 which features CSIO3* fixtures.
Europe Division 1 has been expanded this season to include 10 nations – Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine – and each team has been allocated just four events at which they can collect qualifying points. A total of seven teams from this division will qualify for the Final which will take place in Barcelona (ESP) from 9 to 12 October.
France, the defending Furusiyya champions, will be chasing points at Friday’s opening leg of Europe Division 1 in Lummen where eight countries will line up, but with Switzerland, Spain, Sweden and the host nation of Belgium also on points-gathering missions they will need to be on top form. Great Britain, Ireland and The Netherlands will also compete with teams of riders very keen to demonstrate their experience and potential.
The Belgian line-up consists of Pieter de Vos and Gregory Wathelet along with Nicola Philippaerts and Jos Verlooy, while Olivier Philippaerts, twin-brother of Nicola, is the reserve.
But the French look formidable, coming out with all guns blazing and determined to make their mark as they begin their campaign to retain the Furusiyya title. Their nominated riders are Timothee Anciaume, Aymeric de Ponnat, Jerome Hurel, Penelope Leprevost, Anne Sophie Godart and Kevin Staut, and they will be tough nuts to crack.
The Swiss are also leaving nothing to chance, with their selection headed by Olympic champion Steve Guerdat who is joined by Pius Schwizer, Paul Estermann, Romain Duguet and Alain Jufer.
Sweden sends out 2011 European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Jens and Peder Fredricson, Angelica Augustsson, Henrik von Eckermann and Emma Emanuelsson, while the impressive Spanish selection includes Pilar Cordon, Sergio Moya, Manuel Fernandez Saro, Manuel Anon and Eduardo Alvarez Aznar.
Along with the Dutch and British, the Irish may not be in the hunt for points this time out, but Irish Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine is determined to make a strong and confidence-building start to the series anyway.
With the extensive experience of 2002 world champion Dermott Lennon and Billy Twomey combined with the skill and potential of Bertram Allen, Mark McAuley and Thomas Ryan in his side, Splaine says – “the Furusiyya series is about team jumping at the highest level, and I’m taking horse-and-rider combinations that have earned their place at this level for a number of reasons and with the future, and our continuous policy of expanding our pool of horses and riders, in mind.”
Meanwhile the Dutch side has a new look to it, with Bart Bles, Anne-Liza Makkinga, Johnny Pals and Robert Vos joining forces with Jur Vrieling, while with the Whitaker cousins, Robert and William, flying the British flag along with William Funnell, Guy Williams and Spencer Roe the stage is set for a super-competitive opening leg in Lummen.