Showjumping’s Nations Cup final starts next week in Barcelona, Spain, and the inaugural Furusiyya-sponsored event will host horses and riders from 18 countries.
When the Saudi Equestrian Fund pledged its support to the new-look series during last year’s FEI General Assembly in Istanbul, Turkey it marked a turning-point for the FEI Nations Cup Jumping concept, extending it from its traditional European base to reach out to every country around the globe.
The four-year, €16m Saudi sponsorship package, and the commitment of the FEI’s new Top Partner, the Swiss watchmakers Longines who are Official Timekeepers for the series, have broken new ground and moved the sport into an exciting new era.
The world’s best showjumpers will gather at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona from September 26 to 29, to decide who will carve their names into the history books as the very first Furusiyya champions.
And from the outset at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in February, where Saudi Arabia and Qatar qualified, to the last leg of the European Division 2 series at Arezzo in Italy just two weeks ago where Brazil won through and Austria clinched the very last of the much-sought-after qualifying spots, it has been a rip-roaring first season.
A total of six countries have qualified from Europe Division 1 – France, Great Britain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Ukraine – while Belgium, Sweden and Austria have emerged from Europe Division 2. With the world divided into six regions, the USA and Canada qualified from the North America, Central America and Caribbean region.
But for some countries it was less of a battle because, if the region was not in a position to stage a relevant CSIO, then the qualifying spots were determined by positions on the Longines Rankings. As a result, South America’s Brazil and Colombia have made the cut while Australia and Japan will represent the Asia/Australasia region. Egypt has declined the invitation to compete on behalf of the African region.
The action gets under way with the horse inspection on September 25, while the draw for order-of-go will be staged on September 26. The first of the three Final competitions will be held on the 27th. It will be a one-round class over a 1.60m course built by Spanish course designer Santiago Varela Ullastres, and all 18 teams will compete. Only the top eight teams will go through to Sunday’s finale.
The remaining 10 teams will line up on Saturday in the Team Consolation competition which again is a one-round 1.60m class and which offers €300,000 in prize money.
Sunday’s third and last leg of the Final offers a massive €1,500,000 in prize money and is a one-round competition with a jump-off, if required, to decide first place. All nations start on a zero score, and with the added incentive of an additional prize pot of €200,000 which will be equally divided between all those achieving a clear round in the first final competition on Friday, and/or a fault-free effort in the first round on Sunday afternoon, it is no surprise that so many of the biggest names in the sport are on call over this historic weekend.
In fact 10 of the top 20 riders from the current Longines Rankings will be there including World No. 1 Ben Maher from Great Britain along with his London 2012 Olympic Games and PSI FEI European Championships 2013 gold-medal-winning team-mate Scott Brash. What a hat-trick it would be if the British could add the Nations Cup title to their recent haul.
New FEI European Individual champion Roger-Yves Bost from France, will not start his great mare Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois, because she has picked up an injury, but the French team still looks strong with Patrice Delaveau, currently No. 13 in the Longines Rankings, and Penelope Leprevost amongst the five French team contenders.
The Australian side will be led by Edwina Tops-Alexander, while the Austrian selection includes Dieter Kofler, Julia Kaysar and Stefan Eder who worked so hard to help clinch that last-minute qualifying spot in Arezzo. Like several other countries, the Belgians have opted for new faces alongside considerably older ones, 17-year-old Jos Verlooy having earned his spot with a spectacular performance at the recent PSI FEI European Jumping Championships 2013 in Denmark.
The Brazilians will still be running on the adrenalin created by their brilliant victory in Italy two weeks ago, and with Rodrigo Pessoa and Alvaro Affonso De Miranda Neto on board they may well prove very tough nuts to crack. The Canadian side includes 2008 Olympic champion Eric Lamaze while Daniel Bluman, who won the hearts of spectators at this year’s Dublin Horse Show, is a crucial member of the Colombian side.
Ireland’s Denis Lynch and Billy Twomey, Taizo Sugitani from Japan, Qatar’s Sheikh Ali bin Khalid Al Thani, 2000 Olympic champion Jeroen Dubbeldam from The Netherlands, 2012 Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat from Switzerland, 2011 European Champion Rolf-Göran Bengtsson from Sweden, Ulrich Kirchhoff who took team and individual gold for Germany at the Atlanta Games in 1996 but who now competes for Ukraine, and 2013 FEI World Cup Champion Beezie Madden from the USA – the cast of stars is an extraordinary one.
For the Spanish side there is a different kind of pressure, and they will want to put their very best foot forward on home ground. There will be a lot riding on the performances of Sergio Alvarez Moya and Pilar Cordon in particular. Meanwhile the Saudi Arabian team looks formidable, with three members of their London 2012 bronze medal winning team – Kamal Bahamdan, HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and Ramzy Al Duhami – in action. They will surely want to leave their mark on this inaugural Final supported by the Saudi Equestrian Fund.