Belgians reign supreme in thrilling Nations Cup finale

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Winning Belgian team member Gregory Wathelet and Conrad de Hus also won the €200,000 clear round bonus.
Winning Belgian team member Gregory Wathelet and Conrad de Hus also won the €200,000 clear round bonus. © Dirk Caremans

Belgium team clinched the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping 2015 title in the finest of style on Saturday night with a fantastic performance in the final round at Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain.

They threw down the gauntlet when topping Thursday’s opener in which they pinned Germany and Sweden into joint-second place. But it was the British who emerged to fill runner-up spot, pinning the rampant Dutch back to third when the clock decided the final placings. USA, Ireland and Germany were next in line, also separated only by time when they also finished on an equal scoreline, while Sweden lined up seventh ahead of Switzerland in eighth.

The city of Barcelona certainly welcomed the world with open arms once again, and before the competition began FEI President Ingmar de Vos made a special presentation to Carles Villarubi, vice-president of FC Barcelona who provided access to the world-famous Camp Nou stadium for a special photo-shoot ahead of the final.

The competition more than lived up to expectations, with fortunes fluctuating wildly and the result once again decided by the very last rider into the arena. The crowd was spellbound with spectacular jumping from many of the world’s greatest athletes and horses, but the Belgians were the brightest stars of all, with Judy-Ann Melchior and Gregory Wathelet producing two of just six clear rounds on the night to clinch it.

Joe Clee and Utamaro D’Ecaussines from the second-placed British team.
Joe Clee and Utamaro D’Ecaussines from the second-placed British team. © Dirk Caremans

A punishing course of jumps allowed only two clear rounds to appear on the scoreboard by the halfway stage after 16 of the world’s top riders had jumped in the single round contest, and at the final bell only seven riders of 32 competing had come home on a zero score.

The winners always looked competitive when Olivier Philippaerts’ opening four-fault effort with H&M Armstrong van de Kapel was followed by a fabulous clear from Melchior and As Cold as Ice Z. There’s nothing extravagant about the 13-year-old mare’s jumping style, but she is honest as the day is long and always gives her rider everything she’s got. Melchior’s emotion when the pair crossed the line said it all.

The course proved quite a conundrum for many of the others, course designer Santiago Varela making sure that this trophy wouldn’t be easily won. The Dutch were well-fancied to add a second Furusiyya title to the world and European gold medals they’ve scooped up over the last 12 months, but it wasn’t to be. Their super-star combination of Jeroen Dubbeldam and SFN Zenith led the way with a 12-fault result, hitting the second element of the triple combination at fence seven and the following vertical before losing rhythm when the horse broke into a trot in front of the first part of the double, three fences from home, which added another four to their tally.

By the time Gerco Schroder reined it back with a clear when last in for the Dutch side it had come down to a game of cat-and-mouse between the Germans and Belgians, each with the possibility of finishing on a four-fault final result.

Germany’s Christian Ahlmann, one of the four riders in contention for a cut of the €200,000 bonus on offer to riders jumping clear on Thursday and again on Saturday, saw that slip from his grasp when clipping the first of the vertical of planks at fence 11, but the crowd was mesmerised by the performance of his teammate Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum whose fabulous grey gelding, Fibonacci, soared around the course, clearing the fences with such drama and grace that the spectators burst into rapturous applause before they had even crossed the finish line to post their clear round.

Daniel Deusser’s double error with Cornet D’Amour, at the water and the first element of the double, could still be discounted if German anchor, Ludger Beerbaum, could leave all the poles win place with Chiara. But the first part of the troublesome double at the end of the track, and the penultimate oxer, both fell, so as Wathelet entered the ring victory, or defeat, was in his hands.

But as he did on Thursday, he kept a cool head and steered 10-year-old stallion Conrad de Hus home safely to cement his side’s four-fault result. He had a big smile on his face as his raised his arm in a victory salute, because he hadn’t only clinched the 2015 Furusiyya title but he had also earned that bonus all for himself.

Gerco Schroder and Glock’s Cognac Champblanc from the third-placed Dutch team.
Gerco Schroder and Glock’s Cognac Champblanc from the third-placed Dutch team. © Dirk Caremans

The British were rocketed onto the podium when Joe Clee produced one of his extraordinarily solid last-to-go rides with his great stallion Utamaro D’Ecaussines. Ben Maher (Diva ll) and Jessica Mendoza (Spirit T) had kicked off with just four faults apiece, but Laura Renwick, substituting for Michael Whitaker, had a much less comfortable time, her nine-year-old gelding picking up 16 faults in a round that included a very definite refusal to go down to the 4-metre-wide open water at their first attempt. This fence played a major role, with plenty of horses making a splash there. But Clee’s clear negated that little hiatus and left the British on eight faults along with the Dutch, but in runner-up spot because their combined times left them almost three seconds faster.

The other eye-catchers of the night were the USA’s Beezie Madden and Cortes C and Ireland’s Cian O’Connor and Good Luck who both drew gasps from the crowd as their horses put on jumping exhibitions.

But it was the Belgians who would be enjoying the biggest celebration. They topped the Europe Division 1 League of the Furusiyya series this summer but, as Chef d’Equipe Dirk Demeersman said, they had “one bad week” at the FEI European Championships in Aachen last month and failed to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The taking of the 2015 Furusiyya trophy has reminded the world that this country is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Total prizemoney for the final competition was €1.5 million with €500,000 going to the winners, €300,000 to the runners-up from Great Britain, €200,000 going to The Netherlands in  third place and prizemoney all the way down to eighth place.

Celebrating the Belgian team’s victory at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday night, from left, Prince Mansur bin Khalid al Farhan al-Saud (Saudi Ambassador to Spain), Gudrun Patteet, Jos Lansink, Dirk Demeersman, Judy Ann Melchior, Olivier Philippaerts and Gregory Wathelet.
Celebrating the Belgian team’s victory at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday night, from left, Prince Mansur bin Khalid al Farhan al-Saud (Saudi Ambassador to Spain), Gudrun Patteet, Jos Lansink, Dirk Demeersman, Judy Ann Melchior, Olivier Philippaerts and Gregory Wathelet. © FEI/Dirk Caremans

Though sharing a 12 fault total with two other nations, Ireland finished fifth based on the team’s accumulated time on course.

Ireland’s Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine said after the contest: “This was a huge track tonight and by the halfway stage when 16 riders had gone there were only two clear rounds on the board, and that is an indication of how difficult this course was for some of the best combinations in the world.

“I was disappointed, as were the riders, that we didn’t finish on a better score, as one fence less would have put us in silver medal position.

“Denis(Lynch) and Bertram (Allen) had an uncharacteristic eight faults each. MHS Going Global and Good Luck are world class and I have gone on record as saying Cian O’Connor’s horse Good Luck is arguably the best showjumper in the world at present, and the horse’s performance tonight, producing a perfect clear round under tremendous pressure, is further proof of that, if proof were needed.”

Winning team manager Demeersman congratulated his team, the course designer “and the FEI who found this formula, this is how top sport should be!” he said. “It is good for the welfare of the horses, only two rounds each on different days, and it makes for a great competition,” he said. Jos Lansink, whose eight faults with For Cento was the discard, said “the course builder should get a good big bonus – I’ve competed a lot of events this year but there has never been sport like this – it was just fantastic!”

Judy-Ann Melchior and As Cold as Ice Z, from the winning Belgian team.
Judy-Ann Melchior and As Cold as Ice Z, from the winning Belgian team.

Judy-Ann Melchior’s big hug for her mare As Cold as Ice Z as they left the arena will be one of the iconic memories of this week’s Final. Talking about the delight she felt at having made such a massive contribution to her country’s victory, the rider whose father, Leon Melchior, is master of the Zangersheide Stud in Lanaken, Belgium, said, “you have to go back 13 years to where it all began with her because she was born at our place. We’ve known each other for a very long time and she makes my life very easy, even in a difficult sport like this. She has a heart of gold, she gives me everything – she never makes it difficult, she always tries to help, she’s just wonderful!” she said.

FEI Jumping Director, John Roche, described this week’s competition as “about as good as it gets! This was team jumping at its very best, in front of a full house and at a fantastic venue. I want to thank the Polo Club and the city of Barcelona for hosting another great Final and my thanks also to Furusiyya for their foresight and support. We are always grateful to our partners, Longines, and I’m happy to say we will be back here in Barcelona next year for another great Final.”

The week of exceptional sport owed a great deal to course designer, Santiago Varela, however and Irishman Cian O’Connor was quick to point that out. “When I walked the course this evening I said you’d need to be an Honours Maths student to work it out! But it was one of the best courses I’ve ever jumped – Santiago is a genius!” he said.

Final result:

  1.  Belgium 4 faults: H&M Armstrong van de Kakpel (Olivier Philippaerts) 4, As Cold as Ice Z (Judy-Ann Melchior) 0, For Cento (Jos Lansink) 8, Conrad de Hus (Gregory Wathelet) 0.
  1.  Great Britain 8 faults in 223.14 seconds:  Diva ll (Ben Maher) 4, Spirit T (Jessica Mendoza) 4, Bintang ll (Laura Renwick) 16, Utamaro D’Ecaussines (Joe Clee) 0.
  1.  Netherlands 8 faults in 226.80 seconds: SFN Zenith NOP (Jeroen Dubbeldam) 12, VDL Groep Verdi Tn NOP (Maikel van der Vleuten) 4, VDL Zirocco Blue NOP (Jur Vrieling) 4, Glock’s Cognac Champblanc (Gerco Schroder) 0.
  1.  USA 12 faults in 219.61 seconds: Nouvelle (Laura Kraut) 8, Cylana (Reed Kessler) 8, Ohlala (Lauren Hough) 4, Cortes C (Beezie Madden) 0.
  1.  Ireland 12 faults in 221.64 seconds: All Star (Denis Lynch) 8, MHS Going Global (Greg Broderick) 4, Molly Malone V (Bertram Allen) 8, Good Luck (Cian O’Connor) 0.
  1.  Germany  12 faults in 223.36 seconds:  Taloubet Z (Christian Ahlmann) 4, Fibonacci 17 (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) 0, Cornet D’Amour (Daniel Deusser) 8, Chiara (Ludger Beerbaum) 8.
  1.  Sweden 16 faults: H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) 8, Tinkabell (Angelie von Essen) 8, Unita Ask (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) 4, Cantinero (Henrik von Eckermann) 4.
  1.  Switzerland 20 faults: Quorida de Treho (Romain Duguet) 8, Clooney (Martin Fuchs) 4, Bonne Chance CW (Janika Sprunger) 12, Castlefield Eclipse (Paul Estermann) 8.

Full results

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