Mexico broke a 26-year Nations Cup drought to win the third leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping 2016 series on home ground at the Coapexpan Equestrian Club in Xalapa on Saturday.
In a very close contest, and with a gutsy and impressive performance that included two double-clear rounds, the host nation pinned USA and Canada into joint-runner-up spot and now holds a 10-point lead going into the third and last qualifier of the North and Central America and Caribbean League in five weeks time.
With only three teams in action it was a short and snappy affair, but once again the Nations Cup format produced spell-binding sport. Winners at the opening leg in Ocala, Florida, two months ago, it was Team USA that started as firm favourites. But the home side proved too good for the rest, with all four riders giving everything they had to post the first Nations Cup victory for their country since the Mexican flag was last raised in triumph in New York back in 1990.
The clincher was a last-to-go double-clear from Antonio Chedraui and La Bamba, an 11-year-old mare named after the legendary folk song that originated in the region of Veracruz.
Brazilian course designer Guilherme Nogueira Jorge was full of praise for the spectacular venue with its beautiful grass arena. “It is a dream come true to come to Xalapa. Everything here is fantastic; the jumps, the atmosphere, the whole lot,” he said. His 12-fence track made good use of the open ring, and horses and riders coped brilliantly with humid conditions and 32 degrees of heat.
The penultimate Longines triple combination might have been expected to present the greatest test on the track, but faults were spread evenly across the course, and Canada and Mexico were tied for the lead at the halfway stage with just four faults apiece, while Team USA was already lagging behind with eight on the board.
As round two began, the USA continued to look vulnerable when pathfinders Jonathan McCrea and Aristoteles V once again left a pole on the floor. But Ali Wolff and her spectacular stallion, Quirie, steadied the ship with a clear before Jonathan’s wife, Christine McCrea, who had the highest score of the first round when posting 12 with Dynamo, reduced that to just four second time out.
Meanwhile the Canadians began to lose their grip with a mistake from Yann Candele and Showgirl at the last element of the Longines triple combination, a five-fault tally for Tiffany Foster who added a time fault after hitting the 1.60m vertical at fence five with Southwind VDL, and four more from Elizabeth Gingras whose mare, Floreen SFN, clipped the oxer at fence 10.
In contrast, a second pathfinding clear from Nicolas Pizarro and Temascaltepec put Mexico in with a real chance, although it was impossible to know how things would play out when second-line rider Juan Jose Zandejas Salgado and the hard-pulling grey, Tino la Chapelle, hit the second fence and then Federico Fernandez and Guru were the only combination throughout the day to put a foot in the 3.8m-wide open water.
As the last-line riders all took their second turn, USA’s Richard Spooner posted another fantastic clear from the handsome 11-year-old, Big Red, to leave his country with a final tally of 12, and when 2008 Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze did likewise with Coco Bongo then Canada finished on level pegging. So it all came down to the last man into the ring, and he had pressure coming from every direction.
Antonio Cedraui’s father created the Coapexpan complex, so the 49-year-old athlete was competing on his home turf but with a huge weight of expectation on his shoulders. He could afford a few time faults, but a fence down and it would be a three-way tie for first place.
“I was nervous going in there!” he said afterwards, but all that was evident to onlookers as he steered his mare home was pure grit and determination. The arena fell silent as he negotiated the course, but there was an ear-splitting roar of delight when he broke the beam to record the historic victory. Quite an achievement for a man who calls himself an amateur, despite a career record that includes two Olympic Games, two World Equestrian Games and five Pan-American Games along with team silver from the Pan Americans in Santo Domingo (DOM) back in 2003.
Asked afterwards how he handled the pressure Chedraui said, “I knew I just had to go out there and have a good round! I enjoyed it so much and we are so very, very happy winning the Furusiyya Nations Cup in our home town. We really pulled together as a team, and we are so proud to fly the flag of Mexico!” said the 49-year-old who is CEO of the massive grocery and department store company that carries his family name.
Nicolas Pizarro’s double-clear was also pivotal to success, and he was delighted with the performance of his young mare. “I think the course today was absolutely fantastic, we really did witness some world class jumping,” he said. “My mare is very young, she is only nine years old and that was her first Nations Cup – she is home grown, from Mexico. I really felt we were getting better and better as a team as each jump progressed. I had a great feeling, especially after the way she jumped in the first round. I am so happy to jump a double clear for the first time in my life and great to have been able to do it in my home country as well!” he said.
It is 33 years since Norman Dello Joio won the FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Vienna and 24 years since he took individual bronze for the USA at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, and he continues his commitment to the sport through his management of the Mexican team. Follow the fantastic result, he has high hopes for the future of his side.
“I think there is tremendous potential in Mexico. There are a lot of good riders with great team spirit, and now hopefully they will become addicted to winning!” he said.
- Mexico 8 faults: Temascaltepec (Nicolas Pizarro) 0/0, Tino la Chapelle (Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado) 4/4, Guru (Federico Fernandez) 8/4, La Bamba (Jose Antonio Chedraui Eguia) 0/0.
- Canada 12 faults: Showgirl (Yann Candele) 8/4, Southwind VDL (Tiffany Foster) 0/5, Floreen SFN (Elizabeth Gingras) 4/4, Coco Bongo (Eric Lamaze) 0/0.
- USA 12 faults: Aristoteles V (Jonathan McCrea) 4/4, Quirie (Ali Wolff) 4/0, Dynamo (Christine McCrea) 12/4, Big Red (Richard Spooner) 0/0.
North and Central America and Caribbean League standings after second leg:
- Mexico – 190
- USA – 180
- Canada – 145
- El Salvador – 45