The Irish team gave their Chef d’Equipe, Robert Splaine, an extra reason to celebrate his birthday today when, in a gripping competition, they won through in style at the fourth leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 1 leg at St Gallen (SUI).
As so often happens at this Swiss fixture, the weather played its part, with heavy rain piling extra pressure on the last-line riders in the closing stages. But the Irish stood firm, producing three fabulous second-round clears to add nothing to their first-round scoreline of eight faults, while Greg Broderick once again confirmed the pure talent of his 10-year-old gelding, MHS Going Global, when producing one of four double-clear performances on the day.
Sweden, France, USA and Germany shared second place when finishing with 12 faults on the board, while the hosts lined up sixth ahead of last year’s series champions from Belgium in seventh and Czech Republic in eighth and last place. In their first season in Division 1 the Czech side are already visibly improving, and the performance of 19-year-old Anna Kellnerova, who had just a single fence down in each round on her debut at this level of the sport with her nine-year-old stallion, Classic, augurs well for the future.
First time out
Swiss course designer, Gerard Lachat, set them a strong 12-fence track that only six horse-and-rider combinations managed to leave intact first time out. The impressive German foursome of Ludger Beerbaum (Casello), Janne Friederike Mayer (Goja), Marcus Ehning (Pret a Tout) and Hans-Dieter Dreher (Cool and Easy) held the lead on a four-fault tally at the halfway stage, but the Americans, the Irish and the Swiss were in hot pursuit, just a fence behind, while France and Sweden were next in line, tied on 12 faults.
The Swedes and the Swiss were a man down second time out, when both Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (Unita ASK) and Martin Fuchs (Clooney) were disqualfied by the Ground Jury after leaving the arena in round one. Sweden’s joint-second-place finish was therefore all the more creditable as the remaining three riders had to hold their nerve.
Plenty of tall verticals, an open water measuring 4.1m wide, and a difficult penultimate oxer where the front plank regularly hit the floor ensured plenty to think about, and there were multiple errors at the 1.60m that followed the water as well as at the next water-tray oxer at fence six. The Longines triple combination at fence seven proved relatively trouble-free until Ireland’s Bertram Allen got into a muddle here with Molly Malone who couldn’t find her stride after landing over the first element, slicing through the oxer in the middle before stopping at the third element.
Typically stoic, the 20-year-old rider who taken the sport by storm over the last two years, just brought the mare back to get it perfectly right at his second attempt, and in round two made it all look very elementary. “It was just one of those things”, Allen said afterwards.
Stood their ground
As the second round played itself out the French and Swedes stood their ground. Swedish Chef d’Equipe, Sylve Soderstrand, has been given a big boost over the last few weeks with the emergence of two fantastic partnerships in Peder Fredricson with H&M All In and Malin Baryard-Johnsson with Cue Channa. But it was Helena Persson’s gutsy last to go run with Bonzai, who had two fences down in round one, that was the clincher when they stayed fault-free to ensure a zero second-round result for their side.
America’s Lauren Hough and Ohlala were also double-clear while Lucy Davis and Barron left all the poles in place at their second attempt. But when Margie Engle’s Royce kicked out the oxer at fence eight and Todd Minikus fell victim to the penultimate white oxer, with a thunderstorm crashing overhead, then they had to add one of those four faults to join Sweden and France on a final tally of 12.
Ireland’s Denis Lynch and All Star had a pole down in each round, but second-line rider Greg Broderick went double-clear with MHS Going Global, and when Allen and Molly Malone were foot-perfect at their second attempt then Cian O’Connor and Good Luck needed to do likewise to keep the pressure on the leading Germans. Good Luck had lowered the second element of the double at fence 10 in round one, but this time around there would be no mistake, and that left last-man-in, Germany’s Hans-Dieter Dreher, really feeling the heat.
His team-mates, Beerbaum and Meyer, both collected four faults at their second attempts, so even though Ehning had soared effortlessly around the course for his second clear of the day, Dreher could not afford a mistake if he was to clinch it for his country. So when the second fence fell, he held up his hand and retired. The deal was done, it would be an historic Irish victory, the first in 13 years and for Robert Splaine’s men there was a whole lot hanging in the balance.
Because today’s Irish team were all battling for a sole individual qualifying spot for this summer’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “There was a lot of pressure due to the announcement of that spot for Rio next week, but these guys are all top professionals, and they could take it!” said Splaine tonight. He said he felt quietly confident of victory today, “it doesn’t surprise me, we expected a good result with these great riders, although you have to keep your feet on the ground, this sport is tough and you can be up or down in a heartbeat!” he added.
Splaine himself has enjoyed some great moments in the St Gallen arena. He was member of the last Irish team to win at the Swiss venue in 2003. “It was a three-rounder and I went against Markus Fuchs in a jump-off, riding Coolcorran Cool Diamond and we also won the Grand Prix at the same show that year – we were made of hardy stuff in those days!” Splaine said with a laugh this evening.
Broderick was delighted with his fault-free afternoon. “My horse is a Nations Cup specialist and he was in great form here, everything was right” he said. Talking about the weather conditions he said, “of course we were a bit worried about the rain, he (MHS Going Global) would definitely prefer the top of the ground but so would 99 percent of showjumping horses. It takes a bit to adjust to it when the ground changes, but he’s such a talented horse he just jumps within himself and makes it easy” he pointed out.
Broderick is all the more pleased because he has been out of action following surgery for a groin injury so his preparation for St Gallen was short. “We did a 2-Star in France last week, my horse has all the scope in the world and he’s brave and fit – he’s a proper championship horse” he said.
Reflecting on today’s great performance, Robert Splaine concluded, “A win at St Gallen historically doesn’t come with an easy tag on it. It has always been a top show and a tough show run by great people, but it’s not for the fainthearted. My guys were great and the team spirit is fantastic!” he said.
Photos: FEI/Katja Stuppia