Italy pipped Ireland in a two-way jump-off at the penultimate leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 Europe Division 1 League at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in Dublin (IRL) today.
With both countries on a zero score after two hard-fought rounds, the result was decided in a head-to-head between Denis Lynch and Piergiorgio Bucci. And it was heartbreak for the host nation when Lynch’s horse, All Star, ducked out at the final fence, leaving the gate wide open for his Italian rival. Bucci took his time to seal it with a careful clear with his stallion Casallo Z.
This was Italy’s fifth victory in the 90-year history of the Aga Khan Cup which is awarded to the winning side at the Irish fixture. The first Italian team to lift the coveted trophy back in 1955 included the legendary Lt Raimondo D’Inzeo and Merano, and the last was posted back in 2009 when Piergiorgio Bucci was also in the team
The Italians came to Dublin knowing they were in danger of relegation to Europe Division 2 if they couldn’t pull something special out of the bag today. Their win has now boosted their chances of remaining in the top league, with one more points-gaining opportunity remaining at Hickstead (GBR) next Friday.
Team USA looked to be in big trouble in today’s second round but rallied to finish joint-third along with Sweden, while the British and Dutch shared fifth place, France lined up seventh and Czech Republic finished eighth.
In attendance at today’s fixture were the President of Ireland, His Excellency Michael D. Higgins, and former FEI President, HRH the Princess Royal.
The fact that Lorenzo de Luca already had three wins under his belt this week should probably have hinted at the likely strength of the Italian side that included Bucci, Emilio Bicocchi and Bruno Chiimirri. “To win is fantastic, but to win in front of this fantastic crowd in Dublin is unbelievable!” said Chimirri after the noisy prize-giving this evening.
There was a three-way tie on a zero score between Ireland, Italy and the USA at the halfway stage, but the Americans were vulnerable when Jessica Springsteen didn’t start with Cynar VA in the second round after elimination at the open water. So when Lauren Hough’s Ohlala lowered the oxer at fence three and the Furusiyya oxer at fence seven on her second tour of the ring, and Georgina Bloomberg and Lilli also faulted at the Furusiyya fence, it took the second part of a brilliant double-clear from Laura Kraut and the grey mare Cavalia to anchor them on a final total of 12.
Sweden added eight to their first-round four-fault effort to also finish on 12, while the Dutch scoreline of 16 was deceptive because both Ruben Romp (Audi’s Teavanta ll) and Johnny Pals (Fernando) produced brilliant double-clears. The British also finished on 16, and Robert Bevis was their star turn with a double-clear from Courtney Z. Meanwhile the French only managed to produce one fault-free round all afternoon, racking up a total of 24 faults, while the Czech Republic side completed with 30 faults on the board.
The Irish and Italians slugged it out at the sharp end, Denis Lynch picking up just a single time fault in round two and Greg Broderick and MHS Going Global, Ireland’s sole Jumping representatives at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, foot-perfect once again. Youngest team member and world no. 9, 20-year-old Bertram Allen, recovered from an eight-fault first-round effort to produce a determined clear this time out with Hector van D’Abdijhoeve while Cian O’Connor lived up to expectations and drove the crowd into a frenzy of excitement with his spectacular second clear from Good Luck.
The Italians were matching their hosts every inch of the way when both Bucci and de Lorenzo also returned with a second clean sheet, but when Bicocchi’s gelding, Ares, hit both the opening oxer and the bogey Furusiyya oxer then there was plenty of pressure on Chimirri second time out. Only a clear would be good enough, and once he produced it with the nine-year-old Tower Mouche then it was down to a third-round jump-off.
Lynch was first to go against the clock with the big-striding All Star, but, galloping down to the last on a long stride, the 13-year-old stallion suddenly veered left, and the Irish were hampered by a six-fault penalty as Bucci returned to the ring to take his chance. You could hear a pin drop as he set off, but the 40-year-old who helped Italy to European team silver in Windsor (GBR) in 2009 stayed cool and careful to come home just inside the time.
Lynch was hard on himself in the aftermath.
“That’s something that All Star has never done” he said, referring to the run-out at the final fence in the jump-off. “I probably could have made a stride more, I wanted to put pressure on the Italians. Obviously I’m very very disappointed, but it’s one of those things – I want to apologise to my team, I let them down” he insisted.
Italy’s Piergiorgio Bucci realised that his jump-off round had been a little slow. “I was supposed to go a bit faster!” he admitted afterwards. “Denis did a great jump-off but it was unlucky for him while it was lucky for me, and the Irish team did a great job” he added.
Irish Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine said, “I’d be a lot happier if that trophy was sitting here in front of me but it’s not – congratulations to the Italians, they were great, and they fought back pound for pound. The Irish were great too, it was a tough battle as we expected. There’s been a lot of talk all week that we were favourites but I knew it was going to be extremely tough and it turned out it was. We are not happy to be second, but we were beaten by a very good team on the day” said the man whose side claimed the Dublin honours 12 months ago.
Italian Chef d’Equipe, Roberto Arioldi, was delighted with his side. “Winning here at Dublin means a lot to any team, and I’m very proud of my team today” he said. And Bruno Chimirri was particularly pleased with his stallion Tower Mouche who jumped only the early part of the track in the first round to familiarise himself with the arena because his services weren’t required as Italy already had a zero on the board, and who then returned in round two to produce that critical clear. “It was a very satisfying performance in my horse’s very first Nations Cup” the 44-year-old rider said.
Ireland’s Cian O’Connor commented, “the Italians were great, they came here fighting and they were the better team on the day in that jump-off. That’s how it goes sometimes, it’s the ups and downs of sport.”
Course designer, Alan Wade, agreed – “it played out to an exciting finale, very rarely even in the second round it would it come down to the last two horses having to go clear to have a jump-off, and normally at that stage in Nations Cup jumping someone cracks and the pressure tells, but today it didn’t. Both teams stood up to the pressure and it was exciting – the crowd got good value for money and it was great sport and some of the weaker teams, while they had fences down, I hope it was a learning experience for them” he said.
Photos: FEI/Tony Parkes