British 'favourites' suffer horsepower issues
The nation that captured the medal that matters at the 2012 London Olympics and at last year’s European Championships after years in the wilderness comes to France riding a golden wave of success achieved since Rob Hoekstra took over as team manager.
But behind the scenes injury has been heaped upon injury and the Dutchman has seen his once great horse pool dwindle with alarming alacrity.
Just 24 hours before his scheduled departure to France, Ben Mayer’s ride Cella incurred a small overreach and Mayer has now been replaced by travelling reserve Jessie Drea, who rides Touchable.
This duo represented Great Britain at the CSI** Test Event for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in June and finished just outside the top 10 in the 1m45 class.
Also representing Team GB is world number one Scott Brash (above), who comes to France secure in the knowledge that in sitting on Hello Sanctos he has the privilege of piloting one of the greatest show jumpers on the planet.
However, the squad still lacks much of the experience it had in London — Nick Skelton’s Big Star is out through injury — and in Herning, where William Funnell and Billy Congo’s clear round helped the team to clinch their first European gold medal for a quarter of a century.
This time GB’s WEG squad is a mix of the evergreen, Michael Whitaker is now 54, and squad rookies. Just like Drea, 22, Joe Clee, 36, and Spencer Roe, 21, are new to a senior championship but they proved their worth in Dublin at the Furusiyya Nations Cup where they helped to save Briton’s bacon and avoid the ignominy of relegation.
Could Brash end up going head to head in Sunday’s Final with reigning Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat, who brings his superstar Selle Francais Nino Des Buissonnets to France?
This is the horse with whom Guerdat won individual gold at the London Olympics, the first time Switzerland had captured such a disk for 90 years.
Guerdat has also had the perfect prep run, winning the Munster CSI4*. Indeed, his 13-year-old gelding has not finished out of the top five in all of his outings this season.
But back to the British, and if they have been on a roll, so too have the Americans, and the US quintet arrives on the back of even more up-to-date success — three wins in a row in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series.
US show jumping chef d’equipe Robert Ridland has even been quoted as saying: “I do remember from my days as a rider, when you get on one of those rolls, it just feeds on itself.”
Watch out Team GB!
Two to follow are the great McLain Ward (Rothchild) and leading lady Beezie Madden (Cortes C), Ward’s teammate when they won team gold at both the Athens and Hong Kong Olympics.
Madden, arguably the world’s greatest show jumper, made history at Hickstead recently, too, by becoming the first woman to win the prestigious Longines King George V Gold Cup, a 108-year-old class and the preserve of men alone until 2008.
French will bring the house down
If the support given to France’s eventers while show jumping in the d’Ornano Stadium last Sunday is anything to go by, France’s show jumpers will literally blow the roof off, especially if they leave all the fences on course-designer Frederic Cottier’s tracks standing.
Imagine what would happen if Kevin Staut (Reveur De Hurtebise HDC), winner of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Paris, was crowned World Champion, or even super-talented local girl Penelope Leprevost (Flora De Mariposa).
Belgium comes just four-handed and is without its reigning World Champion Philippe Le Jeune. Half of its team is made up of second generation show jumpers, two the offspring of former leading lights in the form of Olivier Philippaerts, son of the great Ludo, as well as the talented Jos Verlooy, son of Axel.
Christopher Bartle, trainer extraordinaire to the gold medal-winning German eventing team, wrote recently in a British national newspaper that you should never discount Germany’s show jumpers and they bring a strong line-up to this particular party.
Super-stylish Marcus Ehning, that master of precision, was on his country’s gold-medal winning WEG team in Kentucky four years ago and he will be gunning for gold again aboard Cornado NRW.
Ehning has always admitted that Ludger Beerbaum is his sporting idol and these two are paired together on a WEG squad for the third time.
And what German line-up would possibly be complete without the colourful former Olympic Champion Beerbaum (Chiara 222) who began riding at World Games in 1990, and who has since contested every single fixture since, except Kentucky 2010.
Brazil fields another Olympian in the form of Rodrigo Pessoa, also a past World Showjumping gold medallist (at the 1998 WEG in Rome).
Pessoa brings Status, a nine-year-old gelding and a relatively new acquisition to his string.
The jumping begins with Tuesday’s speed class, which is followed by Wednesday and Thursday’s individual qualification and team contest. After a rest day on Friday, the jumpers return on Saturday for the third individual qualifying competition, while on Sunday — the competition everyone is waiting for —the top four riders jump each other’s horses in the unique World Games format.
Let the sport begin!
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