The main arena of the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in Ireland’s capital city was electric with excitement this evening when the Irish team won the eighth and last leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2015 Europe Division 1 League on their own hallowed turf. As they raised the Aga Khan Cup in triumph – one of the most coveted trophies in the sport – they brought a broad smile to the face of Irish President, His Excellency Michael D Higgins, and the crowd went wild with delight.
Bertram Allen, Greg Broderick, Cian O’Connor, Darragh Kenny and Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine delivered Ireland’s 23rd victory in the 89-year history of the great event that always draws huge numbers of spectators. But this was possibly one of the most emphatic of all time. Because the home side didn’t just win, they trounced the opposition with a performance so strong that anchorman, Kenny, didn’t even have to jump a second time because it was already wrapped up.
Established their supremacy
They established their supremacy by the halfway stage when they were the only ones on a zero score, and once out in front they didn’t flinch. The Netherlands finished second ahead of the Swiss who managed to survive the elimination of Olympic champion Steve Guerdat on a day when several horses decided they really didn’t want to take on Alan Wade’s course for a second time. Lying second-last at the halfway point, Germany bounced back to line up fourth ahead of Spain in fifth, while the British had a disappointing afternoon when having to settle for sixth. The Italians rallied with three clear rounds second time out to finish seventh, but the biggest surprise of the day was the last-place finish for the 2014 Dublin winners from the USA.
It was a nightmare afternoon for American pathfinder, Charlie Jayne, who collected 20 faults first time out and was then unceremoniously dumped in the water on his second tour of the track with Valeska. That, combined with an unfortunate second-round double-error for Georgina Bloomberg when she lost her right stirrup after a mistake at the penultimate vertical with her mare Lilli, sealed their fate, and the USA finished on a not-inconsiderable 32 faults.
There was another big surprise when today’s competition revealed which countries have qualified from Europe Division 1 for the Furusiyya Final in Barcelona, Spain in September. The top seven nations – Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Ireland, Netherlands and Sweden – have made the cut, but Germany lies in eighth place on the final league leaderboard and will miss out along with Italy. Spain has finished last, but will compete as hosts on their home ground.
Wade’s track demanded accuracy from riders and commitment from horses, and fences fell all around the course. Allen was the first man out and left the vertical at fence eight on the floor with the 17-year-old stallion Romanov, but that was Ireland’s only mistake in the first round. Broderick’s MHS Going Global and O’Connor’s Good Luck are two very talented nine-year-olds and both gave jumping exhibitions, while Kenny’s 12-year-old gelding, Sans Soucis Z, also breezed home effortlessly. And when Allen got it all just right second time out and then Broderick’s gelding produced more spectacular jumping, the single error from O’Connor’s stallion was still good enough for the win.
Wout-Jan van der Schans secured runner-up spot for the Dutch when he and Broderick were the only two to post double-clears on the day. This meant The Netherlands could drop the 18 collected by Johnny Pals when his stallion decided he didn’t want to make the roll-back to the vertical at fence six, although he eventually agreed to do it after making quite a fuss.
The mood in the Irish camp was buoyant this evening, because a place at the Furusiyya Final and in the premier league of international team Jumping was hanging in the balance today. And Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine now knows he has a rock-solid squad as he heads to the FEI European Championships Aachen 2015, where Ireland will be hoping to claim one of the last remaining qualification spots for the Rio 2106 Olympic Games in 12 days’ time.
“The build-up was phenomenal” said Broderick who made his debut at the revered Dublin venue today, “and I felt like I didn’t want to let anyone down.” A long-time star on his national circuit, the 29-year-old rider made his Nations Cup debut with MHS Going Global less than a year ago at the Europe Division 2 leg in Arezzo, Italy and the pair have been hugely impressive every since.
London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Cian O’Connor was competing in his 100th Nations Cup. “My horse jumped fantastic and it was a privilege to compete with such a great team of guys” he said this evening, while Bertram Allen, who now holds the number five position on the Longines world rankings, admitted that it was a very special feeling to have contributed to today’s result. The 20-year-old has enjoyed phenomenal success over the past 12 months competing as an individual, and was part of the Irish team that just missed out on Olympic qualification at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy where he placed individually seventh. “But I’ve never enjoyed success like this at Senior team level and it’s a great feeling to be part of it” he said tonight.
Chef d’Equipe Splaine said, “I’m very proud of the four them, they really pulled together and they were in a class of their own today”. And no-one could disagree with that.