Hickstead, Great Britain – July 28, 2006 – As the British summer heat-wave continued today, temperatures were raised even further by a superb home victory in the sixth leg of the 2006 Samsung Super League with FEI series at Hickstead where that legendary Yorkshireman John Whitaker shouldered the high pressure to clinch victory for his country.
Arch-rivals France slotted into second ahead of the USA and Holland in joint-third while the bloody battle between the Dutch and Irish continued to play itself out with Holland once again coming off best in this latest clash. One of these two nations seem to be facing relegation at the end of the current series but neither is prepared to give up without a fight......
The formbook was turned on its head as the Germans had to settle for seventh ahead of the Swiss who, having accumulated a colossal total of 66 faults, finished eighth and last. The elimination of Swiss no. 2 rider Gregoire Oberson in both rounds when Cartoflex Gazelle napped as turned away from the ingate to face the formidible Hickstead water fence proved very costly indeed, and German chances were dealt a serious blow when Rene Tebbel's Team Harmony Coupe de Coeur got the bell for two refusals in round one.
It's getting tense for the teams lower down the order with only two legs of the series remaining, but the Americans are sitting comfortably in second on the league table and never really looked under pressure today despite a 16 fault first-round result for Anne Kursinki and Roxana.
That could be discounted when Molly Ashe and Neuville just put a foot in the water, Christine McCrea's Vegas clipped only the second element of the penultimate double and Laura Kraut's Anthem, who seemed a little overkeen in the early stages and was pulling hard, hit the first element of the double at nine and the following rustic derby rail.
Course designer Kevin Byewater presented them with an interesting track which Britain's Robert Smith said "was not a typical Hickstead course" and there was no triple combination but three different double-efforts throughout the 12-fence test.
With 16 faults on the board, the USA was sharing sixth place with Germany at the halfway stage when the French held the lead with just four faults, the British were next with nine, the Dutch were in third with 12 and Sweden was lying fourth with 13.
The Irish were in second-last with 17 faults despite a lovely first round jumping clear from Marion Hughes and Transmission who, however over-ran the 90 second time allowed to pick up a single time penalty. Reduced to a three-rider side due to Oberson's elimination, the Swiss had to count 12 faults from Celine Stauffer, four from Theo Muff and a massive 21 from European silver medalist Christina Liebherr whose round with LB Casanovas deteriorated badly after hitting the derby rail at 10.
The US riders really sharpened up their act second time out and Kursinki looked much more organised when keeping a clean sheet with Roxana while clears from McCrea and Kraut meant that Ashe's single error with Neuville at the derby rail was the drop score. The Irish were the only other side to produce three second-round clears and this helped them move up to fifth but the Dutch added just four more to finish on the same score as the Americans so pinned the Irish back at the bottom of the league table.
The British really wanted the win and Chef d'Equipe Derek Ricketts made it clear his selection for the World Equestrian Games and for the next Super League round in Dublin would be influenced by Hickstead results so his riders were keyed up and ready for action. The loss of form by Nick Skelton's Arko is a cause of great concern.
The stallion has been stopping in recent weeks and Skelton has been jumping him in the smaller classes at Hickstead in an effort to keep him sweet. Arko may line out in Sunday's King George V Gold Cup but while his owner, John Hales, insists that he will return to his usual happy self in time for Aachen a question mark hangs over this partnership right now.....
Robert Smith was impressive with Marius Claudius who picked up five faults first time out and then returned a classy second-round clear while Hickstead Derby winners William Funnell and Cortaflex Mondriaan were foot-perfect at their first effort but had two down next time.Michael Whitaker's stallion Mozart des Hayettes was in feisty but effective mood when clear all the way to the very last fence, the big 1.60m Hickstead planks, in round one and came back to just barely exceed the time in an otherwise fault-free second round but it was his older brother John who secured the win.
John has struck up an interesting partnership with Peppermill since he first took up the ride on the horse back in February. With very little mileage together he brought the horse to Aachen where he performed well and things have been gelling nicely ever since, Peppermill scooping a handsome €65,000 when winning last weekend's Grand Prix at San Patrignano in Italy.
"He's been in great form for the last few weeks so he surprised me when he was not good in the first round today" John said afterwards. "I'd put that down to feeling a bit tired and to the heat - he sweated up a bit before the first round but in the second round he was a different horse altogether. He's been in the Hickstead ring before as a young horse and I let him have a look at the track yesterday. I was a bit disappointed in the first round today but we got in right in the end". John knew that if he could go clear at his second attempt then Funnell's second-round double-error could be erased and that this would seal victory for his side.
French chances had been badly damaged by second-round four faults from Roger Yves Bost riding Ideal de la Loge and Olivier Guillon with Ionesca de Brekka which had to be brought into play when Simon Delestre and Inedite de Balme hit both fence eight and the first element of the double at nine which claimed a huge number of victims. Not even a superb double-clear from Julien Epaillard and Icare du Manet, the only one of the day, could save the situation by then as the eight faults that had to be taken into account left France with a total of 12 and thus two faults behind the victorious British.
The penultimate leg of the Samsung Super League at Dublin is now looming large on the horizon and for no-one more than the Irish. Jessica Kuerten won't be there in two weeks' time because she is continuing to refuse to ride under Robert Splaine's managership following her displeasure at not being picked for the team at Lucerne in June.
Opinion in Ireland however has hardened, with many show jumping supporters furious about what they perceive as a snub to the country that has facilitated her rise to the very top of the sport and there is now a sense that even a dignified disaster in the WEG and/or Super League would be preferable to any further knee-bending....
It looks like it could be neck-and-neck between the Irish and Dutch over the next two legs, so the double-points at the September final in Barcelona could be all-important.
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