Lucerne, Switzerland –June 2, 2006 – At the halfway point of the Samsung Super League the team from the USA lies second to Germany on the leaderboard - but this was one tough day at the office....
The rain held off and that allowed some ground-drying to take place but despite all the precautions taken to ensure that horses jumped in the best possible conditions the fourth leg of the 2006 Nations Cup series produced some strange results in Lucerne this afternoon. There was no surprise when the league leaders extended their advantage after sending out a crack squad, but the Swiss really rose to the occasion on their soggy home turf to finish second while the Swedes unexpectedly excelled themselves to finish third. The US team started well but then faded to complete on level-pegging with the Dutch in fourth while the Irish, who might well have fared better if they had not lost their final partnership due to injury, slotted into sixth. The French, so impressive in Rome last week, had to settle for seventh while the British - well there was no explaining that. Equal-second after round one they fell apart in round two following a rather bizarre performance from their path finding partnership. But that's all show jumping isn't it?
The only thing you can ever be really sure about is that the Germans will be very hard to beat. They are in belligerent mood this Super League season ahead of staging the World Equestrian Games and once they decide to get serious they are formidable. Today Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Marco Kutscher, Christian Ahlmann and Marcus Ehning joined forces to assert their authority but the home side gave them a good run for their money....
There had even been talk about moving the entire competition into the warm-up sand arena because of the worries over the main arena grass surface - exactly where spectators would have been located remains a bit of a mystery but in the end common sense prevailed and with course designers Rolf Ludi and Heiner Fischer ensuring that the tracks were suitably sympathetic it all worked out for the best. That did not mean it was easy however. The first-round test, which included two doubles and a water jump, proved fairly straight-forward but the second track, which looked fairly innocuous on paper, certainly sorted them out.
At the end of the first round the Germans and Swiss were joint-first on a zero score followed by the USA and Britain with four faults apiece. France, Sweden and Holland all carried eight faults while the Irish carried nine and Irish hopes rose in the early stages of the second round until it was discovered that Edward Doyle's gelding Effective would not be returning to the ring. Doyle has been waiting a long time for a horse of this calibre to come along so that he could take his place on the Irish team once again, but the Furisto gelding struck into himself with a shoe-stud during his four-fault first tour of the arena and, under veterinary advice, did not compete in round two so they had to settle for a 22 fault final tally.
The French however finished behind them despite fielding a full complement of riders. They were obliged to add 16 more to their first-round eight-fault tally to complete with 24 on the board when both Gilles Bertran de Balanda and Patrice Deleveau faulted twice and Christian Hermon and Florian Angot made single errors second time out.
The British seemed almost shocked when finding themselves in last place carrying a total of 25 faults. They picked up 21 of these during round two which began with a most peculiar performance from Nick Skelton's Russel. The veteran British rider seemed to be taken by surprise when the grey stallion stopped at the second fence, an upright going away from the pocket, and not even Skelton's exceptional horsemanship could put things right after that as the horse clipped four more fences including the second part of the double at seven which, once again, Russel backed off after passing the entrance to the arena.
John Whitaker produced the best British performance of the day when Peppermill added just four faults to a first-round clear but young Ben Maher collected a total of 20 faults over two uncertain rounds while Michael Whitaker's nine faults in round two sealed Britain's fate.
Christine McCrea and Laura Kraut both jumped clear first time out while Candice King's Tarco collected eight faults and Molly Ashe and Neuville faulted only at the first. Ashe produced the only second-round clear however after McCrea's Promised Land lowered the oxer at fence three, both elements of the following double and the first part of the next double at fence seven for 16 faults while King added eight more. A clear from Laura Kraut and Miss Independent would have kept the US score at 12 faults but they lowered the oxer at fence eight and picked up a time penalty on the way so when McCrea's 16 faults were dropped those five faults had to be added for a total of 17.
The Dutch finished on the same score, helped greatly by a superb double-clear from Gerco Schroder and the big-jumping grey Eurocommerce Berlin while the Swedes, much improved and filled with determination, nudged in ahead of them when completing with 16 faults. Pathfinder Peder Fredricson contributed significantly when following his 11-fault first round effort from H&M Magic Bengtsson with a lovely clear at his second attempt while single errors from Helena Lundback, Lotta Schultz and Svante Johansson, who was clear first time out and is proving quietly consistent, ensured they held their ground.
It was nip and tuck between the Germans and Swiss, with Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly making it all look like a day out at a Pony Club rally as they popped around for an effortless double-clear and Marcus Ehning securing victory with the coolest of clears from Gitania. Marco Kutscher's Montender has been remarkably unimpressive since claiming the individual European title in San Patrignano last summer but, now ridden in a Hackamore bitless bridle, seems to be re-finding him form with just four faults on the day while Christian Ahlmann's Coster was probably a little over-confident when hitting the last fence in round two during an otherwise flawless performance.
The Swiss were the surprise package today however. They did not need their fourth rider in the first round and even though he failed to perform when called into action in round two Christina Liebherr, Markus Fuchs and Beat Mandli kept the German giants under pressure, Liebherr lowering just the planks second time out when Fuchs hit the second element of the second double and Mandli and Principal completed a double-clear.
The show-stopper of the day was Mandli's grey. Bought in 2004 as an eight year old the horse "played around" on the Spanish Sunshine Tour before going to Wiesbaden where he finished fourth in the Grand Prix. He then produced an eight fault and clear performance in the Nations' Cup at St Gallen and was fourth in the King George V Cup at Hickstead before slipping while unloading from Mandli's lorry on arrival at Dublin Horse Show last year. "He pulled ligaments and muscles all up the front of his leg and it has taken him seven months to recover, I've given him all the time he needed because there was no point in bringing him back before he was ready" the rider pointed out today. So this spectacular jumper who is relatively inexperienced is only just beginning to show what he can do. Mandli knows that he is spoiled for choice with his exceptional string that also includes Ideo du Thot who finished third at the FEI World Cup final in Malaysia in April but he has a sparkle in his eye when he talks about Principal - "he reminds me
a bit of Pozitano" he admitted today. And Pozitano was something special too.
Mandli insisted that nothing could have prevented the difficulties encountered with the ground conditions at Lucerne this weekend. "The lake has never been higher than it is now and we have had almost a month of rain, there is nowhere for the water to go except into the ground and this arena should normally be really good because it was completely re-done at a cost of 1.5 million Swiss Francs" he pointed out. The Germans may not have been happy to jump on it initially but they were not complaining at the end of the day. They came to Lucerne with only a marginal advantage over the US but have extended that now to an eight-point lead.
Definitely a good day at the office........
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/germans-parkes-reports-equestrian-6-06.html">Germans Gain More Ground While The Swiss Prove Impressive...</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com