American Threatens as Germany Stumbles.....
Rome, ITALY – May 26, 2006 - It was a not-so-good day for Germany but a great one for France as the third leg of the Samsung Super League with FEI series saw the former double-champions gallop away with the honours at the Piazza di Siena in Rome, Italy today. French Chef d'Equipe, Jean-Maurice Bonneau, was in buoyant mood as he celebrated afterwards, lifted as much by the spirit shown by his team of riders as anything else. The Germans meanwhile have weakened their grip on the top of the series leaderboard, heading the USA by only 1.5 points going into the fourth leg in Lucerne next week and looking very vulnerable indeed.
The USA finished joint-second with the British and crept closer to the leaders thanks to solid performances from all four riders. US Chef d'Equipe George Morris has plenty of food for thought ahead of his final selection viewing for the World Equestrian Games in Lucerne, Switzerland next week and, as Laura Kraut pointed out this evening, riders were keen to show their strength with that in mind.
The Irish edged away from the bottom of the Samsung series leaderboard with a typically gutsy performance which earned them fourth spot on the day and, in an unusual occurrence, five teams shared fifth place including the host team from Italy who, much-missed following their relegation in the opening 2003 season, were rejoining the Super League family just for the day on their home turf.
There were several surprises including the path-finding clear from Ryan Crumley and Baltimore for Ireland. Trained by Cian O'Connor, Crumley has been building up a wealth of experience in the Samsung Nations Cup series in recent years and O'Connor flew in from Ireland this morning to join him for the course-walk and offer advice which obviously worked. Crumley's stallion is the horse that was ridden by O'Connor's former girlfriend Hazel O'Callaghan who died tragically in a freak accident three years ago and his new rider has established an excellent partnership with him. They proved their worth when securing Ireland's victory in the Nations' Cup in Copenhagen, Denmark two weeks ago, Crumley winning out in a two-way third-round jump-off.
And, under the stewardship of new team manager Robert Splaine, the fog that has been pervading Irish show jumping is beginning to clear. In just the same way that George Morris has influenced the progress seen in the US, Splaine's straight-forward if unbending attitude to the job is paying dividends. The politics are disappearing into the background and performances in the ring are at taking precedence over everything else.
Cameron Hanley, from County Mayo in the far west of Ireland but based near Frankfurt in Germany, did his future prospects no harm when producing a superb double-clear today - just one of two in the entire competition - riding Hippica Kerman which is owned by Turkish amateur rider Sevil Sabanci. Hanley's career has seen many highs and lows but seems to be in the ascendant once more thanks to a nice string of horses including Hippica Kerman who he clearly adores. "We bought him last year from Poland and he has a really sweet character. I've taken a lot of time to build up a relationship with him and he really listened to me today. He was double-clear in the nations cup in Copenhagen and double clear with a time fault in the Grand Prix there too to finish fourth. He's German-bred but its like riding an Irish horse because he's not flashy in his jumping but he really likes to leave the poles up. I think he trusts me now and I really believe in him - when you believe in a horse it makes all the difference" he explained.
More surprises came in the shape of nasty falls for Holland's Wim Schroder and Italy's Natale Chiaudani and an expensive stop for Germany's Olympic gold medalist Ulrich Kirchhoff. Schroder bit the dirt when Eurocommerce Vancouver lost his feet when dropping in the water but Chiaudani's was truly spectacular when it all went pear-shaped at the bogey double that followed. In the melee the horse's bridle came off and the Italian was so furious he removed his hat and threw it on the ground in disgust.
The US effort kicked off with four faults for Christine McCrea and Vegas and when Candice King and Targo and Molly Ashe and Neuville both stayed clear then Laura Kraut's single error with Miss Independent ensured a four-fault first-round finishing score. Kraut's second round proved key to the American result as McCrea faulted just once again while King and Ashe left two on the floor and only a clear from Miss Independent would ensure level pegging with the British on 16 faults.
"The ground today was a big factor" Kraut said afterwards. "It was hard, but loose in spots particularly near the in-gate. The double after the water was really difficult - you needed a super-careful jump because the first element was a plank and the horses were running on after the water. The triple combination at the end of the track was tough too but I was really delighted with my mare. She has the biggest heart and I've never had a horse that is so consistently good all the time. Most of the time if things go wrong then the mistake is mine" she insisted.
It was however the French performances that won the day - the double-clear from Stephan Lafouge sealing a significant victory and restoring much-needed confidence. "Yes, today felt like a bit of a renaissance" said French Chef d'Equipe Jean-Maurice Bonneau whose team now slots into third place on the Samsung leaderboard, three points behind the USA while Germany maintains a narrow lead. Another weak German performance in Switzerland next Friday may well open the door for American domination over the second half of the 2006 Samsung Super League with FEI series.
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