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United States Finishes Third in Nations' Cup in Wellington, FL

The United States Equestrian Team (USET) placed third behind the winners, Canada, and runners-up, Ireland in the $75,000 FEI Nations’ Cup, Presented by CN, on Friday, March 9, 2007 in Wellington, FL. Six nations - Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States - took part in the competition which was held during the CSIO5 star CN Wellington Open as part of the Winter Equestrian Festival show jumping circuit. The Nations’ Cup is the only team event held in the U.S. and one of only two held annually in North America.

In the first round, six teams were quickly reduced to five when Great Britain withdrew following the elimination of its first rider, Jackson Reed Stephenson, whose horse refused to jump the open water. As the British were only fielding a three-man team, Robert Smith and Nick Skelton did not jump as each nation must have three scores to count.

As the pathfinder for the U.S., Margie Engle was clear all the way until the final fence with Hidden Creek’s Quervo Gold, ending the round with four faults. Lauren Hough had trouble at the triple combination, which came early on course at fence four. After having the first element down, Casadora put on the brakes at the second element. Hough again attempted to clear the obstacle, but the mare refused to jump so was eliminated.

McLain Ward and the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, Sapphire, left all the rails up over the track set by course designer, Jose Gamarra of Bolivia, as did Beezie Madden who rode Abigail Wexner's 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Integrity, in her 42nd Nations’ Cup appearance.

At the end of the first round, the U.S. had a score of four faults, tying them with Ireland for second position. Canada was in the lead with a perfect score of zero while Argentina was in fourth position with nine faults. Belgium trailed in fifth with 17 faults. As the second round got underway, Belgium retired leaving just four teams in the running.

Engle again posted a four-fault score with Hidden Creek’s Quervo Gold when the pair lowered fence five, a dimly lit vertical. An injury to Hough’s hand prevented her from returning in the second round, reducing the U.S. to just three riders. While Ward again jumped clear, one of four double-clear rounds, Madden incurred four faults at number six to bring the U.S.’s second round score to eight faults. Added to the four faults incurred in the first round, the team total was 12.

It would not be enough to catch Canada or Ireland. In the second round, Mario Deslauriers posted a clear round for Canada, the defending champions, as did 26-year-old Erynn Ballard who scored a double clear riding Robin van Roosendael. When Eric Lamaze jumped clear aboard Hickstead, incurring only one time fault in the process, the Canadian victory was sealed with a two-round total of one fault. Anchor rider Ian Millar, an eight-time Olympian, had the luxury of sitting out the second round with In Style.

The Irish pulled ahead of the U.S. when three of its team riders, Conor Swail, Cian O’Connor and Darragh Kerins, jumped faultless rounds. The double-clear performance of Kerins was especially meaningful as he was riding Orlando, the handsome stallion owned by Hunter Harrison, CEO of presenting sponsor CN.

Since the inaugural Nations’ Cup was held in Wellington in 2002, the U.S. won in 2002 and 2003, Canada won in 2004 and 2006, and the Irish claimed victory in 2005. Although Canada had been a favorite coming into this year’s edition, a victory was by no means a certainty.

"In this company, I did not expect it to go as smoothly as it did," said Millar, who was making his 108th Nations’ Cup appearance. "The course designer was conservative, and there were more clears than normal in a Nations’ Cup. But when we got hold of that lead, we weren’t going to let it go!"

Canadian Team chef d’equipe, Terrance Millar echoed his sentiments, saying, "Certainly it’s a big confidence booster to win here against the U.S.; they are the gold standard. It is an excellent sign for us because they are such a strong team."

The Irish were also pleased with their placing. "The Americans are the team to beat and for us to be second tonight will mean a lot back home," noted O’Connor.

Understandably, the American contingent, competing under the guidance of chef d’equipe, George Morris, was disappointed with its third place finish especially considering that Engle, Ward and Madden had made up three-quarters of the silver-medal effort at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games.

"Things fell apart a bit for us tonight," reflected Engle. "My horse was good in the first round until the last jump. Then it was hard to come back in the second round with only three riders."

Ward added, "Losing Lauren for two rounds basically was tough."

Courtesy: The HorseTV Channel News, http://www.horsetv.com


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