FRANCE won the fifth round of the European Division 1 Longines FEI Nations Cup in Hickstead after an exciting three-way jump-off, on a day where Ireland finished in fifth on 12 faults, just a rail off the winners.

Marc Dilasser duly delivered when last to go in the jump-off for France when Arioto du Gevres produced a lightning fast round in 41.95 seconds to knock Germany into second place, while Brazil completed the podium in third place.

Kelvin Bywater built a strong track in the fabulous Hickstead main arena. For Ireland, it was the third of four points-scoring rounds in the series with qualification for the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona on the line; just seven of the nine Division 1 teams will make it to that final. Belgium, France, Britain, Germany and Sweden were also competing for points.

Sixty points for fifth place has moved Michael Blake’s team to eighth on 210 points in the overall standings, ahead of the final leg at the Dublin Horse Show next month.

Alexander Butler was first to go in the competition with L.C.J. Berben’s 15-year-old stallion Chilli B (Berlin x Cardento 933) and produced an almost perfect round, just collecting four faults at the penultimate fence – a big oxer with a box hedge underneath.

Andrew Bourns was next out for Ireland with the James and John Meade-bred 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Sea Topblue, owned by Bourns and QBS Equestrian LLC. Already on two winning teams in 2022, the pair picked up four faults at the last part of the treble combination.

On his home soil at Hickstead, Shane Breen stepped Breen Equestrian’s nine-year-old Vistogrand (Fantaland x Mr Visto) up to five-star level and duly delivered with a perfect round, despite a slight look at the water, to come home clear.

The anchor rider for Ireland was 20-year-old Jack Ryan with his mother Marguerite’s 10-year-old home-bred Irish Sport Horse gelding BBS McGregor (Cardento x Mark Twain). The pair were clear until the Hickstead planks which they knocked when getting a little flat after the open water. They also knocked the next vertical to finish on eight faults and as the discard score in round one.

Halfway point

That left Ireland on eight faults at the halfway stage with it all to play for, level with Belgium and Brazil, while France and Germany were out in front on four faults. Nine of the 28 came home with zero faults in the first round. For round two, fences 4c, 7a, 7b and 11 were all risen by 2cm.

Second time out, Butler repeated his first round performance of four faults, this time picked up at the first part of the treble combination. Bourns bounced back to correct his mistake and produce a foot-perfect clear to keep Ireland in the running.

Breen picked up an early four faults at fence two, to drop Ireland on to a best possible score 12 faults with one rider left to go. Ryan was keen to right his mistakes from the opening round and did so with class as he guided his grey gelding to a clear round, to see Ireland finish in fifth place.

The final result came down to the last line riders. A clear from Philipp Weishaupt would wrap up the win for Germany but, riding Asathir, he knocked the penultimate fence to drop Germany to eight faults and force a jump-off with Brazil and, when Kevin Staut was clear with Visconti Du Telman, France also joined the jump-off.

Tobais Meyer laid down the gauntlet against the clock in 42.89, jumping his third clear of the day with Greatest Boy, but Dilasser went almost a second faster in 41.95 to win for the French team which was also made up of Olivier Robert, Edward Levy and Kevin Staut.

Belgium finished fourth on 12 faults, while Britain were sixth, also on 12. Four riders jumped double clear to share the €50,000 bonus; they were Britain’s Harry Charles, Brazil’s Joao Victor Castro, Belgium’s Koen Vereecke and Germany’s Tobias Meyer.