THE Irish show jumping team have qualified for the final round of the FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, taking place tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.
Michael Blake’s team of Trevor Breen with Highland President, Denis Lynch with Vistogrand, Max Wachman with the Irish Sport Horse Kilkenny and Daniel Coyle with Gisborne VDL needed a top-eight finish in Thursday afternoon’s opening round and progressed through to the final after finishing seventh.
On what proved a tricky, technical course designed by Santiago Varela, combinations were caught out through the afternoon. Pathfinder Breen and the Heather Black-owned Highland President had one pole down to start proceedings for the Irish. The pair were part of the silver medal-winning team at the FEI European Championships earlier this month.
Lynch and the 10-year-old stallion Vistogrand, who is owned by Parco Sport Horses EST, were next into the arena and were unlucky to also drop one fence on an otherwise excellent round on the way to finishing with four faults.
That left Ireland in eighth position at the break, with Wachman and Coyle to come. Varela’s course continued to prove difficult for the majority and Wachman also had a pole down with his grandmother Sue Magnier’s 11-year-old gelding Kilkenny (Cardento x Guidam) who was bred by Sinead Brennan. The pair also added a time penalty to finish on five faults to be the discard score.
With pressure on, Coyle and Gisborne could ill-afford to make mistakes as Ireland sat in sixth place on eight faults. An additional four left Ireland relying on other nations to drop poles, with Spain and France to come.
Spain’s anchor Eduardo Alvarez Asnar and D’Orient Batilly, a combination who impressed at the Dublin Horse Show, had an uncharacteristic round to add 16 faults to the Spanish total, knocking them out of the top eight and sending Ireland through.
It means Ireland will be second into the arena on Sunday, with Great Britain last to jump after finishing on a zero score but all countries will start Sunday’s final on a clean sheet. Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, USA and France make up a star-studded final.
Brazil and the USA are both chasing a ticket for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and the highest placed of the two power nations will secure their place in France next summer.
A relieved chef d’equipe, Michael Blake, said: “Obviously I’m happy to be in the final on Sunday but we will need to improve on today’s performance if we are to medal.
“None of the lads had bad rounds but there were mistakes made and those mistakes will need to be sorted out if we’re to do well. It’s a very strong final eight remaining in the competition, as you would expect in the Nations Cup Final, so I’m expecting plenty of improvement.
"The main thing was to qualify, however, and we’ve done that so overall I’m pleased.”
Mexico, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Australia, Argentina and Uzbekistan all missed the cut for the final and will instead compete in Saturday night’s Challenge Cup.
CSIO Barcelona is celebrating its 111th edition of international competition this year and the Real Club de Polo, home to jumping at the Olympic Games in the Spanish city back in 1992, again provides the perfect back-drop to the season-closer that gathers the world’s best teams for one final annual clash.
The venue has had some modernisation and expansion ahead of this year’s show, to the delight of all. Blake commented: “It’s great to see the improvements here and it’s great to be back in Barcelona.
“It’s such a wonderful city and the people here are so welcoming to us and we love being here. We are hopeful of a good result, we’ve had a good year and we’d like it to continue.”