Foot-Perfect Irish take clear win at second regional qualifier in Peelbergen
Team Ireland proved untouchable at the second leg of the Longines EEF Series 2021 in Peelbergen.
In a competition full of twists and turns, the runners-up from Great Britain pipped the third-placed Spanish by just 2.81 seconds when both completed with eight faults on the board. And the Dutch hosts just missed out on the podium with picking up nine faults while the French had to settle for fifth and Argentina finished sixth of the13 competing nations.
It was an open book going into the second round of this fascinating contest with France, The Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and Great Britain all on a zero score. However clears proved more difficult to get second time out.
Louis Konickx and his team set a course that included a single-strided triple combination at fence six, and when it was raised for round two it presented a significantly greater challenge.
However the winners made it look easy when Alexander Butler (Athene), Eoin Gallagher (Faltic HB) and Eoin McMahon (Chakra) all went clear once again, leaving no pressure on anchorman David Simpson (Foudre F) in either round.
The French lost touch when the 16 faults collected by their first two riders were followed by the retirement of Pierre Alain Mortier (Just Do It R) who ran into trouble at the triple combination second time out. But it was neck-and-neck between the Dutch, Spanish and British for runner-up spot in the closing stages.
A single time fault for the last Dutch pair, veteran Wout-Jan van der Schans with AS Bombay, proved expensive because otherwise the hosts would have also finished on eight faults along with Spain and Great Britain, and their combined times of 217.71 seconds would have left them in third.
But it wasn’t to be and when, despite elimination of last-line British contender Chad Fellows who took a fall when his 12-year-old gelding Eindhoven GH got into a muddle at the first element at fence six, it was Jack Whitaker (Scenietha), Joe Stockdale (Equine America Cacharel), William Whitaker (Galtur) and Fellows who finished closest to the Irish. Their time of 215.52 gave them the edge over Spain’s Manuel Fernandez Saro (Jarlin de Toes), Santiago Nunez Riva (Valentino de Hus Z0, Ismael Garcia Roque (La Costa) and Sergio Alvarez Moya (Valdocco des Caps) who clocked up 218.33 between them.
With the Semi-final for the North and West region cancelled, today’s top three teams have all qualified for the much-anticipated series Final in Warsaw, Poland on 24 July, and the winning Irish were particularly pleased about that.
“This was our only chance to qualify for Warsaw so I told my lads that they had to win it, and nothing else would be accepted by me!”, said Irish Chef d’Equipe Michael who added today he had “four special riders and four special horses” in his team.
Pathfinder, Alexander Butler, was delighted with his 16-year-old mare who originated from close to Peelbergen. “She has already been to top of sport with Aniek Poels, so it has been easy for me to get up and jump that level with her and I’m very grateful for that”, said the 33-year-old Irishman.
Talking about today’s course he said, “the first round was very fair, and putting it up a hole in a few places including the combination made a big difference for second round. We had a very good start and didn’t change our plans with any of our horses or riders”.
Gallagher said, “we had a strong team today, all our horses won international Grand Prix classes recently and my guy was on form today. The way he cleared the first few jumps gave me great confidence in the first round.
At the end of the first round there were five teams tied, but in the second round the margins were smaller because the lines tested people and mistakes crept in. But luckily it was our day today!”
Asked if being the favourites made it easier for the Irish side, Eoin McMahon replied “I didn’t know we were favourites but I thought we had good chance! David and Alex have a lot of experience but myself and Eoin haven’t done many Nations Cups, so when Alex got us off to a great start then that gave us great confidence”.
David Simpson admitted “I had a handy day at the office!”, but is looking forward to playing his part in another Nations Cup soon. “Of course that’s down to Michael, but I hope he might keep this winning team together”, he said.
Chef d’Equipe Blake paid tribute to Peelbergen show organiser Ken Ruysen and his team, and thanked Longines for their sponsorship of the exciting new series. Donning the brand new Longines time-piece awarded as a member of the winning side, Butler said he’d be keeping his “for very special occasions!”