They waited 22 years to post a long-awaited win on home ground in St Gallen last year, and Team Switzerland stole the show once again when topping the opening leg of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2023 Europe Division 1 series at their home venue.
Their back-to-back victory was no walk in the park, however, with the result only decided in a thrilling jump-off against the clock in which home hero Martin Fuchs sealed it with a clear round from Leoni Jei, while Brazil’s Yuri Mansur and Miss Blue-Saint Blue Farm QH were quicker but left the very last fence on the floor.
The Brazilians were truly impressive, firmly in the lead at the halfway stage on a zero score and without even having to call on their anchor partnership of Pedro Veniss and Nimrod de Muze Z. But in the end, it was Fuchs and teammates Edouard Schmitz, Bryan Balsiger, and Steve Guerdat who stood top of the podium, both Balsiger and Guerdat bolstering Swiss chances with superb double-clear performances.
The time-allowed of 77 seconds proved generous over Swiss course designer Gerard Lachat’s 12-fence track, but the final line of three fences that included a triple bar to a tight double of vertical-to-oxer and the final planks proved influential.
In glorious sunshine, the horses looked fresh and full of enthusiasm as they enjoyed the big open arena, and when Francisco Jose Mesquita Musa (Alea Marathon), Rodrigo Pessoa (Major Tom), and Mansur and his impressive 10-year-old mare all went clear first time out, then Veniss didn’t need to go as only the best three scores would count.
However, Great Britain and Switzerland were only a fence behind, on four faults going into round two when the British fell back with the addition of eight, while the Swiss, in contrast, really rose to the challenge to add nothing to their four-fault scoreline.
The first chink in the Brazilian armour was a brick out of the wall at fence two in an otherwise foot-perfect second run from Mesquita Musa. Pessoa produced a second spectacular clear and Veniss was faultless on his first tour of the track, but when Mansur’s mare kicked out the top plank at fence five at her second attempt, then they moved also on to a four-fault tally, forcing a third-round head-to-head.
That was also a thriller, Fuchs throwing down a superb target time of 42.14 seconds with a clear that had the home crowd gasping all the way. But Mansur was well up on time coming to the last and broke the beam in 41.84 seconds. Fuchs didn’t see the final fence fall for the Brazilian and initially thought he’d been beaten.
“I couldn’t even watch the last fence because I was looking at the time on the clock hoping Yuri would be slower. And then the clock stopped and he was faster and I was ‘whaaaat’!” said Fuchs.
As it happened, he had nothing to worry about. “I have to say congrats to team Brazil and Yuri Mansur for really making it so exciting for everyone today,” he added.
A great day
“What a great day!” 30-year-old multiple champion Fuchs said. “It was a very exciting class; my teammates were fantastic and my horse was great. I had a rail in the first round and was obviously very disappointed with that, because he jumped fantastic and I really thought we could go for the clear. But in the next round he really gave everything, and that’s also why we decided I would be the one to jump off, because my horse felt great today.”
When Swiss pathfinder Schmitz had the first element of the triple combination at fence six down on his second tour of the track, there was nothing sure about the destination of the St Gallen Nations Cup title.
“Now I knew we had to deliver clear rounds, because the Brazilian team looked very, very strong in the first round. We knew we had to put pressure on them and that’s how it turned out. It worked out really great, and it’s always very sweet to win in front of the home crowd,” Fuchs added.
When asked if the result is encouraging ahead of the challenge of achieving qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, which until now has evaded Team Switzerland, Fuchs quickly replied, “We don’t need any encouragement! We are all already highly motivated to get this Olympic qualification, and a win like this gives you confidence, gives you a boost. If you can win in front of the home crowd where the pressure is high, then you know you can deliver also at a Championship, and that’s an important point we can take away from today,” he said.
Olympic places are on offer at the forthcoming FEI Jumping European Championship and at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2023, which will take place in Barcelona (ESP) at the end of September. But before all that, there will be another five exciting rounds to decide the line-up for the Longines Final to which the top seven of the ten nations competing in Europe Division 1 will make the cut.
Sopot in Poland is the next port of call for competitors in this exciting top-level series, which also stops off at Rotterdam (NED) later in June before moving to Falsterbo (SWE) and Hickstead (GBR) in July and finally visits Dublin (IRL) in August.
by Louise Parkes