Jos Lansink’s world-class Dutch team had to pull out all the stops to beat Australia for the Challenge Cup at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2023 at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain. Carrying four faults apiece, it came down to a duel between the two sides in a second-round jump-off against the clock, and it was Willem Greve who clinched it for The Netherlands with a fast clear from Highway TN.
Dutch pathfinder, Jur Vrieling, put in a copybook round with Long John Silver 3 NOP, but Kim Emmen and Inflame Go lowered the penultimate oxer on the 14-fence track, and then Greve’s stallion put a foot in water, so there was a lot hanging on Maikel van der Vleuten’s anchor ride with Beauville Z NOP.
Despite only fielding three team members, the Australians kept all the pressure on when their openers, Chris Burton and Chedington Hazy Toulana, registered their only mistake at the oxer at fence four. A wonderful clear from Hilary Scott and the 16-year-old grey mare Oak’s Milky Way, and another from Jamie Kermond with Yandoo Oaks Constellation, left them with nothing more to add.
So only a foot-perfect run from van der Vleuten and his Tokyo 2020 Olympic individual bronze-medal-winning partner Beauville Z would keep the Dutch in the game now, and when they delivered and Team Mexico slipped to an eight-fault tally for third place, then it would take a jump-off to separate the two leadings sides.
Burton, who only fully focused on Jumping last year following a long and distinguished career as a world-class Eventing rider, didn’t hold back in the race against the clock. Although he hit the second element of the penultimate double, his time of 42.82 seconds set a really strong target.
Greve shaved more than a second off that when posting 41.43 seconds to clinch it with a classic clear. As he said afterwards, however, “Chris put the pressure quite high even though he had that mistake. I could choose to go for the clear, but with an unlucky rail you wouldn’t make it, so we said we’d just go for it.
“My horse is naturally fast, so we tried to be a little bit faster, and then if I had a rail down, I would still be faster than him, and I think we chose the right tactic and it worked out well!”
Dutch Chef d’Equipe, Jos Lansink, had expected his team to qualify for the finale, but said he was very happy with this Challenge Cup victory. “We came with another goal; on paper we had a very strong team, but the first day wasn’t the way we like to go; everybody had a small mistake, although the horses jumped excellent. The riders know exactly what could be better and that they did today.”
Vrieling admitted that he “made a big riding mistake on the first day on Thursday, which was stupid, so we were focused on doing good today and you have to be happy with a horse that jumps like that – Long John was amazing!” he said.
Kim Emmen said she was surprised by the fault she picked up at the second-last in the first round, “but he (Inflame Go) jumped great and I’m happy with the win!”
Greve was of course delighted with Highway TN’s performance that clinched it.
“At the beginning of the season my other good horse had an injury, Grandorado TN, so I was never thinking in April/May/June to be sitting here. But during the EEF series, he developed so well that we aimed for Rotterdam and he won the Grand Prix. Step-by-step, everything I asked of him he did; he answered unbelievably, and he ended up in the Europeans in Milan and now we are sitting here. So he had an opportunity and he took it with both hands! I’m proud of him; he deserves to have a big win like this!” he said of his 11-year-old horse.
Plenty to celebrate
Despite having to settle for second place, the Australians had plenty to celebrate too. They really threw it down to a team consisting of some of the sport’s biggest stars and produced a superb performance against all the odds.
“It was always going to be a tough fight. It’s amazing; there was some pressure on us tonight and I’m so proud of all of us!” said Scott, whose mother, Alice Cameron, rather remarkably bred two of the horses on the Australian team – her daughter’s mare and Kermond’s 17-year-old gelding.
Talking about how the Australian effort came together, Kermond said, “We really pushed our Federation; we wanted to come here because we wanted to gain experience. We were hoping we were going to have four (riders) with Izzy Stone, but things didn’t quite go the way she wanted at the last show, so she decided not to come. The first day we jumped (Thursday), we just think the jumps we had were a little bit from a lack of experience recently, but we regrouped and we thought our horses were jumping well and we had a shot tonight. We needed everything to go right with the three of us and it nearly did, so we’ll take it! We made the Dutch work for it!” he added.
Van der Vleuten agreed that indeed they did.
Earlier in the post-competition press conference, Spanish course designer Santiago Varela, who paid an emotional tribute to his friend and former FEI Jumping Director Marco Fuste, who so sadly passed away in January this year, said that this year’s Challenge Cup was something special.
“The Dutch team did a great job, but they had to make more of an effort than expected because the Australians did a super-great job! Good sport is like that, and a win is never easy here in Barcelona whether you are in the Challenge Cup or in the Final!”
So van der Vleuten concurred. “As Santi said, it wasn’t a present for us today. Australia made it quite difficult, and they only had three riders, so they did a fantastic job, and also in the jump-off I thought he (Chris Burton) did a great round. He really put the pressure on Willem – they didn’t make it easy!”
by Louise Parkes