On a day that was filled with many surprising twists and turns, the Ukrainian team won the opening leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 series at Al Ain (UAE) this evening. But it was no simple triumph, as they had to battle to the bitter end against a powerful challenge from Qatar that forced a two-way jump-off against the clock.
The Qatari side lost the top step of the podium by the narrowest of margins at the end of the day, but are on the road to the Furusiyya 2014 Final in Barcelona (ESP) in October along with the third-place side from Saudi Arabia, so for both these countries it is already “mission accomplished”.
The London 2012 Olympic bronze medal winning team from Saudi Arabia looked the ones to beat as the competition got underway, and seemed set to cruise home with one of the two available spots for the series Final on offer at this single qualifying event for countries in the Middle East region. But the uncharacteristic elimination of pathfinder Ramzy Al Duhami got things off to a shaky start, and their 21-fault finishing score left them vulnerable.
A total of six nations started in this season-opener, but only four completed. Syria slotted into fourth place with 34 faults while the UAE, already lying fifth after the first round, retired from round two. Meanwhile it was all over for Jordan by the halfway stage after elimination for two of their four riders. Only three countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates – were chasing the two qualifying spots.
Many of the riders were making their 5-Star Nations Cup debut today so course designer, Frenchman Frederic Cottier, had the difficult task of creating a track that would suit both first-timers and others with immense experience. He found the key in a track that didn’t prove easy for either, long distances to big oxers leading to numerous mistakes, and problems for some at the water jumps despite the helpful addition of poles on top.
The water-ditch at four led to a wide oxer at five on a long distance, and this proved the undoing of many. That was followed by the one-strided triple combination – vertical, oxer, vertical – at six, and another wide oxer at seven. There was another long run from the water at eight to the oxer at nine and then a left-handed swing to the vertical three from home which was followed by the tricky penultimate double and finally a vertical to bring them home.
The biggest surprise of the opening round however was the error made by the hugely experienced Al Duhami who, having cleared the oxer at five, turned left-handed to fence 10 instead of swinging wider and running down to the triple combination at six. There was a gasp of disbelief when he jumped the last three fences only to hear the bell ring for elimination – not the start that the country whose Equestrian Fund is so generously sponsoring this hugely successful new series was expecting. And when HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud and the lovely grey, Davos, left the oxer at fence two on the floor and Kamal Bahamdam’s Noblesse des Tess met the oxer at nine on a very long stride to have that down, then the five faults collected by anchorman, Abdullah Al Sharbatly and Unique brought the Saudi first-round total to 13.
The Ukrainians got off to the perfect start with three clears, so anchorman, Ulrich Kirchhoff, retired his grey gelding Chaccland first time out. But the Qatari team was stalking them closely, carrying just the single time fault collected by Khalid Al Emadi and Tamira after both Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani and the lovely Vienna Olympic and Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi and the brilliant Palloubet D’Halong, former ride of Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger, each went clear.
Despite 25 faults for the opening partnership of Chadi Gharib and United King, the Syrian team was lying just five faults behind Saudi Arabia with 18 at the halfway point thanks to a clear from Amre Hamcho (Little Pezi) and just one time fault from his older brother Ahmed Saber Hamcho (Quintus). The UAE racked up 22 when having to add 12 from Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi (Ulme de Feugeres) and 10 from Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri (Quote Zavaan) after Nadia Abdul Aziz Taryam’s elimination at fence four. Last-line rider, Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, was foot-perfect from start to finish with Peanuts du Beaufour, but the team declined to go forward to the second round.
Meanwhile it was all over for Jordan after second-line rider, 23-year-old Ra’ad Naser took a fall when Caballero lll stopped at fence nine and then Sunny Morka, ridden by Maysam Bisharat, stopped at fence five and and again in front of the first element of the triple combination at six.
Walk in the park
As round two got underway it seemed it really should be a walk in the park for the Ukrainians even though they had only a one-point advantage, but Rivetti’s Vivant lowered the third element of the combination and the oxer at nine before Onishchenko returned with 15 on the board. The fabulous mare, Carlina, that was so successful for Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer before being sold to the man who has created the new-look Ukrainian side, had been superb on her first tour of the track, but this time had two down before Onischenko decided to circle before fence nine which added a further five faults to his tally. So when Ferenc Szentirmai and Quickdiamond followed their opening clear with a mistake at the bogey fence nine and then Kirchhoff concluded with a single time penalty, the scoreboard showed a total of 13 faults after two rounds. Exactly the same as the Qataris who piled 12 further faults onto their scoreline despite another wonderful clear from Al Thani and his bay mare.
It was a real surprise when Al Rumaihi provided seven of those faults with Palloubet D’Halong who initially seemed to have established a very nice relationship with his new rider. Al Ajami had lowered two fences while Al Emadi collected five faults before Al Rumaihi set off for the second time, knowing that another clear would now clinch it for his side. But the lines of communication between horse and rider suddenly broke down on the turn to the vertical at fence 10 where the chestnut gelding fell into a trot and then, completely disorganised, couldn’t jump the fence which was now right under his neck.
With Ukraine and Qatar on level pegging after two rounds, the addition of eight more faults would see Saudi Arabia already settled into third place as the jump-off began. Rivetti was chosen to take on Sheikh Al Thani against the clock and, first to go, the Qatari rider produced a brilliant turn from the oxer at five to the vertical at ten to stop the clock on 27.24 seconds in a super-cool and typically beautifully-ridden round. But Rivetti is a master at speed, and although the 16-year-old Vivant had made a double-error in the previous round, there would be no mistake this time out as they scorched home 0.72 seconds quicker.
The start we were looking for
“It is just the start we were looking for” said Ukrainian team manager, Najib Chami, afterwards. “This is our first show for the year and we’re glad to have made it. We are building our team ahead of our Division 1 shows” he explained. Ukraine will take no points from today’s competition because they compete in Europe Division 1, the most high-profile of the four Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping leagues that will be staged across the globe over the coming months.
Former Hungarian rider, Ferenc Szentirmai, is looking forward to the start of the European season. “The team plans to go to La Baule (FRA) and Rome (ITA) and this is a very big year for us” he said. He has been with the Ukrainian team for four years now but pointed out today, “I had to wait two years before I could compete in Nations Cup and World Cup competitions so this was a big day for me!” He was delighted with the performance of his horse, Quickdiamond. “Something happened to my other horse so I had to ride Quickdiamond today even though he has never competed at this level. I was very happy with him” the rider said.
Bit of a risk
Team anchorman, Ulrich Kirchhoff who claimed individual gold for Germany at the Olympic Games in Atlanta (USA) in 1996, said “we took of a bit of a risk today but we were able to deal with it as we have the experience. In the end we pulled it off and it was very good”.
And the result was a delight for the businessman who has brought riders from a wide variety of countries together to create the Ukrainian side. “For me this show has been a big success. It is my first FEI Nations Cup™ competition at 5-Stars. We had a great result in the first round and I’m very happy for this. It’s a great way to start (the year). We have the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ this year, and the qualifiers for the Olympic Games, and we have a strong team” said Oleksandr Onishchenko with a definite hint of ambition.
1. Ukraine 13 faults, 0/26.52 in Jump-Off: Vivant (Cassio Rivetti) 0/8/0 26.52, Carlina (Oleksandr Onishchenko) 0/15, Quickdiamond (Ferenc Szentirmai) 0/4, Chaccland (Ulrich Kirchhoff) Ret/1.
2. Qatar 13 faults, 0/27.24 in Jump-Off: Vienna Olympic (Shk Al Bin Shalid Al Thani) 0/0//0 27.24, Come Soon (Faleh Suwayed Al Ajami) 11/8, Tamira IV (Khalid Al Emadi) 1/5, Palloubet D’Halong (Ali Yousef Al Rumaihi) 0/7.
3. Saudi Arabia 21 faults: Al Capone (Ramzy Al Duhami) Elim/0, Davos (HRH Prince Abdullah Al Saud) 4/4, Noblesse Des Tess (Kamal Bahamdan) 4/4, Unique (Abdullah Al Sharbatly) 5/13.
4. Syria 34 faults: United King (Chadi Gharib) 25/28, Little Pezi (Amre Hamcho) 0/8, Gemini (Houmam Al Khouli) 17/4, Quintus (Ahmed Saber Hamcho) 1/4.
5. UAE 22 faults in first round, Retired round 2: Ulme de Feugeres (Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi) 12, Calawo (Nadia Abdul Aziz Taryam) Elim, quote Zavaan (Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri) 10,Peanuts de Beaufour (Shka Latifa Al Maktoum) 0.
6. Jordan Eliminated in first round: Kiamon (Nasouh Kayali) 12, Caballero lll (Ra’ad Naser) Elim, Sunny Morka (Maysam Bisharat) Elim, Kirfa de Dreisker (Ibrahim Hani Bisharat) NS.
Full result here