Britain has made a great start to the 2005 Samsung Super League. Derek Ricketts’ team ended the opening bout at La Baule, France, in second place, just one fence behind the Americans.

Frederic Cottier and Serge Houtman’s track proved a tough nut to crack as the first rider in the arena, Holland’s Angelique Hoorn, discovered. Her horse, BCO VDL Oranta, dug her heels in at the final line and simply refused to jump. Hoorn made a number of attempts to coax him into giving the fence a shot, but was eliminated.

The Swiss were next in the arena with Markus Fuchs, who jumped clear with La Toya. After him, another seven riders went on to jump a clear round, including Ellen Whitaker, who had her Super League debut on Friday on AK Locarno 62.

Nick Skelton picked up four faults on Russell, as did William Funnell on Mondriaan, while John Whitaker was the first round’s discard score, as he collected eight faults on Exploit de Roulard.

At the end of the first round, the Americans and the French were head to head with four faults, Britain and Switzerland followed in equal third place with eight, Germany was fifth, Belgium sixth and the Netherlands and Ireland were equal seventh with a massive 24 faults.

The Irish faced controversy over Harry Marshall’s new mount, Ado Annie, when it turned out that mare’s tongue had been tied down. After a consultation with the FEI, the grand jury decided that Marshall would be fined but not eliminated, so he could come back for the second round.

Hoorn had another nightmare in round two, when Oranta refused to jump and was eliminated again. After the Dutch, the Swiss quickly lost ground when Fuchs, Fabio Crotta and Niklaus Schurtenberger ended with eight faults each.

The battle for the top spot narrowed to the French, the Americans and the British. The home team had done really well in the first round, but they weren’t able to replicate their feat. Laurent Goffinet, who had first jumped clear with Flipper d’Elle, picked up 11 faults to become the discard score. As Christian Hermon ended with six faults, Jean-Marc Nicolas with nine and Hervé Godignon four, the top two spots went out of the question.

Britain had a magic moment when Ellen Whitaker became the first rider of the day to jump a double clear. “I’m very pleased, because it’s the first double clear I’ve jumped in a team competition. I wasn’t nervous at all going into the competition. I just concentrated on each fence as it came – you’ve got to worry about what you’re doing at the moment rather than what’s coming – and before you know it you’re jumping the last fence still clear,” she said.

Her prowess, however, was not enough to secure the win for Britain. Although the team did pretty well —Skelton collected four faults, John Whitaker eight and Funnell was the discard with nine — the Americans proved unbeatable.

Olympian Beezie Madden collected four faults, Super League debutante Georgina Bloomberg, who is the daughter of the mayor of New York, had eight. But British hopes were definitively quashed when Schuyler Riley and Ilian jumped the other of the competition’s two double clears, and secured the top spot for their team without fourth rider, Laura Kraut, even having to bother making an appearance into the arena. This, however, did not prevent Kraut from hailing her squad’s victory as “the beginning of a new era for American show jumping.”

The American all-girl team was unanimous in attributing their success to chef d’equipe George Morris. “He has tried to create more of a team spirit and we have been working really well together,” said Riley.

The US now lead the Samsung Super League with 10 points, followed by Britain with seven and France with five. The next leg of the series will take place in Rome on 26 to 29 May.

Samsung Super League La Baule results

1. USA 16 faults
2. Britain 20 faults
3. France 23 faults
4. Germany 28 faults
=5. Belgium and Switzerland 32 faults
7. Netherlands 45 faults
8. Ireland 48 faults

Samsung Super League ranking

1. USA 10 points
2. Britain 7 points
3. France 5 points
4. Germany 4 points
=5. Belgium and Switzerland 2.5 points
7. Netherlands 1 point
8. Ireland 0.5 points