Water woes and a valiant climb: Britain’s showjumpers narrowly foiled in Aachen Nations Cup thriller

  • Britain narrowly lost out to Switzerland in a pulsating finish to the Nations Cup 1.60m class at CHIO Aachen. After two rounds in the hallowed main stadium in front of a 40,000-strong crowd, the Brits finished on eight faults, behind the Swiss (Steve Guerdat, Edouard Schmitz, Niklaus Schurtenberger and Martin Fuchs) on four.

    But it was not without controversy. In round one, the British second rider Harry Charles was given a late four faults for a foot in the water, which neither he nor the rest of the team believed he’d had. They appealed to get the penalties removed, but no footage could show an unimpeded image to review.

    This meant Harry’s eight faults had to count, which left the team languishing in seventh of the eight nations. But they stormed almost to the top in the second round, courtesy of clear rounds from Harry, Ben Maher and Scott Brash. Harry put his initial frustration aside to celebrate what he described as “the best night in showjumping”.

    “These are the nights we do it for, and I think to come back like that in the second round, help out the boys out and push us close, I’m very proud,” he said. “I was disappointed by the decision with the water jump in the first round. Obviously they saw something that no one else did. He [Romeo 88] was definitely not in the water jump so it was a hard pill to swallow. But happy to come out and put it right in the second round. We’ve been third last year, second this year, so it looks like next year we should be winning.”

    Aachen Nations Cup showjumping: how it unfolded

    Pathfinder Ben Maher kicked off the British challenge and set the standard for the whole field with a neat clear on Dallas Vegas Batilly, a 10-year-old mare he’s been riding since last autumn. This first rotation of riders proved the cleanest of phase one, with four more clears out of the seven. Faults came thick and fast in the next two rotations.

    Harry was first in the second group and had a frustrating start on Ann Thompson’s Romeo 88 when he knocked down part of the orange double at fence three. Then came the controversial faults at the water. Tim Gredley also had an early fence down and a water penalty, aboard Medoc De Toxandria, but Scott kept Britain in the running with an immaculate clear aboard Hello Jefferson.

    Meanwhile, France, Switzerland and Sweden were battling it out at the top after round one, with each team logging just one fence down apiece. Things didn’t go so smoothly for the Netherlands. Although they started well with Marc Houtzager’s clear on Holey Moley, Lars Kersten’s Emmerton stopped when on a bad stride to the double at fence three. They re-presented but the gelding had had enough, causing Lars to somersault off, removing the bridle in the process.

    The class built up to a dramatic conclusion in round two under the night sky. Clears from both Ben and Harry meant Britain started to edge her way up the leader board, while her fellow eight-faulter teams fell by the wayside.

    Among the leading trio, Sweden put in a couple of mediocre rounds to drop out of the reckoning. France’s number three Marc Dilasser looked set to put a good result on their record until the penultimate fence, when Arioto De Gevres stood off and paddled through the “ocean waves” triple bar. This put him too far off the final upright, and after trying to chip in a little one, he stopped, catapulting Marc into the turf – and also lost his bridle. When Hello Jefferson produced another catlike clear, it left both France and Switzerland needing clears from their final rider to be assured of victory.

    “He was fantastic,” said Scott of the 14-year-old owned by Lady Pauline Harris and Lady Pauline Kirkham, whose two rounds were copybook. “The first round I felt I was a smidgen too deep to the water, so I tried to make that improvement second time round and he felt really, really good.”

    France’s Kevin Staut had endured a disappointing 16 faults in round one, and it didn’t improve much in the finale. He lowered three on Visconti Du Telman, and France dropped right down to seventh. But there was never a moment’s concern for Switzerland as Martin Fuchs clocked his second perfect clear on the 10-year-old Commissar Pezi to seal the Swiss victory, their first since 2002.

    Martin showed his trademark coolness under pressure, and put this down to his “amazing horse”.

    “Steve [Guerdat] told me just to do the same as the first round, and I entered the ring with so much confidence,” said Martin. “I said, ‘Pezi, I’ll give my best, and I know you’ll do yours so let’s try to win this Nations Cup’. Before the last line I started to get a little bit nervous, with two more fences to jump, but we’ve won the coolest Nations Cup there is, with a great team, my father as team trainer and an amazing chef d’equipe in Michel Sorg. It’s an amazing night.”

    Behind Britain, in third, was Belgium after also making an impressive second-round climb.

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