Three-man Aussie team – with Olympic eventer on side – beat the odds to be hailed Nations Cup Final heroes in Dutch conquest

  • Seemingly against all odds, a three-man Australian team took Saturday night’s Challenge Cup for the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain (28 September-1 October) to a thrilling jump-off against the mighty Dutch.

    Even more remarkably, two of the Australian side’s horses competing at this prestigious final are teenage half-siblings, making it a real night to remember for all involved.

    It would eventually be the Dutch who prevailed, but it was a competitive night of top tier sport for this consolation round for the seven lower ranked teams from Thursday’s qualifier, won by Great Britain. The Australian trio posted two clears from Hilary Scott on Oak’s Milky Way and Jamie Kermond riding Yandoo Oaks Constellation, with former Olympic eventer Chris Burton, who is forging a stellar new career concentrating solely on the coloured poles, just picking up four faults with Chedington Hazy Toulana.

    Meanwhile the Dutch, with the luxury of a drop score, joined them at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the night on a four-fault team tally, courtesy of clears from Jur Vrieling (Long John Silver 3 NOP) and Maikel van der Vleuten with Beauville Z NOP. Four-fault rounds came from Kim Emmen (Inflame Go) and Willem Greve riding Highway TN, forcing a jump-off between the two teams to decide top honours for the Challenge Cup in the Nations Cup Final, Barcelona.

    Jump-off to decide Challenge Cup in Nations Cup Final, Barcelona

    Chris was picked to represent the first-drawn Australian side, jumping at only his second five-star show and making his Nations Cup Final debut. He and the exceptional Toulon x Indorado mare, formerly ridden by fellow Australian Edwina Tops-Alexander, produced an attacking and notably quick round, with just the second element of the midway double falling for four faults in a time of 42.82sec.

    It was then the turn of Willem Greve and the incredible 11-year-old stallion Highway TN, who has really come of age this year, contesting the European Championships in Milan and winning the five-star grand prix in Rotterdam this year. The effortlessly quick stallion powered round the snaking jump-off track without touching a pole, over a second quicker than his Australian opponent and the celebrations erupted on the packed kiss and cry as they were crowned Challenge Cup trophy winners for the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final.

    The Dutch team are victorious in the Challenge Cup for the 2023 Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain

    The Dutch team are victorious in the Challenge Cup for the 2023 Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain

    “Chris put the pressure on, even with that mistake. I had to 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, so I went fast,” revealed Willem. “I think we chose the right tactic!”

    Joy in defeat for the Australians in Nations Cup Final Challenge Cup

    Defeat was sweet for the Australians in Barcelona, nevertheless.

    “It was always going to be a tough fight,” said Hilary Scott, whose 16-year-old mare Oaks Milky Way and Jamie Kermond’s 17-year-old gelding Yandoo Oaks Constellation are half-siblings and were both bred by Hilary’s mother Alice Cameron out of the same Jalisco B mare Galaxie Pierville.

    “It’s amazing, there was some pressure on us tonight and I’m so proud of all of us.”

    The riders had “really pushed” their Federation to be allowed to compete in Barcelona ahead of an Olympic bid next year.

    “We wanted to gain more experience,” explained Jamie. “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.”

    Jamie put down the team’s opening 13th place finish with 25 faults in Thursday’s first round as due to “a lack of recent experience”.

    “We regrouped and we thought our horses were jumping well and we had a shot tonight,” he said. “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!”

    Stephen Lamb, Australia’s chef d’equipe, said: “Having secured an Olympic berth, it’s important for us to compete as a team. We don’t get the opportunity very often.”

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