Britain came, saw and conquered in the second leg of the Samsung Super League. A superb performance by Michael Whitaker on Portofino (pictured) and Nick Skelton on Arko III brought home a hard-won 10 points, despite stiff opposition from the Germans and the Americans.
On the eve of the competition, which took place against the splendid backdrop of Piazza di Siena, in Rome, on Friday 27 May, French chef d’equipe Jean-Maurice Bonneau had forecast a “very fierce battle” and he proved a good prophet.
Germany, which was first in the arena, fielded a formidable team with Ludger Beerbaum and Goldfever, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Checkmate, Christian Ahlmann and Coster, and Marco Kutscher with Cash.
But Italian designer Marco Cortinovis had created a challenging track with plenty of questions, which stopped a number of riders in their tracks. Many had problems with the sequence of wall, water fence, vertical and oxer and, later, a triple-bar followed by a triple combination proved especially hard.
“I found it tough right from the very first fence, there was nothing easy and after the first round I knew my horse and myself had worked hard — the middle of the treble was big and so was the last — horses were getting tired at the end of the track,” said Michael Whitaker.
Among those hit the hardest by the track in the first round were Ellen Whitaker on AK Locarno and Beerbaum, who both collected 12 faults to become the discard scores for their teams. But clear rounds by Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton brought the British team to the top with just four faults, followed by the Americans and the Germans with eight.
After Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum jumped a clear in the second round, Germany stood a good chance — until Goldfever had his say, that is. Ludger Beerbaum’s mount refused at the first of the triple combination and he could not be coaxed to go on. Beerbaum had to bow out and that left Germany with 20 faults and a somewhat disappointing third position.
It was open battle between Britain and America by the time Laura Kraut entered the arena with Miss Independent. In the second round, Bezzie Madden-Patton had a fence down on De Silvio and Schuyler Riley had a clear round on Ilian, while Anne Kursinski’s eight faults looked set to be the discard score. A clear by Laura Kraut would have given the Americans a good shot at the top spot with the British team still to go. Kraut and Miss Independent looked about to make it as they jumped a faultless round — but they hit the very last fence. The poles went down and America’s score went up to 16 faults.
The British team had four faults from the first round, and victory looked close when Nick Skelton jumped a fabulous double clear. But Ellen Whitaker picked up eight faults and so did Funnell on Mondriaan. After Kraut’s round, all hopes of victory rested squarely on Michael Whitaker and Portofino, who were the very last in the ring. A fence down, and there would be a jump-off. Two, and the British would lose first place, and precious points, to an already well-placed America.
So all eyes were peeled on the British combination when they entered the ring. Spurred on by Skelton who, says Whitaker, “had some harsh words for me before I went in,” the pair jumped another marvellous clear to win the day. “You don’t get nervous in this situation — you just have to focus on what you are doing and get on with it,” he said afterwards.
British chef d’equipe Derek Ricketts was understandably overjoyed. “It was the most beautiful arena in the world and the horses jumped really well. It was a very strong competition and our horses performed brilliantly,” he said.
Britain now lies in equal first in the Samsung Super League with the United States on 17 points, followed by Germany with nine and France with seven. The next leg will take place in St Gallen, Switzerland, on Sunday 5 June.
Meanwhile, Ellen Whitaker was third in the Rome Grand Prix, which took place in piazza di Siena on Sunday, behind Germany’s Ahlmann and Coster, and Ireland’s Carey and Killossery. Funnell, Michael Whitaker and Skelton pulled out of the Grand Prix after a thunderstorm interrupted the competition, raising concerns over the ground.
Samsung Super League Second Leg results
1. Britain 12
2. United States 16
3. Germany 20
4. Switzerland and The Netherlands 24
5. France 27
6. Belgium 28
7. Italy 36
8. Ireland 41