February 17, 2019--The stage was set for a brilliant Nations Cup this afternoon at the Palm Beach Masters, a much-anticipated five-star-rated boutique show just a couple of miles from the bustling 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
The riders appreciated a change of venue and the magnificent grass field at the Jacobs’ family’s bucolic Deeridge Farm, which was hosting the Nations Cup for the first time. The hospitality is unrivaled; the two-story VIP tent (where the best tables with six guest passes cost $12,500 for the week) offered a dazzling array of food; everything from surf and turf, sushi, inventive salads and marinated shrimp to little artisanal pizzas, and conversation was punctuated with the popping of champagne corks.
From the stands to the VIP, the place was packed with enthusiastic spectators who came to see riders from their favorite nations in the two-round match over a course designed by Alan Wade, who laid out the routes at the FEI World Equestrian Games™. In addition to the U.S., there were five countries competing, with Mexico, Ireland, Colombia, Canada and Israel all having their share of cheering partisans.
This is the USA’s only Nations Cup that is a qualifier for the finals in Barcelona, Spain, during September, so it took on extra importance beyond the prize money and the honors.
Lou Jacobs, the founder of the three-show Masters series with his brother, Charlie and sister, Katie Jacobs Robinson, explained the family’s thinking on opening their estate for top-flight competitions.
“The horse community, particularly the high-performance horse community, is here for these months in Wellington. To be able to have them stay here and have the Nations Cup makes so much sense,” he said, noting the Nations Cup was previously held in Ocala. That town is about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Wellington, which meant riders based in “the winter equestrian capital of the world” had to pull up stakes for a week to participate in the Nations Cup.
The show’s partner charity is the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, which raises funds for the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s international competition efforts.
Looking to the future, the show also offered Nations Cups for children, juniors and Young Riders, giving them a taste of team competition as they pursue their goals of someday riding internationally on a senior team.
“It means a great deal to me that the athletes, the USEF and the equestrian community have that trust and faith in us,” Lou observed.
Nations Cup prospects were bright for a U.S. squad that originally included Mclain Ward, Devin Ryan and Laura Kraut, three of the four riders who brought home the gold medal last year at the WEG in Tryon, North Carolina, as well as WEG alternate Beezie Madden, along with Margie Engle. Then Devin dropped out, feeling his horse, Eddie Blue wasn’t 100 percent, but college student Lucy Deslauriers came aboard as alternate.
I talked with U.S. Coach Robert Ridland this morning about the importance of the Nations Cup. Click on this video to hear what he had to say.
Shortly after our conversation, however, Margie had to drop out because she was suffering from the flu (it’s been going around down here). That was a shame, since she was second Friday with her stallion, Royce, to Ireland’s Paul O’Shea (Imerald Van ‘t Voorhof) in the $210,000 Longines Grand Prix. Her decision to withdraw rather than being unable to give the team her best effort promoted Lucy to the squad under less-than-ideal circumstances.
“Lucy walked the course with us an hour and a half before [the class] and we didn’t make the official decision [to put her on the team] until an hour and five minutes before. She didn’t have the same preparation as the other riders did,” noted Robert.
But she was game, dropping a rail and faulting at the water in the first round before coming back with a gritty ride in the second to score a fault-free trip with her reliable Hester. Laura, with Confu, and Beezie with Breitling LS, had one clear trip apiece. McLain Ward, riding his Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals winner HH Azur, wound up with a knockdown in each round, greeted with groans from the U.S. fans.
Mexico led after the first round with 0 penalties, but the U.S. and Ireland were tied for second with 8, while Israel stood fourth on 9.
While Mexico held its edge in the second round, everything changed for the others. When the class concluded, there were three clear rounds for the U.S. to give the home side the bronze medal with a 12-penalty total. A total of four clear trips for Israel (including a double for Daniel Bluman on Ladriano Z) enabled that team to finish on a score of 9 penalties that produced the silver.
Mexico—which served notice that it would be a factor on the world scene by winning the coveted Aga Khan Cup in Dublin last year—had five clear rounds; one from Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado (Tino La Chapelle), but also a pair of double-clears from U.S.-based Eugenio Garza Perez (Victor Finn DH Z) and Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane (Hortensia van de Leeuwerk). That country’s total was a mere 4 penalties, leading to gold and riotous celebration.
The understandably subdued home side, in contrast, stuck with polite smiles.
“We had a good day. We had quite a few clean rounds. We didn’t have a great day. It’s as simple as that,” coach Robert said before the awards ceremony.
Laura Kraut was optimistic about qualifying for Barcelona as the team goes forward this year. Click on this video to find out her thoughts.
Robert put everything in perspective, saying, “To win these Nations’ Cups, it just shows the strength of the [North American] League. You need to have a great day, and Mexicans did. It’s not an upset. They beat us all in Dublin last year. They have a really strong team and they did it on our home turf and now we have to go down there and do it on theirs. So they’re in a really good position,” he said, referring to the fact that the next qualifier is south of the border.
Beezie and I talked not only about the competition, but also about the Palm Beach Masters. Click on this video to hear what she had to say.
Beezie’s appreciation of the show and Deeridge was echoed by other riders and chefs d’équipe. As Mexican Chef d’Equipe Stany van Paesschen said, “It’s a beautiful venue. The ring is absolutely fantastic. It’s like a home garden, as it’s really well kept. We are not used to places like this in Europe. In Mexico, they also have great places, but this is a great venue and among the best in the world.”
For full results from the show, click here.
For results of the $290,000 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™, click here.