On a day of doubles Team Belgium posted a back-to-back win in Europe Division 1 when coming out on top in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of The Netherlands in Rotterdam this afternoon. There were seven double-clears in the gripping competition over a really testing course set by Ireland’s Alan Wade. And the man who clinched it for the Belgian side, 22-year-old Jos Verlooy riding Igor, had already scooped the honours in Friday’s Longines Grand Prix with his other top horse Caracas.
However perhaps the most important double of all was the fact that this was only the second time in the 70-year history of CSIO Rotterdam for a Belgian side to take the Nations Cup honours. Their only previous victory was back in 1950, and they did it in great style today, under pressure in front of a packed stadium and under the watchful eye of Dutch royal family member, and former Queen, Princess Beatrix when posting a zero scoreline.
The Belgians are the form team right now, and they know it. “Our horses and riders are very strong this year – we are working towards the WEG (FEI World Equestrian Games) in September and I think we can produce a great result there!” said Verlooy. And his Chef d’Equipe Peter Weinberg was thinking even further down the line, to the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2018 Final in Barcelona (ESP) in October. “I have a team of unbelievable fighters and we are high on the points table now so we are looking good for the final!” he said.
Alan Wade will be course designer at the WEG and the world’s best are very happy to get experience over his tracks. As always it was built to maximum height and he tested riders more than horses, demanding straightness, balance, control and complete concentration from start to finish.
Belgium and Germany shared the lead on a zero score at the end of the first round, with Switzerland and USA close behind each carrying just four faults and the hosts and Great Britain next in line with eight apiece. Sweden couldn’t recover from a 15-fault first-round effort, but although the French completed with 16 they, like the British, showed evidence of the development of a very exciting string of newcomers.
Mistakes from Marcus Ehning (Comme Il Faut) and Markus Beerbaum (Cool Hand Luke) undermined German chances, but a double-clear from pathfinder Nicola Philippaerts (24) with H&M Chilli Willi got the Belgians off to a great start in the second round. Niels Bruynseels’ lovely mare Cas de Liberte was one of several horses to misinterpret the triple bar at fence three in round one, and they went on to collect an uncharacteristic 13 faults. But second time out they were pure perfection, so when Verlooy also left the course fully intact it was game over and Belgium’s second win in a week following success in Sopot (POL) last Sunday. Pieter Devos who had stepped in to rescue the situation with a brilliant first-round clear from Espoir didn’t have to jump again.
Verlooy was thrilled to have been the one to seal this historic success and was quick to thank his long-time trainer and current world no. 1 rider, Dutchman Harrie Smolders. “Harrie told me – don’t think about the result, think about jumping every fence correctly and only look at the result when you are over the finish line – stay focused on what you are doing all the way!” Verlooy explained.
Belgium has now overtaken Switzerland on the Europe Division 1 leaderboard with Germany in third, France in fourth, Spain in fifth and Sweden in sixth place. Italy, Ireland, Great Britain and Netherlands are sitting at the bottom of the table but they all have three more chances to dramatically improve their positions at the remaining Europe Division 1 legs in Falsterbo (SWE) and Hickstead (GBR) next month and in Dublin (IRL) where the last qualifier will take place on 10 August.