With serious show jumping team action still some time away in 2020, there are no early season pointers to go on seven months out from the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Last week in this column it was mentioned that Irish show jumpers notched more clear rounds in team competitions in 2019 than those from any other country— with the qualification that the competitions concerned were not just the top-level events but across all categories, and it had to be taken into account that not all nations contested the same number of events.
Still, it was something to get enthused about.
Following those figures, which came from Swiss equestrian magazine Pferde Woche, the world governing body (FEI) issued it’s official end-of-year rider rankings for 2019 last Friday.
These rankings are for individual riders as there is no official team ranking, but In the absence of other parameters at this stage of the year it is worth checking what hints the figures might be giving team-wise.
Olympic teams will have only three riders, plus one reserve. Those four might not be each country’s top four in the individual rankings - it’s more down to what horses will be in peak form come the right time.
For instance, two of Ireland’s mainstay team riders of the past year - Peter Moloney and Cian O’Connor - are not even among the top ten Irish riders in the rankings due the their more conservative participation on the international circuit in the past year, but they are sure to be contenders for the Olympic team, horses being on form.
For what it’s worth, the figures below combine the ranking points of the top five riders from each of the 20 Olympic-qualified countries.
They do, as it turns out, give a somewhat representative snapshot of the strengths of the relevant nations over the past year or so.
A group of four countries are closely matched at the top end with totals of 11,000+ points between their five highest-ranked riders. Ireland is not one of them.
The four are, in order, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and USA. Following those, there are three countries clustered at 10,000+ ranking points.
Again in order, these are Great Britain, France, and Ireland. Surprisingly, Netherlands and Sweden, both quite strong a couple of seasons ago, come out eighth and ninth with 9,949 and 9,495 points respectively. Below them you have Brazil on 8,824. That completes the top 10 of the 20 Tokyo hopefuls.
Mexico (7012) are 11th and there here follows a bit of a gap to Israel (5,307), Eqypt (5,302) and Australia (4,457). Japan come in at 15th on 3,405, New Zealand next with 3,277 and Argentina follow on 2,226.
The bottom three are Czech Republic (2,132), China (1,137) and Qatar (913).
The five Irish riders whose points were added above were Darragh Kenny, Bertram Allen, Denis Lynch, Daniel Coyle and Shane Sweetnam. Kenny is Ireland’s highest-ranked rider at number eight in the world, Allen is 32nd, Lynch 36th, Coyle 37th and Sweetnam 39th. Next on the rankings for Ireland are Shane Breen at 49th and Paul O’Shea in 50th.
As mentioned last week, O’Shea scored the most clear rounds for the Irish team in 2019. Brazil, incidentally, are no longer one of the seven countries that, like Ireland, have qualified teams for Tokyo in all three Olympic disciplines.
Their dressage team have had to forego their place after failing to achieve a full set of minimum eligibility scores for their riders by the deadline of December 31.
The Brazilians were hampered by the difficulty of finding suitable events, a fate which also befell South Africa who also forfeit their team place.
France and Austria are the two countries who now cash in, so the French will also have the complete set, and they are the defending Olympic champions in both show jumping and eventing, but still had to qualify.
The FEI end-of-year rankings for dressage show Ireland’s Judy Reynolds in 14th place, down two slots from November.
Reynolds has made only one competitive appearance since August, mirroring the 2018/2019 season when she had a quiet start before powering through the World Cup rounds early in the year and concluding by getting Ireland across the line to secure a Tokyo team place at the European Championships in Rotterdam in August.
This coming weekend European top-level action resumes with Switzerland the focus for the latest leg of the FEI World Cup which takes place at Basel. The fixture hosts a show jumping round but is not part of the dressage series. Irish interest comes from Denis Lynch, Mark McAuley and Gerard O’Neill.
Much Irish attention over the next three months will centre on the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington in Florida where a host of Irish riders have bases and others base themselves for its 12-week duration. The first WEF action gets underway today.