The FEI Nations Cup Series begins today in La Baule, France, and, important as it is, it will play second fiddle to the Olympics.
Conversely, it takes on greater relevance, in that managers will use it to assess form as they deliberate over their London 2012 selections.
Accordingly, with Ireland the only nation of eight not fielding a team in the Olympics, boss Robert Splaine is expecting the series to be even more competitive.
“No country, as far as I am aware, has selected its teams for the Olympics and, as such, I believe the series will be used to judge performance. So, if anything, the early season shows will be as strong if not stronger than in previous years, though there is a possibility weaker teams may be put out as we get closer to the Olympics. Overall, though, all countries will be striving for success and, even more so, doing their best to avoid relegation. I have never been to an FEI Nations Cup show where the standard was anything but as the competition’s name suggests,” said Splaine.
Similarly, Irish riders’ approach to the nations cup series is bound to be influenced by the fact two individual places at the Olympics are up for grabs. While the slots were won by Billy Twomey and Denis Lynch, it is the manager who decides who carries Irish hopes and Splaine confirmed a number of riders had declared their interest in lining out in London.
“There is no greater honour than to represent your country at the Olympics and we have a number of riders who are vying for the positions and a few have told me they are interested. I will be using the first four nations cups as part of the selection process for the Olympics, but, obviously, all that counts is to put out the two best combinations most likely to win a medal.”
Ireland is drawn second of the eight teams in today’s competition and Splaine has nominated Cian O’Connor on Blue Loyd, the pairing that achieved a double clear in the nations cup in Florida in March, Denis Lynch (Lantinus), fresh from his third in last weekend’s Global Champions Tour contest in Spain, Jessica Kürten (Vincente), who won a grand prix last Sunday in Austria with her new horse Voss, and Shane Sweetnam (Amaretto D’Arco) today’s pathfinder who, like O’Connor, featured on the team that won last year’s French Nations Cup. Niall Talbot (Nicos de la Cense) is on the sidelines today.
Splaine also said he would next week name the squads for the nations cup contests in Rome, Italy, and St Gallen, Switzerland.
“I have a fair idea as to which riders will feature, but, obviously, the performance in La Baule is relevant to my decisions, so it would be unwise to name riders until after this weekend.”
Splaine welcomed the news from last week’s inaugural FEI Sports Forum that the FEI Nations Cup Series would be sponsored by Saudi Arabia this year. The deal could be extended for a further five years, dependent on radical proposals for change that Splaine feels are a cause for concern.
“It is important to stress the proposals have not been adopted yet, but, hopefully, any changes would not adversely affect great shows such as Dublin and Hickstead.”
On a propitious note, Lynch got his weekend off to a good start yesterday when third with Night Train in a 1.45m class.
Meanwhile, after an outbreak of equine influenza emerged in two stud farms in Normandy, and a horse from one of these developed a fever competing last week in Le Touquet, quarantine measures have been introduced at La Baule.
lThis weekend’s Chatsworth Horse Trials in Britain has joined Badminton in having to cancel due to the weather. In a statement, the organisers cited the “waterlogged ground conditions”.
Ireland had three riders entered in the CIC three-star Aidan Keogh with Master Tredstep; Mark Kyle with Coolio and Louise Lyons with Watership Down. Keogh was also due to ride Tredstep Bold Flyer in the CIC one-star.
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