On Thursday, it was the start of a French revolution in the first round of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2022 at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain.

The last time the team won the title was nearly 10-years-ago in 2013. Yet with the 2024 Paris Olympics drawing nearer by the competition, the French team comprised of Simon Delestre, Gregory Cottard, Julian Epaillard and Kevin Staut are putting on a strong front. They were the only team to raise an impressive clear score card after contesting the 17-element 1.60m track by Olympic course designer Santiago Varela (ESP).

The same team of horses and riders finished sixth at the Ecco FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark in August, and they’ve continued to steadily build up their horses over the past few months.

“We were just saying how much they have grown since Herning. They are super quality horses with a good mind, they are fighters and really modern horses and they proved that again today. My horse has had an amazing Nations Cup season this year,” explained Delestre of the 10-year-old Selle Français gelding, Cayman Jolly Jumper.

“He’s never easy but the way he jumps really helps. He’s always improving and I think he’s getting more confidence in himself and also in me. Today I had a really nice warm-up and in the arena the ride-ability is always better.”

Cayman Jolly Jumper was part of the winning team at the Nations Cup of Rome CSIO5* at the Piazza di Siena in May, and the second place team for the CSIO5* Nations Cup in Rotterdam in June. Currently, his stats have continued trending in a promising direction. According to JUMPR App, his clear round rate at 1.60m is 56% over 16 rounds, an 39% uptick this season.

Epaillard’s 10-year-old mare Caracole De La Roque has even less experience than Delestre’s gelding, logging just nine 1.60m rounds before Barcelona. But an impressive CSI4* Grand Prix 1.55m win in Opglabbeek, Belgium just two weeks ago put them in excellent form for this week’s final.

With Cottard in the irons, 11-year-old Bibici has proved to be a reliable member of the French team on numerous occassions. In June, the pair finished second alongside Delestre and Cayman Jolly Jumper during the CSIO5* Nations Cup in Rotterdam. They also jumped into the top ten at the World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany earlier this year.

Gregory Cottard / FEI / Richard Julliart

To date, Staut’s 13-year-old gelding Scuderia 1918 Viking D’la Rousserie has accured 258,377 euros in prize money, so it’s no surprise the pair that helped secured the CSIO5* Nations Cup in Knokke in June was able to pull out a clean score on Thursday.

The Irish team were close behind

Taking up the second position was the Irish team. Andrew Bourns, Trevor Breen, Jack Ryan and Mark McAuley finished the day on a respectable four fault score after McAuley’s eight-fault round with 13-year-old gelding Jasco V Bisschop served as the drop score.

Bourns caught the rail on the first fence with his top partner 11-year-old Sea Topblue, who had an otherwise fantastic round. Sea Topblue has come into his own this season, jumping to the win with the team during the CSIO5* Nations Cup of Canada in June and placing fourth in the 1.60 Grand Prix at the Dublin Horse show in August.

While the Irish aren’t often satisfied with playing second fiddle, the team’s youngest rider, 21-year-old Ryan, was thrilled to put down one of the two clear rounds with his 10-year-old gelding Bbs Mcgregor.

Jack Ryan / FEI / Richard Julliart

“It was fantastic, Andrew [Bourns] was very unlucky at the first jump and the horse jumped amazing after that, and then Trevor went clear. There was a little bit of pressure because today is all about qualifying for Sunday and to get the clear round but I think we’re in now so it’s very good,” said Ryan

“McGregor is very special, my mother bred him and he’s been a fantastic horse. He’s a great character and everything he’s been asked to do so far he’s done it with ease. He has a big heart and every time he goes in the ring he wants to do his best and you can’t ask for more than that.”

The other clear round contribution came from Breen aboard 10-year-old Highland President, who helped the Irish team secure third in the CSIO5* Nations Cup in Rotterdam in June.

Spain has the spirit

Finishing the day in third on a five point score was Spain, a result Eduardo Alvarez Aznar credits to their fighting spirit.

“We were aiming to be in Sunday’s Final so we couldn’t be more happy. We don’t have the strongest team on paper but we have a good string of horses and the riders are all fighters so we are always going to try, and on Sunday it’s one day, one round and anything can happen,” said Alvarez Aznar.

“Manuel [Fernandez Sara] had an unlucky time fault with Jarlin de Torres and Mariano [Martinez Bastida] had the first fence down [with Delano v. Wijnhoeve Z] and I thought it would be a long trip to the end but he fought. Alberto [Marquez Galobardes] had three down but the horse [Aldo du Manoir] got tired at the end and needs a bit more experience at this level maybe.”

On Sunday, the teams will start on a zero score. With eight teams advancing, it’s anyone’s game.

For some countries the priority isn’t a win

The Nations Cup Final is one of the most coveted team titles of the year, but The Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final also offers a single Olympic Team Qualification, so the goal is to punch their ticket to Paris.

The slot will go to the top placing team that has not already qualified. The host country (France), Sweden, The Netherlands, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany have already secured their team spots, so they need only focus on the podium in Barcelona.

Related Reading: At the Longines FEI Jumping™ Finals, There’s One Olympic Team Qualification Up For Grabs.

The top eight nations will advance to the second round on Sunday. Starting on a zero score, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain will go head to head. Yet the battle for the Olympic qualification is between Switzerland and Belgium.

Feature Image: Julian Epailard / FEI / Richard Julliart