Olympic qualification is on the line this week at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2023 in Barcelona, Spain and it’s down to a two-horse race between USA and Brazil.
There’s one qualifying spot up for grabs at the annual team final to the highest placed team not already qualified. Round One saw 15 nations come forward on Thursday. Six were vying for the coveted Paris 2024 spot, but only two made the top eight to advance to Sunday’s Final.
Finishing on a score of zero, the Brits lead the charge with foot-perfect runs from Tim Gredley (Medoc de Toxandria), Robert Whitaker (Vermento) and anchor Harry Charles (Aralyn Blue). They were the only team to finish fault free. A fence behind on four faults apiece are Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, slotting into second, third and fourth places based on their combined times. The remaining countries to make the cut are the defending champions from Belgium and Team USA, each posting eight-fault results, and Ireland and France on team totals of 12.
Come Sunday, all eight teams start afresh with a clean sheet in the title-decider. But there’s only one mission front of mind for Brazil: finish ahead of the USA.
“It’s just about us the USA!” said Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa. “They are a big nation with a very strong team as well. [Thursday] was just a warm-up and we have to go again.”
Brazil has momentum—and the stats—on its side. Both pathfinder Marlon Modolo Zanotell and Grand Slam VDL and Pessoa on Major Tom produced clears in Thursday’s first round and, Pessoa said, his horse primed for a repeat.
“It’s a freak of a horse, the intelligence, the ability to jump, the whole package. He’s very straightforward and has a lot of blood, a lot of temperament, but at the end he wants to jump clear, that’s all he wants to do,” Pessoa said of the 10-year-old gelding.
Major Tom has a 41% clear round average at 1.60m with Pessoa in the irons, while Grand Slam VDL averages 30% at the height, according to Jumpr App
Teammates Stephan de Freitas Barcha and Chevaux Primavera Imperio Egipcio and Luciana Diniz with Vertigo du Desert each had a rail down on Thursday, but historically add strength to the team in numbers, with 75% and 41% clear round averages, respectfully, at the height.
“The two mistakes that we had were silly mistakes that I think we can get rid of, but better to do those little ones [Thursday] than on Sunday!” continued Pessoa.
Team USA, represented by McLain Ward (Callas), Karl Cook (Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet), Jessica Springsteen (Don Juan van de Donkhoeve), and Laura Kraut (Dorado 212), is aiming for both the top of the podium and Paris 2024.
Ward delivered the only clear on the day with his teammates posting four faults apiece. Callas (46%), Kalinka (44%) and Don Juan (33%) have proven clear round records at the height, while Dorando only moved up to 1.60m this season. The 10-year-old gelding is averaging a 7% clear round rate at 1.60m (Jumpr App), but was part of the gold medal winning Nations Cup team in San Juan Capistrano in May with a 4/0 performance.
“The mentality coming into Sunday is going to be to win,” said chef d’equipe Robert Ridland.
“We can make a couple of tweaks to our plan from today and we’ll be in a good place. Everyone’s very positive and when you come here, there’s just so much on the line. It’s a lot more pressure for our group. With two teams in contention for the qualification for Paris on Sunday—that’s front and center for us. We did what we had to do [Thursday], and we live to fight another day. The real day is Sunday and we’re already focused on the weekend.”
The second round of the FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final starts at 3:00 p.m. GMT+2 on Sunday and will be streamed via FEI TV on ClipMyHorseTV.