Kiwis miss the cut but into the Challenge!

Richard Gardner and Calisto 5 were the best of the Kiwis in the first qualifier (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Team Canada posted the only zero score in today’s first qualifier to claim pole position going into Saturday night’s title-decider at the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona. On a day of high drama, The Netherlands, USA, France and Germany were next in line, all finishing on four faults, while Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland claimed the last three places with eight faults apiece.

Ireland also finished with eight, but slower combined times put them into ninth place.

As the last side of 15 into the arena today, the Canadians had the best of the draw and Yann Candele got them off to a flying start with a clear round on Theodore Manciais. Another clear from Tiffany Foster with Tripple X was followed by eight faults for Chris Pratt and Concorde. But with the best three scores to count, it was 2008 Olympic champion Eric Lamaze who wrapped it up with a fault-free effort on Coco Bongo.

Canadian chef d’equipe, Mark Laskin, admitted that he hadn’t been entirely confident about how things might play out, and  was more than pleasantly surprised with Candele’s opening effort. “We had a couple of question marks, a couple of unknowns, some of our horses and riders were not available to come. And Yann Candele, that was only the third time he’s ever ridden that horse, that was the first course he jumped with it, and this is the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona! With Yann I always said I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a couple of rails down, so to come through like that as first rider, it really gave us a spark!”

Yann has his own way of going about things, as his team manager explained. “He’s been traditionally our lead-off rider because he doesn’t count strides, he just adjusts, he improvises. Even after he went into the ring he did some numbers (of strides) that we weren’t planning, and Eric Lamaze said to me, “Why do we even walk the course with him? He might as well just go in and wing it!”

It seemed that the French would also share a zero score but last-line rider Roger Yves Bost was disqualified for using hind boots on his horse that weren’t in accordance with FEI regulations. The 2016 Olympic team gold medallist and 2013 European champion will still be part of the French side on Saturday night, however, as that is a separate competition.

USA’s Mclain Ward and his World Cup winning horse HH Azur did a beautiful clear round (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Overnight Brazil, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the United Arab Emirates will line up for honours in the Longines Challenge Cup, which is always a thriller.

All teams go back to zero for both tonight’s Challenge Cup and Saturday night’s title decider. Mark Laskin is hopeful for Canada in the Final, but he’s not prepared to anticipate too much. “Anything can happen once you get to the dance! We don’t get ahead of ourselves, there are clichés for a reason – one step at a time, one round at a time, we’ll see what happens.”

Frenchman Kevin Staut and Reveur de Hurteise HDC were another pair to go clear, helping taking France into the finals (Image: Libby Law Photography)

The New Zealanders finished 12th out of the 15 teams competing and so head into the Challenge Cup.  Being the first to go wasn’t ideal, but Sam McIntosh and Check in 2 made a great job of it, having just two down and a time fault. At the end of the competition, Sam said she was really proud of the team result. “This is the absolute top level of our sport and we put in solid performances. There are a few edges to refine still but I am looking forward to the next round tomorrow night.”

Samantha McIntosh and Check In 2 at the first qualifier. (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Richard Gardner and Calisto produced the best round of the day for the Kiwis, picking up just four faults. Richard was understandably rapt with his young horse.   “I am really happy, although I made a silly mistake in the last line. That has given me a lot of confidence for the rest of the show – the best riders in the world are here.”

Daniel Meech and Fine had two down, but it was a good performance for this combination who are on their way to great achievements, hopefully.

Top effort by Daniel Meech and Fine – two rails but look so very promising (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Bruce Goodin did a good job to keep his cool after Centina 10 had early rails.  They finished on a score of 20.

Santiago Varela was the course builder and certainly gave the riders a lot to think about: 13 fences – 16 jumping efforts – including a huge, white open brick wall at number four with a water straight after it.  The vertical/vertical/oxer combination was one of the trickiest questions towards the end of the course and caused plenty of problems.

Bruce Goodin and Centina (Image: Libby Law Photography)

There will be extra pressure on the 18 horse-and-rider combinations who jumped clear rounds as they are all now in for a share of the €150,000 bonus which is offered to those who produce a consecutive clear in either the Longines Challenge Cup or the Nations Cup Jumping Final.

The Challenge Cup coverage is on FEI TV and starts at 8am (New Zealand time) on Saturday morning.