The Dutch have stormed to the front going into tomorrow’s second and deciding round of the Team Championship while Germany’s Carsten-Otto Nagel leads the individual rankings after another thrilling day at the FEI European Jumping Championships 2011 in Madrid, Spain today.  But it remains a very close-fought affair in both competitions, with less than a fence between the quartet from The Netherlands and the Germans in second place, while the French are almost six points further adrift in third, and only four faults separates the top nine in the individual rankings.

Overnight leader, Olivier Guillon from France, plummeted to ninth when, last into the ring, Lord de Theize hit the wall at fence four in an otherwise flawless tour of the 13-fence track.  But it was the open water that was the talking point at the end of the day, as almost half of the 67 starters picked up penalties here. Course designer, Spain’s Santiago Vareles, got an unexpected, and almost unprecedented, round of applause from the riders at the post-competition press conference when he agreed that the presentation of this obstacle should be re-examined and that he would get to work on it right away.

“Tomorrow we will make some changes to be more fair for the horses at the water jump, it will be good for the sport and better for the horses”, he said. The alterations are expected to include a taller take-off board.

The 1.60m cheese-hole-style red wall, and topped with gold- coloured blocks, was the opening question on the first testing line of fences and was followed by a 1.70m-wide oxer at fence five which led to the triple combination at six – oxer, vertical, oxer.  After circling right to the 1.60m planks which caused relatively few problems it was then left-handed to the next challenging line that began with another 1.70m-wide oxer and then the influential 4.10m-wide water, with most riders opting for a holding five strides to the following vertical.

And there was plenty more to come, with the massive triple bar – 1.58m tall and stretching across a full 2.10m – leading to the penultimate candy-coloured double that punished many who had made it all the way there before dropping a pole.

The Dutch, however, rocketed up from overnight fourth place to take the lead when Eric Van der Vleuten’s VDL Groep Utascha SFN, Gerco Schroder’s Eurocommerce New Orleans and anchorman Jeroen Dubbeldam with BMC Van Grunsven Simon all kept a completely clean sheet, therefore adding nothing to their first-day tally of 7.42 penalty points.  Maikel van der Vleuten’s nine faults, collected for a foot in the bogey water and a mistake at the final vertical along with a time fault, was the discard score.

The Germans were lying second as the day began and were still there at the end.  Carsten-Otto Nagel and Corradina were the only team members to return a zero result, the grey mare nothing short of spectacular as she cruised around the ring with extraordinary ease, although team-mate Janne-Friederike Meyer was denied the same result by just a single time fault with Cellagon Lambrasco who also seemed to be jumping on springs.

Marco Kutscher and Cornet Obolensky looked to have a clear in their grasp until a mistake at the triple bar was followed by another at the first element of the penultimate double, and when the water claimed Ludger Beerbaum and Gotha as yet another of its victims the additional penalties left the German total at 10.41.

The French meanwhile lost the advantage they had established yesterday when the wall and the water proved their undoing.  The busy judge at the water-jump raised his flag for both team pathfinder Michel Robert with Kellemoi de Pepita and third-line rider and defending individual champion Kevin Staut whose mare, Silvana de Hus, also left the last fence on the floor.

Penelope Leprevost (Mylord Carthago) and Olivier Guillon (Lord de Theize) clipped the top of the wall, and the French score of 15.95 leaves them now sitting in bronze medal position but less than two points ahead of the British, who are holding the Belgians at bay by only 3.02 points.  It’s still all to play for in the battle for the team medals.

Sweden holds sixth spot with the Irish in seventh and the defending team champions from Switzerland in eighth, and these three countries are currently filling the Olympic spots available to the three best-placed non-qualified nations.

But while the Swedes look comfortable, the Irish and Swiss are closely followed by the Spanish and the surprising Portuguese who, despite having only three team members, are putting up a tremendous fight. There will be another fierce battle going on between these countries as tomorrow’s team competition draws to a close with just the top 10 teams making the cut.

Carsten-Otto Nagel was delighted to find himself at the top of the individual rankings tonight, but he’s not taking anything for granted.  He has claimed individual European silver twice during his career and finished fifth individually at last year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ – “so I came here determined to try and do a good job”, he said tonight.

He clearly has the gold in his sights this time however.  “My whole year has been planned around this weekend, but we all know that things can change a lot and very quickly.  At the moment we are fighting for the team gold medal – at the end, on Sunday, we will think about what’s happening in the individual competition.”

The Netherlands’ Jeroen Dubbeldam made the same point at tonight’s press conference – for the moment, everyone is concentrated on the team result. Asked if the team or individual honours were more important to him, he said “when you do well for the team, you do well for yourself.  All the riders do the best for their team, that comes first – every time.”

Billy Twomey is the Irish hero after today.  Without his brilliant clear from Tinka’s Serenade the Irish dream of Olympic qualification would be a lot further away.  “My mare performed great, she’s like a thoroughbred and copes really well with the heat.”  And he reinforced Nagel’s sentiments regarding the team event, which is high on the agenda for all the riders as they rest before tomorrow’s final battle.  “Like Carsten said, it’s all about the team at the moment”, he added.

Third-placed Skelton produced another magical round from Carlo today, placing the 10-year-old grey gelding to absolute perfection in front of every fence and looking a big danger to those ahead of him.  But there is so little between the leading group of riders that also includes Belgium’s Gregory Wathalet (Copin Van de Broy) in fourth, The Netherlands’ Gerco Schröder (Eurocommerce New Orleans) in fifth, Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (Ninja La Silla) in sixth, Dutchman Dubbeldam in seventh, Germany’s Meyer in eighth and Frenchman Guillon in ninth, that the fate of the individual championship title is far from settled.

Before all that the 2011 Team Championship title will take centre stage.  And the result is still anyone’s guess….

Individual Standings after second individual qualifier: 1, Corradina (Carsten-Otto Nagel) GER 0.69; 2, Tinka’s Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 0.95; 3, Carlo (Nick Skelton) GBR 1.04; 4, Copin van de Broy (Gregory Wathelet) BEL 1.53; 5, Eurocommerce New Orleans (Gerco  Schröder) NED 1.54; 6, Ninja La Silla (Rolf-Göran  Bengtsson) SWE 1.77; 7, BMC van Grunsven Simon (Jeroen  Dubbeldam) NED 2.51; 8, Cellagon Lambrasco (Janne-Friederike Meyer) GER 2.99; 9, Lord de Theize (Olivier Guillon) FRA 4.00;10, Winningmood (Luciana Diniz) POR 4.98.

Team Placings after first round team final:
1, Netherlands 7.42; 2, Germany 10.41; 3, France 15.95; 4, Great Britain 17.46; 5, Belgium 17.78; 6, Sweden 18.74; 7, Ireland 30.12; 8, Switzerland 31.66; 9, Spain 33.53; 10, Portugal 36.21; 11, Italy 45.49; 12, Denmark 65.22; 13, Austria 68.59; 14, Norway 71.89; 15, Hungary ELIM; 16, Poland ELIM.

Facts and Figures:
67 starters once again in today’s competition, which was the First Round of the Team Final and the Second Individual Qualifier.
The leading nations as today’s class began were France in first, Germany in second and Sweden in third followed by The Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium and Spain.
The oldest horse competing at the FEI European Jumping Championships 2011 is the 16-year-old chestnut gelding Ninja La Silla ridden by Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson.  This partnership won the individual silver medal at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong in 2008.
The youngest horse in the competition is the eight-year-old bay gelding Wavantos VD Renvillehoeve ridden by Lukasz Wasilewski from Poland.
Irish rider Nicola FitzGibbon celebrated her 24th birthday when competing with her 14-year-old gelding, Puissance today.
The bogey fence of the day was the water jump at fence 9.
The final line of fences from the oxer at fence 11 to the double at fence 12 and the final water-tray vertical at 13 also proved difficult for a large number of riders.
Ground Jury President, Stephan Ellenbruch – “we’ve had a long discussion about the water jump, we are trying to find a good compromise but we have to follow the rules and can’t make major changes to the course.  I agree with what the Course Designer and Technical Delegate (Louis Konickx) say, we have to try and find a fair solution for everyone.”
Dutch team member, Maikel van der Vleuten – “I was very happy with my horse, but for sure the result wasn’t good enough with nine faults. Normally the water is not a problem for my horse.”
Dutch team member Gerco Schröder – “We did well today, but tomorrow is another day.  We still have to do our best.”
Great Britain’s Nick Skelton, talking about the challenge presented by the final line of fences. “The problem was the triple bar – it was very big so you had to ride it strong and then the distance to the vertical at the front of the double was very short.  The double was a pale colour and blended into the stand a bit.  It really was a difficult line and the poles on the double fell very easily.”
Dutch team member Eric van der Vleuten, talking about riding alongside his son Maikel – “we work together every day, we have a lot of young horses and we help each other all the time.  Also at the shows we walk the course together and discuss how to make a plan for our horses.  I am his trainer for as long as he rides – we do a lot of things together!”

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