Urs Schiendorfer of Longines (pictured far right) presented the U.S. team of Karl Cook, Laura Kraut, Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, Lillie Keenan and McLain Ward with Longines watches for the win in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA. Photo by McCool Photography
San Juan Capistrano, CA – For the second time in a row, Team USA rode away with a Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ victory, this time on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14, in a thrilling performance on their U.S. home turf at the San Juan Capistrano International in California.
Led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, the team of Lillie Keenan on Argan de Beliard, Karl Cook riding Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet, Laura Kraut on Dorado 212 and McLain Ward aboard Contagious, finished on 12 faults. Taking second place with 17 faults was Team Ireland while Team Mexico rounded out the top three with 33 faults.
“At the end of the year last year, we said we were going to have to come out firing,” said Ridland. “Qualifying for the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona had to be a major priority because that’s one of the two ways left to qualify for the [2024 Paris Olympics]. So, we basically took our A-team at the beginning of the year and split it in half.”
With the first “A-team” of riders, the U.S. claimed victory in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on April 28, and with the second group of top-ranked riders, they got it done again, this time in front of the large hometown crowd at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park.
“Basically, all four riders that were on our silver medal team in Tokyo [at the 2020 Olympics] were represented in these two teams,” continued Ridland. “So that was our plan, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – but this time it did!”
At the conclusion of the first round of Sunday’s Nations Cup, the win was still very much anybody’s game, with the U.S. on 8 faults, Mexico on 13, Ireland on 16 and Canada on 26. However, as the rails fell for Canada and Mexico, the U.S. and Ireland pulled further ahead. Then, as Kraut and Dorado 212 came home clear as the third rider to return for Team USA, the victory was cemented for the U.S.
While the win was already guaranteed, Ward and Contagious returned to put the final icing on the cake and to challenge the only other rider with a chance at a double clear, Mexico’s Jose Antonio Chedraui Eguia, for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ leading rider bonus.
In a thrilling display for the crowd, Ward and his 2020 Tokyo Olympic mount, the 14-year-old Contagious, owned by Beechwood Stables LLC, produced the only double clear effort of the competition and successfully secured the CHF50,000 leading rider bonus.
“I thought Leopoldo set a very challenging track,” said Ward of the course built by Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela. “When I walked it, I have to say I was a tiny bit surprised how big it was, but you know what? It’s a CSIO5* Nations Cup. There are huge consequences to this qualification, and that’s the way it should be. I think when this group of riders that we have here is on form, it suits us when it’s more difficult. I think it worked in our favor.”
With a double clear round from their team anchor, Keenan, Cook and Kraut all also put in strong performances through both rounds. Keenan and Argan de Beliard, owned by Sigma Stables LLC, and Cook on Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet, owned by Signe Ostby, both saw only four faults in each round. For Kraut and Dorado 212, only one rail fell in the first round, marking a strong Nations Cup debut for the 10-year-old gelding owned by St. Bride’s Farm.
“I was thrilled with [Dorado 212],” said Kraut. “I will tell you, in the first round, he was definitely impressed. I would agree with McLain; the course was much more difficult than I was anticipating, and he caught me off guard. He was a little bit shy in the first round. He could have gotten smaller for the second round, or he could have grown – and he grew and ran beautifully, like he’d been doing it a long time. I’m really excited that I have a second Nations Cup horse!”
Keenan echoed similar sentiments toward Argan de Beliard’s performance adding, “My horse jumped unbelievable today. I couldn’t have asked any more of him.
“Going first, to be honest, I actually really enjoy that,” continued Keenan in speaking of her role as the very first rider in the class. “I love to go first and not watch anyone go. So that worked out for us. We always joke that whenever Robert pulls the draw, he tends to pull us first! That seems to work for me! Every time I get to jump for Team USA, especially alongside riders that are so strong, it’s a great experience. It’s an awesome day to win on home soil.”
For Cook, the win came even closer to home as he hails from California and has spent much of his life competing on the West Coast.
“Growing up in California, the sport’s in a different location,” said Cook. “Everyone talks about going east or going to Europe, and that’s what you hear the whole time you’re growing up. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that it would be great if the sport was also in California. So, it’s great to be able to show 45 minutes from home, and it’s great to have people who are local that I’ve grown up with to be here to see sport like this. I know it helps inspire the next generation. It’s just really important for the West Coast.”
Sunday’s Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA marked the series’ debut on the West Coast, and event host Blenheim EquiSports was honored and proud to have the opportunity to put on the prestigious class and the full week of CSIO5* competition.
“We’ve had a great week,” said Event Director Stephanie Lightner of Blenheim EquiSports. “The feedback has been phenomenal. Already we’re being asked, ‘Would you like to do this again?’ We know the format of the Nations Cup is changing in the coming year, going a little bit more global. So, we are anxiously awaiting the bid specifications for that, but would we submit a bid? Chances are very good!”
For full results of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA, click here.
Earlier in the day saw another victory for the U.S., this time with Ward taking the win in the CHF35,000 Winning Round, presented by South Coast Plaza. Aboard First Lady, owned by Robin Parsky, Ward topped a field of 13 entries for the win. Finishing in second place were Mavis Spencer and Carissimo, owned by Georgy Sarah Maskrey-Segesman. Kraut helped the U.S. sweep all three top spots, finishing in third with Calgary Tame, owned by Eugenie Angot and Stars And Stripes. For full results of the class, click here.
To learn more about the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA, visit www.USAnationscup.com.