Team GBR puts the Great into Britain in Rome

Team GBR put the Great into Britain in Rome, taking victory in the all important point-scoring leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup for the second year running. And they did it in style, down to the brilliance of legendary anchorman John Whitaker pulling a double clear out of the bag with Team Harmony’s Ornellaia. Britain won with a fence in hand on a total of four faults.

The Piazza de Siena arena is a favourite of the Brits, and the win echoed the British victory in Rome 12 months earlier. They were the only team to finish the halfway stage on a zero score, Ben Maher on Jane Forbes Clark’s Clinton/Darco stallion Tic Tac and Jessica Mendoza with the British-bred Tornado/Carnaval Drum mare Spirit T matching John’s round one clear. Michael Whitaker was the round one discount score on Beverley Widdowson’s Cassini I/Quidam De Revel stallion Cassionato on nine faults, but Michael conjured up a clear in round two which proved pivotal to the result.

It was far from over, however, as the USA, Holland, France and Italy were all bunched together on four faults as round two started. And when pathfinder Ben came home on eight, Tic Tac hitting the double and the last, and Jessica with Spirit T returned four, it seemed our slender lead was in jeopardy. But the other teams also clocked up faults.

Michael pulled it back with a great clear on a more settled Cassionato leaving his brother John with a fence in hand. And in typical John style, this legendary horseman guided Ornellaia into another celebratory clear.

“It was less pressure than here 12 months ago, I didn’t have a fence in hand that day,” said John afterwards.

But he’d done his job in style and sealed victory for his country, Britain finishing a clear two fences ahead of their nearest rivals. The USA and France finished in equal second on 12 faults each.

Delighted chef d’equipe Di Lampard pointed out her selection decisions for Rio 2016 – just a little over two months away – just got harder. “But that’s OK,” she said, “It’s a really good problem to have.”

After the third leg, Britain stand in third on 155 points. France lead on 165 with The Netherlands in second on 160. Germany are fourth on 135.

John was delighted with the For Pleasure/Calato mare Ornellaia – one of four double clears.

“This was her first Nations Cup and she showed what she can do,” he said. “Ornellaia has done some good things already, she’s really careful and she’s the one for Rio if I am needed and asked to go. I‘m definitely keen to go, there’s nothing like the Olympics, but I’m probably not in the top five if Big Star (Nick Skelton) and Sanctos (Scott Brash) are ready.”

John reckons Michael’s grey stallion is great Olympic potential – “There’s nothing he can’t jump!”

Michael admitted Cassionato was “a bit too fresh” in round one – “He was jumping up so high, so in the second round I had to ask him to come back down!”

Ben was pleased with Tic Tac.

“I started riding him in January in 1.40m classes, and La Baule (France two weeks ago) was our first International show at 1.50m. I’m still getting to know him but he has a lot of experience and I’m looking forward to the future.”

John again was the hero of the hour, and not for the first time. The much respected, legendary sportsman who has embraced so many wonderful moments and victories with such household names as Milton and Ryan’s Son still relishes the excitement of jumping in the ring.

“I don’t feel the pressure anymore, I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do so now I just go out and enjoy myself – I’ve got nothing to prove,” he said.

John and Old Lodge’s Lord of Arabia took 11th in the day’s speed class with Ireland’s Billy Twomey just behind in 12th on Tin Tin. Michael with Daedelus Van T&I took 15th.

Photo © FEI