Di Lampard made no attempt to hide her disappointment after Britain’s showjumpers finished a disappointing sixth in the Hickstead leg of this season’s Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series.
Despite a sizzling double clear from London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Ben Maher on Diva II, Britain could make little impact on the leaderboard as the team fell off the pace set by Belgium, Switzerland and the United States.
In the end, a jump-off was required to settle matters, and it was Belgium’s Pieter Devos who delivered the goods, guiding Dylano home in a time of 42.60 seconds to give Belgium their first Hickstead Nations Cup win since records began 85 years ago. They also secured qualification for the Nations Cup final in Barcelona later this year.
Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger finished more than 1.5 seconds behind Devos in second spot on Bonne Chance, while America’s Beezie Madden had two fences down aboard Cortes C. France, meanwhile, were fourth, Germany fifth, Holland seventh and Italy eighth.
The emphasis for Britain will now switch to next Friday’s Dublin Nations Cup, after which Lampard will finalise her five-strong group to contest the FEI European Championships in Aachen. Just three qualification places remain for the 2016 Rio Olympics, with Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain set to battle it out.
Current world-number-one Scott Brash, his fellow London 2012 Olympic team gold medallist Maher, Michael Whitaker and Guy Williams look set to fill four of those spots, with the fifth rider possibly coming down to a choice between Jessica Mendoza, Joe Clee, Spencer Roe and Robert Whitaker.
Maher proved the outstanding British rider at Hickstead, while Whitaker and Calcourt Falklund posted a clear in round two, and Williams, aboard Titus, had a total of six faults across both rounds. Leicestershire’s Holly Gillott, though, collected 13 and nine faults with Dougie Douglas.
“At the end of the day, it’s experience that has shone through with riders like Ben, Guy and Michael,” British team boss Lampard said. “It has definitely made things a lot clearer. When we finish here on Sunday (after the Longines King George V Gold Cup), we will know even more. It has definitely clarified my thoughts.”
And reflecting on the Hickstead result, which was in stark contrast to Nations Cup victories in La Baule, Rome and Rotterdam this season, Lampard added: “I am very disappointed. All the riders have been in winning teams this season, but this is what happens when the pressure is on for riders who know that we are finalising selection for the European Championships.”
For Belgium, though, it was a cause for considerable celebration, and their hero Devos said: “I was very disappointed with performance in the second round, so I wanted to make amends in the jump-off.
“I had a really good feeling about the jump-off, and I was determined to get out there and ride it. I didn’t watch the other riders go, I was only thinking of my team and winning it. I just went for it, and I am very happy and relieved.”
Earlier in the day, Madden won the Bunn Leisure International Stakes — a one-round speed class — on Breitling. The combination clocked 69.12 seconds to claim a comfortable victory from runner-up Shane Breen (Reconnaissance), with John Whitaker (Castlefield Cristobal 21) third.
Meanwhile, the Old Lodge Young Breeding Horse Championship was won by William Whitaker and Arkol, with Philip Spivey (Darya-l-Nur) second and Marcus Ehning (Calanda) third, and the Children on Horses grand prix saw Olivia Poole triumph aboard Chinook, with India Bussey (Valerie B) in second, and Jordan Gann (Lakeland Dancer) in third.
Image: The Belgian team on the podium by George Gunn, courtesy of Hickstead