Why have so few riders decided to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final?

Laura Kraut, here with Cedric in Paris in 2015, did not come to Gothenburg
Credit : Scoopdyga

Friday 05 April - 11h00 | Sébastien Roullier

Why have so few riders decided to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final?

33 horse-and-rider pairs began the battle for the 2019 World Cup Final last night in Gothenburg, Sweden – just 33, alas… Indeed, one has to go back a decade to find a Final so sparsely-attended. It’s all the more striking given that a record attendance had been expected. GRANDPRIX takes a look at the multiple causes behind this phenomenon. 

 - Why have so few riders decided to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final?

Göteborg: Gothenburg, etc.
Credit : GP

A storied venue – the Gothenburg Scandinavium, whose oval arena is hosting its 15th World Cup Final – a second-to-none organization, one of the best course designers on the planet, Santiago Varela Ullastres of Spain, and a prize purse of €1.3 million – what more could one ask for? And yet, there are only 33 elite pairs in this year’s jumping showdown. That number is four less than last year in Paris and 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska, seven less than Las Vegas in 2015 (the last pre-Olympic year), and 10 less than Geneva in 2010 and Leipzig in 2011. In fact, since the 2009 Final in Las Vegas, where there were only 29 finalists, this year has seen the lowest participation rate in the past decade.

Even if the sidelining of Belgium’s Gudrun Patteet mount Sea Coast Pebbles Z after the first veterinary visit this week further lowered the number, there is reason to be concerned about the number of forfeitures. Indeed, given the results of the different qualifying leagues and the rules of the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), a record number of competitors had been expected in Gothenburg – more than 40, and as many as 45. What’s more, as expected, no European rider qualified in the Western European League (the most competitive in the world) has skipped the event. One thus has to look at the situation in other parts of the world. Continued below.

Should the FEI impose a penalty for non-attendance?

Should the FEI impose a penalty for non-attendance? - Why have so few riders decided to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final?

Edwina Tops-Alexander
Credit : Scoopdyga

In Europe, only Edwina Tops-Alexander, who lives in the Netherlands, decided not to go to Sweden from amongst the group of qualified riders. The Australian’s absence has become a habit though, as she had already abstained from competing in the Paris Final, as well as the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina. Yet while the young Vinchester, the second horse with whom she qualified, has not competed since January 13, California, her lead mare, is in great form judging from her recent fifth place in the Grand Prix at the Saut Hermès in Paris. And one can bet that this rider will not miss the CSI 5*s in Mexico and Miami, the second and third stages of the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT)/Global Champions League (GCL), scheduled for the next couple of weeks. That is her choice, and must be respected. 

At the same time, the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) should perhaps reflect on an evolution of its rules. Certainly, the Australian earned her World Cup spot as an ‘extra’ – in other words, she does not count in the quota of the 18 European places for the Final. However, she rode in five stages of the qualifying circuit, in Oslo, Verona, La Coruna, London and Basel – excellent CSI 5*-Ws where the number of participants is limited even though many others would dream of having the opportunity to earn points to qualify for the Final. In the face of riders ‘not playing the game’, then – who are in a sense using the World Cup events for their own interests – should the world governing body for equestrian sports not create a penalty for snubbing the Final and forbid those who don't go from taking part in this winter circuit? Naturally, each situation should be subject to an individual evaluation of the FEI tribunal, all the while keeping the well-being of horses as the top priority. Continued below.

Many missing from North America

Many missing from North America - Why have so few riders decided to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final?

Molly Ashe Cawley and Balous Day Date
Credit : Sportfot

Most of the World Cup Final absences this year are from the two sections of the North American League. In fact, while the FEI’s rules allocate no less than 10 places to the United States, two to Canada and two to Mexico each year, there are only five Americans in Gothenburg, and no representatives from the other two nations. Looking at the details, on the East Coast, this is the case first of all for Molly Ashe Cawley, whose two horses, D’Arnita and Cat Ballou, have not competed since November, Lucy Davis, whose very good Caracho 14 had middling results in 2019, and Matthias Tromp, who lost his two qualified mounts, Chicago Hof Eversem Z and Quinta 106, after they were transferred to his Peter Lutz this year… There is not much to say in those cases. On the contrary, this situation also concerns two well-stocked stars: World Champions McLain Ward and Laura Kraut. The first had envisioned going for the title with Clinta, but his partner at the World Equestrian Games did not appear her best at the start of March in Wellington, obliging his rider to retire from a CSIO 4* Grand Prix. However, Ward could have come with HH Azur Garden’s Horses, victorious in last Sunday’s CSI 5* Grand Prix in Wellington, or with the less-experienced HH Gigi’s Girl and Contagious, both in equally good form… In short, it is hard to find an excuse for his absence. The same goes for Kraut, by all appearances in great form with Zeremonie and Confu. Maybe she – or the owners of her horses – prefers to concentrate on the Global Champions League, in which she will compete for the Monaco Aces team.

There were also some extras qualified through this league – for example, Shane Sweetnam, with three horses. One, Main Road, died earlier this year, while another, Don’t Touch du Bois, was sold. But there was still Indra van de Oude Heihoef, currently in great form. However, the Irishman is also signed up for the GCL with the Shanghai Swans.

One can also cite the New Zealander Sharn Wordley, qualified with Barnetta, not competing currently, but also Casper, very strong recently. On the flipside, there is nothing to say for the German Wilhelm Genn, whose top mount, Bugatti, frankly has not shone in 2019, or Ireland’s Conor Swail, barely better these past few weeks with Rubens LS La Silla and GK Coco Chanel. For this league, one can only find replacements down to the 12th place, and in this game of extras, Tromp – the last qualified – was already 13th.

On the West Coast, it was probably bad luck which deprived American Richard Spooner (who finished on top of the final standings) from going to the Final, as Quirado RC, his lead horse, has not competed since mid-November. The rider had also qualified with Quitana 11, but has only ridden the mare once in a CSI; in fact in the CSI 3*-W Grand Prix of Rancho Murieta where he picked up points. It had also been hoped that the excellent Egyptian Nayel Nassar would come, with Lordan, out of action since November but second in the national HITS Grand Prix in Thermal, or Lucifer V, placed in no less than three CSI 5* Grand Prix this winter in Wellington and winner of the national $1 millon Grand Prix of Ocala on March 24. He has also perhaps favoured the option of the GCL, in which he will compete for the Paris Panthers squad, or just generally a relatively easier path to earning money.

As for Canada, Nicole Walker and Mario Deslauriers seemed to be well-placed to compete in Gothenburg. And that was even more true for the Mexicans Salvador Oñate and Eugenio Garza Pérez, but they may have preferred to manage their horses’ schedule with an eye toward the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru later this year, where these two nations will try to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. If that is the case, it is hard to be too critical. Of note, finally, the 2019 competition in Sweden will have no riders from leagues in China (notably due to strict international quarantine rules), Australia, New Zealand, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Southeastern Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, or the northern part of South America, where the CSI 1*-W and 2*-W levels remain too far removed from the standards of the Final. 
 
In short, even though the possible reasons for this final number of 33 riders are largely conjectural, the FEI should analyze all these issues and, if necessary, adapt its rules to protect this great circuit as well as its sponsors and organizers. 

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