By Louise Parkes/FEI.org
Last weekend's fixture at Live Oak Plantation in Ocala, Florida brought the final group of FEI World Cup™ Jumping Leagues for 2013/2014 to a close. Riders from both the North America West and East Coast Leagues were eligible to line out at this event, but the League winners had already been decided.
The Central America and Caribbean Islands League has also been concluded along with the South America South League and the South America North League, so the line-up for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final at Lyon, France next month is now in place.
North America East Coast
Kent Farrington secured a convincing victory in the North America East Coast series, which provided 27 different opportunities for riders to collect points. The East Coast League itself presented 12 fixtures across USA and Canada, beginning at Bromont (CAN) last July. Competitors were also able to collect points at events in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Western European League as well as in the North American West Coast League.
By the time it came to the last leg at Ocala last weekend, Farrington had already accumulated a massive 110 points, with Venezuela's Andres Rodriguez filling second spot on the final leaderboard ahead of America's McLain Ward in third.
For 33-year-old Farrington, who also topped the East Coast series last year, this season's success story began to unfold with a double of wins with Uceko at Calgary (CAN) last June which were quickly followed by another, this time partnering Zafira, at Bridgehampton (USA) in August before further reinforcing his points-gathering at Washington DC with yet another top-end finish in October riding Blue Angel. Farrington lined out at 12 qualifying events in total, but runner-up Andres Rodriguez competed just six times, securing maximum points with Caballito at Langley (CAN) in June and again in August. The 29-year-old Venezuelan completed the qualifying events on a total of 87 points.
Third-placed McLain Ward competed at 12 events, winning with Rothchild at Toronto (CAN) last November and accumulating a total of 83 points. Fellow-Americans Katie Dinan, Brianne Goutal, Leslie Burr-Howard and Charlie Jayne finished ahead of defending champion Beezie Madden on the League table, and this week it has been confirmed that they will all line out at Lyon (FRA) for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in three weeks' time. Madden of course is automatically qualified and America's Kirsten Coe also made the cut when finishing 12th, but when she declined the invitation it was passed on to next-in-line Charlie Jacobs who has accepted.
Venezuela's Rodriguez, Ireland's Richie Moloney and Russia's Lubov Kochetova have also qualified as "extra athletes" through this League in which 110 athletes participated and 79 collected points.
North America West
The North America FEI World Cup™ Jumping League was contested by 78 athletes over 19 legs that kicked off in Langley (CAN) last June and concluded last weekend at Ocala (USA). For the second year running, and despite the powerful opposition presented by the home talent, it was Egypt's Nayel Nassar who came out on top. Born in Chicago (USA) and raised in Kuwait, the 23-year-old moved to California (USA) in 2009 to study at Stanford University, and in 2011 this committed horseman took a team silver medal at the Pan Arab Games. In 2012 he made a big impression on the US circuit and last year moved his game up yet another level when competing at the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Gothenburg (SWE).
Nassar won just one leg of the 2013/2014 qualifying series, at Del Mar (USA) last August, pipping French star Eric Navet in a seven-horse jump-off against the clock. He had already collected big points as runner-up at Langley (CAN) just a week earlier with his top ride, Lordan, and he completed the series with a total of 85 points. America's Saer Coulter and Ashlee Clarke lined up behind him in second and fourth places on the League table and are confirmed for the Final along with the Egyptian who, once again, competes as an extra athlete.
South America is sub-divided into two regions, and 73 athletes contested the South America South series, with 51 picking up points. Brazilian riders took a firm grip at the top of this League table, headed by Yuri Mansur Guerios, who was followed by Cesar Almeida, Francisco Jose Mesquita Musa, Sergio Henriques Neves Marins and Jose Roberto Reynoso Fernando.
Riders counted the best four results from seven qualifying opportunities that began in Sol de Mayo (ARG) last May, before moving on to Sao Paolo (BRA) in June, and to Porto Alegre (BRA) and back to Sao Paolo (BRA) again in October. Buenos Aires (ARG) and Rio de Janeiro (BRA) played host in November. Riders also had the chance to line out at Del Mar (USA) in August, but only Brazil's Francois Esteves da Silva chose to do so. And he made his sole outing in the entire series really count when finishing third with Cord ll in the Del Mar qualifier in which Egypt's Nayel Nasser lined up second behind Frenchman Eric Navet.
The 15 points collected by da Silva however were a long way from the 51 that earned Guerios his ticket to Lyon, where he will be joined by Francisco Jose Mesquita Musa in representing the region.
Just seven riders, all from Colombia, contested the South America North League in which two of the three qualifiers staged in Bogota (COL) counted for points, and where Juan Manuel Gallego came out on top. Gallego finished second at the opening leg in Guaymarai, Bogota and then won both of his next two outings with his stallion, Ban Ban.
The 37-year-old rider won the FEI World Jumping Challenge Final in Caracas (VEN) in 2012, but South America North will not be represented at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final next month.
Central America and Caribbean Islands
Colombia's Manuel Espinosa Pla won the Central America and Caribbean Islands League which also embraced just three events, the first staged in La Aurora (GUA) and the second and third both held at San Jose Pinula (GUA). A total of five athletes battled it out for points, but 25-year-old Espinosa proved untouchable throughout, winning the first two legs with his 10-year-old grey stallion, Zippo CG, and the third with his 12-year-old bay stallion, Cento per Cento CG.
Guatemala's Alvaro Enrique Tejada Arriola and Juan Pablo Pivaral Aycinema slotted into second and third places on the final leaderboard.
Espinosa was a member of the Colombian team that finished seventh at the second leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2014 season staged in Wellington, Florida (USA) last month.
Meanwhile the line-up of athletes who will compete at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2013/2014 Final in Lyon, France in three weeks' time is taking shape.
Despite his incredible run of form on the US circuit of late, Ben Maher will not compete, while fellow-Briton Joe Clee has also withdrawn. However the world number one ranked rider on the current Longines rankings, Scott Brash, will be flying the British flag alongside FEI World Cup™ Jumping veteran, Michael Whitaker. Taking up the spots vacated by Maher and Clee are Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Simon Delestre from France.
Following the withdrawal of League winner Ales Opatrny from the Czech Republic, Russia's Natalia Simonia joins Andrius Petrovas (LTU) and Kristaps Neretnieks (LAT) in representing Central Europe.
Clash of champions
Australia's Edwina Tops-Alexander and America's Lucy Davis have both qualified as "extra athletes", and although there may be some further changes to the start list over the coming weeks, the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2014 Final looks set to be a true clash of champions.
All-comers will, of course, be taking on the might of the Western European League contenders who have dominated this series with 20 wins from 35 Finals to date. And with three-time FEI World Cup™ Jumping title-holder Marcus Ehning and his German counterparts Lars Nieberg, Daniel Deusser and Christian Ahlmann - winner in 2011 - along with reigning Olympic champion Steve Guerdat and his Swiss team-mate Pius Schwizer all seeking to add this most coveted trophy to their already large collections, it will be a hard-fought battle to the end.
Francois Mathy Jr and young Nicola Philippaerts, surprise winner at the last Western European League qualifier in Gothenburg (SWE) earlier this month, will fly the Belgian flag, Luciana Diniz will represent Portugal and Billy Twomey will be joined by Richie Moloney in representing Ireland. Only one Dutch rider, Maikel van der Vleuten, will compete.
Perhaps the ones they all have to watch out for however are the French, who have been on the crest of a wave for quite some time now. Winning one leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League is a major achievement, so the only double-victory of this series produced by Patrice Delaveau, at Helsinki (FIN) last October and at Leipzig (GER) in January, suggests that he will definitely be one to watch.
But the Americans are title-defenders having made a great come-back after a 25-year drought to take the title for the last two seasons, and they won't be keen to let it go again anytime soon. With less than three weeks to go, the excitement and anticipation ahead of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2014 Final is already bubbling away.