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Federation Equestre Internationale News

Milan Final Promises To Be A Thriller.........

Milan becomes the centre of the show jumping universe this weekend when, after a season full of surprises, the 2003/2004 FEI World Cup Jumping series reaches it’s climax but there are three tough days of jumping to be completed before the new champion is crowned.

Riders from 12 leagues around the world assemble in the Forum of Assago for a five-day jumping festival which begins tomorrow (Wednesday 21 April) but, although there is a training session included in the first-day programme, the final stage of the FEI World Cup does not begin until Thursday when the first of the three deciding jumping tests takes place.

Everyone begins with a zero score going into Thursday’s competition which is a one-round speed event and there is already much speculation about who will take the early lead.

It is, of course, an open book but relatively unknown riders have been known to make a big impression in this class – it is a real opportunity for up-and-coming talent to make their mark and is so important in ensuring a good position for the latter stages of the weekend that it tends to be a fast and furious battle against the clock. This is a slightly unusual competition, described in the rules as "Table C over a Table A course" which, in effect, is a more-technical speed event over a bigger-than-usual track.

After Friday’s Table A class which includes a jump-off, points are converted into penalties to decide the line-up for Sunday’s Grand Prix in which horses and riders will have to dig deep into their reserves of energy and ingenuity to stay on top.

The FEI World Cup series celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003 and, historically, the Western European, American and Canadian league riders have dominated so far.

Riders from the USA have recorded the biggest number of wins – 7 in all – while Austria is next in line with four victories, three achieved by Hugo Simon who was first crowned champion in the inaugural year of 1979 riding the enormous gelding Gladstone and the fourth by Thomas Fruhmann who headed the line-up in 1992 with the aptly-named Genius.

Germany, Great Britain, Brazil and Canada have notched up three successes each while Switzerland and Holland had cause to celebrate on one occasion but it is the legendary partnerships which are best remembered when looking back over the years. Combinations like America’s Conrad Homfeld and the handsome grey stallion Abdullah who floated over his fences to take pole position in 1985, the remarkable Ian Millar who was subsequently nick-named Captain Canada after heading the field with the colossal Big Ben in 1988 and 1989 and the much-loved partnership of John Whitaker and that king-of-all-show-horses Milton who sparkled for Great Britain in 1990 and again in 1991.

For all their star qualities however none has ever matched the superiority of Rodrigo Pessoa who recorded all three of those Brazilian victories in consecutive years between 1998 and 2000 with the brilliant Baloubet du Rouet. And, incredibly, the 15 year old stallion has put Rodrigo back on course to make it a record fourth win when catapulting his rider into a comfortable qualifying spot in this season’s series with convincing victories at the qualifying legs in both Bordeaux and Paris this Spring.

So can Rodrigo re-write the history books yet again? At 32 years of age he is already following in the footsteps of his father, the living legend Nelson Pessoa. Rodrigo is one of the best-respected competitors on the circuit and has two Olympic team bronze medals from both Atlanta and Sydney to his credit, while Italy has been a very happy hunting ground for him too. It was at the World Equestrian Games in Rome in 1998 that he set the show jumping world on fire with a magnificent performance with Lianos Z to take the World Title, so he should be feeling very much at home as he heads for Milan this week.

Wisely however he has learned one of the most important lessons of equestrian sport – always expect the unexpected and learn to live with it when things don’t work out the way you planned.

After his win in Bordeaux he said "you get some show jumping classes in which everything comes together just right and this was one of those, but there are plenty of times when it doesn’t work out that way – you just have to be happy when it does". This philosophical attitude however has not dulled his hunger for success and, along with the rest, he will come out with all guns blazing when the bell rings for him in Thursday’s opening leg.

It is the first time for Italy to stage the Final in the 26-year history of the FEI World Cup series. This country, with it’s proud tradition of horsemanship, has produced many of the sport’s great champions like Raimondo and Piero D’Inzeo, Mancinelli and Orlandi and the Italian crowds will be out in force when the action gets seriously underway on Thursday. The arena at the Forum of Assago, a modern venue on the outskirts of Milan, has a seating capacity for 12,000 spectators and they are destined for a feast of good jumping and great competition as the temperature rises in the closing stages of the 2003/2004 FEI World Cup Jumping series.


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