By Mike Dunne
This coming Friday will see Team Europe battle with Team Americas in the Riders Masters Cup at the five-star Longines Masters of Paris meeting in France.
This is the fifth edition of this particular team contest, and so far Europe has come out on top on all occasions. However, the Americans have spread their wings somewhat and are no longer in their previous guise of Team USA, now including riders from Canada and South America, hence the name change to Team Americas.
Whether this will be enough to end European dominance remains to be seen. Outgoing Irish show jumping team manager Rodrigo Pessoa is one of two Brazilian riders involved, the other being Marlon Modolo Zanotelli. Furthermore, Nelson Pessoa, legendary father of Rodrigo, will act as assistant to the Americas team, while another former great Marcel Rozier of France, Olympic team gold winner in 1976, will assist the European effort.
Robert Ridland, Chef d’Equipe of the USA show jumping team, retains his role as manager of the Americas team, but there has been a change of management for the Europeans who are now under the charge of Sweden’s Henrik Ankarcrona.
For the first four meetings Team Europe had been managed by Philippe Guerdat, who now has a guiding role with the Brazilian show jumping team. Guerdat led France to gold at the last Olympics in Rio, but did not have his French contract renewed for the coming year.
Incidentally, when Guerdat sided with the Brazilian team he opened the door for Rodrigo Pessoa as a contender for selection for Tokyo 2020. Pessoa had missed out when the Olympics were staged in his home country last time, having been disappointed to be only named as reserve by then manager American George Morris.
In Friday’s clash the two teams of five will compete on a one-against-one basis to earn points in the two-round event, so Pessoa could end up in a head-to-head with Ireland’s Darragh Kenny, one of his top riders during the recent Olympic qualification success before the Brazilian’s tenure with the Irish team ended.
Kenny is the only Irish rider on the European team, and the only Irish rider to be involved in this event since the competition was inaugurated in 2017.
He was part of the team which won the previous contest in New York last April (the event is staged twice per year, once on each team’s ‘home’ ground). Kenny’s mount on that occasion was Sweet Tricia, but the horse has now passed to Zanotelli, but will not be ridden by the Brazilian on this occasion.
Also on the European team are Swiss world number two Martin Fuchs, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann, France’s Kevin Staut and Dutch rider Jos Verlooy, the highest-ranked U25 rider in the world.
Though not involved in the team event, Irish riders Denis Lynch and David Simpson will contest the other five-star classes at the Paris meeting.
Ireland’s dressage star Judy Reynolds had moved up to number 12 in the world in the latest figures issued yesterday. That equals the highest-ever position for an Irish dressage rider, matching Anna Merveldt’s standing in 1993. Reynolds’ move is up one notch from the previous month’s figures. No other Irish dressage rider is inside the top 100, but Heike Holstein has crept closer with a two-place move up to 105th.
The show jumping rankings are due to be issued this week and it will be interesting to see if Darragh Kenny has climbed higher than last month’s position of number eight. He has certainly kept the results coming in the past month, but often that’s what you have to do just to maintain your position when you are inside the world’s top ten.
This coming Saturday sees the Show Jumpers Club host its annual awards ceremony at Killashee House Hotel in Naas, Co. Kildare. This year’s event is being run in support of the Jack Dodd Foundation, the Babington Family Trust and the SJC Spring Series.