Italy will be first to go, and Germany will be last of the 14 teams into the arena, when the much-anticipated 2014 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping  Final gets underway tomorrow at Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain. The event kicks off at 16.30 local time and, following this evening’s draw, the order-of-go for the opening competition is:

1, Italy; 2, Sweden; 3, Australia; 4, USA; 5, Qatar; 6, Netherlands; 7, Venezuela; 8, Brazil; 9, France; 10, Belgium; 11, Great Britain; 12, Canada; 13, Spain; 14, Germany.

Norway’s late withdrawal means that Ireland, placed second-last in Europe Division 1 this season, will remain in the elite league for 2015. But for the teams at the Spanish venue this week it is all about the success of reaching the prestigious Final and the battle for the coveted Furusiyya title, which brings with it the richest Nations Cup prize-fund in the world.

Long and illustrious link

The city of Barcelona has a long and illustrious link with the sport of Jumping, and the Spanish fixture celebrates its 103rd edition this year. The show, now known as CSIO Barcelona, dates all the way back to 1902 when the Concurso Hipico Internacional, conceived by two great horse lovers Ramón R. de la Encina and the Baron of Benimusleim, an artillery Lieutenant, together with the Secretary of the Agricultural Institute of San Isidro, Román Macaya, turned from a dream into a reality.

They drew up a programme and a set of rules, staging the inaugural event in the Plaza de Armas at Ciudadela Park, and it was such a social and sporting success that it firmly established itself right away. It was hardly surprising as the prize-fund of 10,000 pesetas was a colossal amount of money at the time, and with €2,362,000 up for grabs this week that tradition also continues.

Tomorrow’s opening competition is critical as the top eight teams will qualify for Saturday night’s finale in which there is €1,500,000 on offer along with a €200,000 bonus to be split between riders jumping clear in the first competition and again in the first round of the Final itself. The remaining six countries will battle it out for €300,000 in Friday’s Challenge Cup in which there is a similar bonus of €50,000 to be shared amongst the double clears.

The ambitions of the 14 competing countries were outlined by the Chefs d’Equipe this evening after the draw. Australia’s Stevie Macken said “I think our chances this year will be better than last year because then we came with just three riders which was not ideal! We need a lot of luck, we’re certainly not the strongest team here, but we are an emerging team and if everything goes well tomorrow then anything is possible” he pointed out.

Making the cut

Like all the other team managers, Belgium’s Kurt Gravemeier is focused on his side making the cut into the top-eight going forward to Saturday’s Final. Jean-Maurice Bonneau, whose Brazilian foursome finished second at the inaugural Final last September, said “all the teams are motivated and the winners want to win again, so we are facing a big battle ahead!”

The French were the inaugural champions, but team manager, Philippe Guerdat, said however that it will be difficult to do the double. “Because we had to change a few horses at the last minute, but we try first to qualify for the Final on Saturday, and after that we will see” he said today.

Great Britain’s Rob Hoekstra talked about having Michael Whitaker and his nephew, William, in his side. “Hopefully they will work well together, William is one of our top riders on the way up and Michael is very experienced but he is riding an inexperienced horse. Spencer Roe had a great season and he is still only 20 years old. This is mainly a young team and it’s about building towards next year’s European Championships, so my main aim is to get into the top eight here this week” he explained.

Canada’s Mark Laskin said “I always feel that Canada is in the mix, and in with a chance, but we have to be at our best and hopefully we will have a little luck with us!”, while Germany’s Otto Becker didn’t try to hide the fact that he, and his super-powerful side, are on a mission. “We were very frustrated not to be here last year (at the 2013 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final in Barcelona), but it’s not easy. Tomorrow is just one round (of competition) and anything can happen. Our target is to make it through to Saturday and I hope we can do it” he said with determination.

The Italians may have been drawn first, but Chef d’Equipe Hans Hoorn seemed unruffled by that. “We are very happy to be back in Division 1” he said of his side which clinched qualification for the leading European division with victory on home turf at Arezzo a few weeks ago, which left them top of the Europe Division 2 leaderboard. “We have a really good team, similar to Arezzo, but also with Luca Moneta” he added with an air of confidence.

Brimming with it

When it comes to confidence then The Netherlands should be lining out tomorrow simply brimming with it following their superb results when taking both team and individual gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy just a few short weeks ago. But Chef d’Equipe Rob Ehrens has been around long enough to know only too well that form is not always enough to carry a team back to the very top. “The good thing in our sport is that we are all so close” he said. “We were lucky in Caen, everything worked out well for us, but anyone can win this Final – we will just be doing our best” he insisted modestly.

Qatar has arrived in Barcelona with just three team members, but on a high following their great gold medal winning team performance at the Asian Games in Korea. “We are not coming here to win – but we will still try!” said team manager Fahad al Merry.

Sweden’s Sylve Soderstrand said last year’s Furursiyya Final was “fantastic and very exciting!” Asked if he felt optimistic with a strong team on call-up he pointed out however “we came with a good team last year also, but I am hopeful we can do better this time!”. America’s Robert Ridland admitted to feeling “pretty confident” but pointed out that his team profile is very different to last year. “Then we came with three riders aged 20 and under, this time we have a veteran team, and I think we can take a good shot at being in the mix” he said.

Not feeling the pressure

Spain’s Marco Fuste insisted that he’s not feeling the pressure. “We are very happy to be the home team and we will have the public on our side” he pointed out. He’s particularly pleased that Spain qualified this season instead of receiving a wild card. “To be here in our own right means a lot to us” he added.

Perhaps the biggest outsiders this week are the Venezuelans, but their presence epitomises the principles on which the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping series stands. Because it’s all about encouraging the development and involvement of new countries from around the globe by providing them with top-level competitive opportunities in the company of the very best.

Leo Paoli has acted as Venezuelan Chef d’Equipe at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and in Wellington, USA over the last few years, and is also a competitor himself. He knows his country won’t be favourites as the action begins, but he has a clear picture of the significance of this week’s Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final for his team and his country.

”it’s very exciting, Pablo Barrios has a lot of experience and we have a very talented young man in Emanuel Andrade – he is only 18 and has already enjoyed a lot of success” he pointed out. “Andres Rodriguez is listed in the top-100 (in the Longines world rankings) now, and, for us, this is all about building for the future. We are really looking forward to it” he added.

Three of the riders at this week’s final also competed in Jumping at the 1992 Olympic Games at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona – Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum who claimed individual gold that summer, British legend Michael Whitaker and Juan Carlos Garcia who was then flying the Colombian flag but who now competes for Italy. This is a place with a powerful connection to the past having welcomed the cream of the crop throughout the generations.

But the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping series is just as much about the future of a sport that continues to thrill and excite, 105 years after all began.