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World-class line-up for Longines League of Nations™ second leg in Ocala

A glittering cast of athletes, including eight of the top ten and fifteen of the top twenty riders in the latest world rankings, will line out for round two of the inaugural Longines League of Nations™ in Ocala, USA in just over two weeks’ time.

With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games looming ever larger on the horizon, this leg looks set to be a serious test of horse-and-rider combinations vying for selection. And the quality of the field which is filled with Olympic, World and Regional champions, promises a spectacular day of sport.

The top-10 ranked countries in the world are competing in this brand new four-leg series which will culminate in the Longines League of Nations™ 2024 Final in Barcelona, Spain in early October, and Germany took the early lead when claiming the maximum 100 points for their first-leg victory in Abu Dhabi (UAE) last month.

Chef d’Equipe, Otto Becker, sends out two members of that winning side, Christian Kukuk and David Will this time joined by 2021 European individual gold and team silver medallist Andre Thieme along with the very much on-form Richard Vogel who, partnering United Touch S, won the CSI5* Grand Prix in nearby Wellington, Florida ten days ago. Team Germany will be hoping to make it two-in-a-row this time out and could prove difficult to beat.

Pipped at the post

However Team Ireland were ranked first as the series began, based on points accumulated by their top six athletes including one U25 athlete prior to the start of the series, and were only just pipped at the post in the final stages in Abu Dhabi when the three-rider rule for the second round came into play. It made a crucial difference, with any mistake proving very costly indeed.

Irish tails are up following their impressive Nations Cup win in Wellington last Sunday and Michael Blake has selected two members of that winning side, Olympic bronze medallist Cian O’Connor and world number 16, Darragh Kenny. Joining these two in Ocala will be Bertram Allen and world number 14 Daniel Coyle who has been blazing a trail in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ circuit. The Irish never like to be beaten, and all four riders will be out to impress with Paris very much on their minds.

Sweden finished third in Abu Dhabi, and world number one Henrik von Eckermann who produced one of just four double-clear rounds that day will compete again, as will four-time Olympian and 2017 European champion Peder Fredricson. Amanda Landeblad, who with For Killy finished third in the King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead (GBR) last summer and fifth at the last qualifier of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Western European League on home ground in Gothenburg (SWE) ten days ago, joins the team this time around alongside young-horse specialist Petronella Andersson.

There are also two changes to the Brazilian side, Yuri Mansur and Marlon Zanotelli this time joined by 2004 Olympic champion and three-time FEI World Cup™ title-holder Rodrigo Pessoa and double-Olympian Cassio Rivetti.

Big guns

The Swiss are sending out their big guns. World number three and reigning European champion Steve Guerdat who has individual Olympic gold and three FEI World Cup™ victories under his belt, and world number six and former European and World Cup title-holder Martin Fuchs will be supported by Janika Sprunger who produced another of those precious double-clear performances in the first leg in Abu Dhabi. Backed up by the super-experienced double-Olympian Pius Schwizer, Peter van der Waaij’s foursome will be determined to finish higher than fifth this time out.

American Chef d’Equipe, Robert Ridland, is also fielding a heavyweight crew for this leg on home soil. Laura Kraut, McLain Ward and Kent Farrington have collected numerous Olympic medals between them during their spectacular careers, and Aaron Vale, who has been enjoying a sensational run of form in Ocala over the last month and who was very impressive in Abu Dhabi, rounds up the host-nation selection. They will be under no illusion about what is expected of them in a fortnight’s time.

The British too are stacking up their odds, with reigning Olympic champion and world number two Ben Maher called into action along with world number 13 and Tokyo Olympian Harry Charles. Di Lampard’s side will also include Tim Gredley and Jessica Mendoza as they attempt to improve on a seventh-place finish in leg one.

Heavy hitters

Jur Vrieling is the only remaining member of the Dutch side that lined out in the first leg as Jos Lansink brings in his heavy-hitters Harrie Smolders, Willem Greve and Maikel van der Vleuten. The Netherlands didn’t make it into the top eight teams going through to the second round in Abu Dhabi. They will definitely want to rectify that situation this time around.

The French side also missed out, but Henk Nooren has put his faith in Olivier Perreau, Olivier Robert and Kevin Staut once again, while Simon Delestre is also called up for the American fixture. Four months ahead of the Olympic Games on their home turf they will surely be hoping for a better result when they travel across the Atlantic.

Meanwhile the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallists from Belgium will be determined do better than finishing in last place. Hampered by elimination for their team pathfinder they finished with 16 first-round faults in Abu Dhabi as did the French who, however, had quicker combined times to nudge Belgium to the bottom of the scoreboard. Chef d’Equipe Peter Weinberg has called up Niels Bruynseels, Pieter Devos and Nicola Philippaerts to join Gregory Wathelet in Ocala as they attempt to challenge more successfully this time out.

The second leg of the Longines League of Nations™ takes place in Ocala on Saturday 23 March 2024 as history continues to be written,so don’t miss a hoofbeat…..

Article courtesy of the FEI and written by: Louise Parkes

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