DUBLIN, Ireland, August 10, 2002 --Wouldn't you love to bet on the outcome of a show jumping competition? In Ireland, you can. And not surprisingly the home team--which won three Nations' Cups this year and took the Samsung series in 2000--went off at even odds to capture the Cup at the Kerrygold Horse Show here.
So if they had won, you wouldn't have gotten much back for your wager. But the wise punter might have put some money on the Belgians, 2-1 second favorites, who came here with revenge on their minds and a fire in their bellies.
Ireland finished up the track in fourth place, just behind the U.S., while the Belgian squad that took a drubbing from the Irish on their own turf in Lummen earlier this summer carried the day.
And they did it without their anchor rider, Stanny van Paesschen, whose mount, O de Pomme, slipped and fell before the last fence in the first round as he was putting in a faultless trip.
Asked at what point during the event did the Belgians think they had victory in their grasp, European silver medalist Ludo Philippaerts retorted, "We had victory within our grasp before the class started."
He could afford to be cocky. Riding Parco, he was one of only three double-clears in the hotly contested class at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds. Another rider who had two perfect trips was the USA's Norman Dello Joio on Glasgow, who is in the same form he showed at Hickstead, England, last month when he won the Refco King George V Cup.
"He's one of the good ones," said Norman of his horse, as he followed the chestnut Dutchbred on the long walk back to the stable area after the class. The usually unflappable rider admitted to having a tension headache before the Cup, just thinking about it as the excitement built. There must have been a lot of businesses with a "closed" sign on their doors in the city, because the stands around the emerald green turf of the main arena were filled for the Friday afternoon class.
The weight of the occasion caught some of the horses in the very formal parade of the teams. They leapt into the air while taking issue with the bagpipers in gold kilts and green jackets that headed the procession. Pomp and circumstance was definitely at a premium in the lead-up to the competition.
"It's such a big deal here in this country. You really feel that when you're here," Norman explained. "As Americans, we don't get to do it enough. No matter what we build at home, or how many show managers put up $100,000, it's not the same."
The U.S. was in with a good shot after the first round, tying for the lead on 4 penalties with Germany and Belgium.
But 4 faults each from Schuyler Riley on Ilian and Rich Fellers with Tulip, coupled with 8 from Beezie Madden on Innocence, sank the U.S. chances. America finished on 12 penalties, 3 faults behind second-place France, and 4 behind the Belgians.
Though the Nations' Cup dominated the day at the show that is practically a national pastime, it wasn't the only attraction. Ireland's president, Mary McAleese, was on hand in a lavender two-piece dress with fringe on the bottom, rivaling the entries in yesterday's Ladies Day contest to determine the most fashionable spectator.
They made a big deal of the presentation of the Supreme Hunter Cup, which went to a handsome steel gray gelding named Cashmere, with the bone and build that are the epitome of the Irish hunter. Rider Frances Cash let out all the stops for her victory gallop around her favorite showgrounds. She plans to be there for eternity. When she dies, she wants her ashes scattered in the main arena. That's not a bad way to end up.