A young and inexperienced team rose to the occasion in Coapexpan, Mexico on April 22 to place second by one fault to Canada, giving the U.S. a big boost going into Langley, Canada, which is the third and final Nations Cup qualifier for the Nations Cup Finals in Barcelona this fall.
"Our situation for Barcelona was enhanced by this young team," said Chef d'Equipe Robert Ridland. "We had been worried about Mexico fielding a strong team on their home turf, but they had an unfortunate first round, which helps up going into Langley. Mathematically, we're not qualified, but our situation is better."
Going into Mexico, Canada led with 100 points, U.S., was second with 75 and Mexico was third with 55, so a win by Mexico could have been a big problem for the U.S.
But the Mexicans had a troublesome first round, accumulating 21 faults, and then had three of their riders go clean in the second round to finish third on 21 faults.
SO GOING INTO the Nations Cup in Langley, Canada has 200 points, the U.S. has 165 and Mexico has 135, so in Langley, to prevent the U.S. from qualifying for Barcelona, Mexico would have to win and have the U.S. finish worse than third.
“Our main goal was to keep our qualifying position for the final in Barcelona," said Ridland. "We extended our margin by 30 points and gave ourselves some breathing room. This was the first 5* event for three of the four riders and the first Nations Cup for a couple. We were close. We obviously always try to win, but it was a good day for a young team.”
Our chef d'equipes have all always stressed the importance of not having a time fault, and in Mexico that was brought home with a vengeance, as Canada won with 16 faults to the U.S. team's 17 faults - one time fault from a jump-off for the win.
As it turned out, Canada's last rider did not have to go, as the first three had clinched the win, but Keean White, Canada's final rider, had had a rail down in the first round and would have had to jump clean to avoid a jump-off.
"Losing by one fault to Canada was not in the plan," said Ridland.
Alex Granato on Carlchen W was the lead-off rider for the U.S., and was one of only two double clear rounds, with Jonathan Millar of Canada posting the other double clear.
Kelly Soleau-Millar on Cacharel, second to go, had one rail in each round, Jennifer Gates and Pumped Up Kicks had 12 and 8 faults to be the drop score in both rounds, and Ali Wolff and Casall, the anchor rider and most experienced of the four, had 5 and 4 faults in the two rounds.
Three of the riders on our team had never ridden at a 5* CSIO," said Ridland. "This was a young, untested team. Kelly was the most notable, as she got a last minute call. She had never ridden on a team before. She's married to Jonathan Millar, so husband and wife both rode in the Nations Cup, although Kelly was for the U.S. and Jonathan for Canada. Kelly put in a solid performance."
"Jen Gates was riding in her first 5*CSIO," said Ridland. "Her second round was an improvement. This is a great experience for a young rider. You can't duplicate that kind of pressure."
"Ali had been on teams before and was our anchor rider," said Ridland. "It was too bad she had a time fault. That was literally the difference between first and second - 14/100ths of a second. It was a pretty tight finish."
"We were all pleased with the effort," said Ridland. "It's fun to send a team with as little experience as they had and have them do well. Overall, it was a satisfying performance."
The final qualifying Nations Cup is in Langley, Canada on Sunday, June 3.