Belgian brilliance leaves way open for final rider

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The Independent Online

Belgian riders achieved a momentous victory when they won the Aachen Nations Cup for the first time since it was inaugurated in 1929, defeating the Germans by eight faults without their last rider, Ludo Philippaerts, being required to jump a second round.

Germany, who had been the firm favourites, finished second by virtue of faster times in the second round than the two other nations ­ Italy and the Netherlands ­ who finished on the same 12-fault score. Britain qualified for the second round, which was a step forward from the last two Nations Cups when they failed to get even that far, but they could do no better than sixth place.

British hopes had been buoyant after Michael Whitaker opened the competition with a clear round on Virtual Village Prince of Wales and they remained that way when Mark Armstrong and the mare, Elise, came home with just one mistake.

Tim Stockdale, whose Traxdata Wiston Bridget was expected to be a weak link, then had a respectable eight faults before John Whitaker made a single error when Calvaro just failed to clear the water.

At his second attempt, Prince of Wales appeared to be heading for another faultless performance before two errors in succession ­ when removing a pole from the penultimate upright and another at the first part of the final double. Elise then proved her worth with a splendid clear round before the British effort fell apart, with 16 faults from Wiston Bridget and 23 from Calvaro, who had also disappointed the previous week when incurring 30 faults in Modena.

Calvaro began his second round with a mistake at the first of the 12 fences. "I think he lost a bit of heart there," Whitaker said. The stallion then "gave up a bit" after hitting the triple bar at the eighth fence and Whitaker lost control when he pulled him out in front of the treble which followed. Having circled back, they added 11 time faults to the 12 incurred for jumping errors.

The British chef d'equipe, Michael Bullman, was naturally delighted with Armstrong's mount. "Elise is a super little mare, she confirmed that she has plenty of jump and is very careful," he said. He was also pleased with the "very good first round" from Prince of Wales, but he is reserving judgement on Calvaro until after tomorrow's Grand Prix.

The contest produced only two double clear rounds ­ from Jerry Smit for Italy on the excellent Jamiro and Marc van Dijck for the victorious Belgians on Verelst Goliath. Philippaerts, the anchorman of the Belgian team, might well have equalled this achievement had he been needed to jump a second round on Parco.

The final German round, jumped by the quadruple Olympic gold medallist Ludger Beerbaum, had started dramatically when Gladdys declined to enter the arena.

Beerbaum must have been very relieved that the starting bell was not rung during this contretemps. When he finally got the temperamental chestnut mare moving forward, she proceeded to jump a fine clear round.

AACHEN NATIONS CUP SHOW (Germany): Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup: 1 Belgium 4 faults; 2 Germany 12 in 247.46; 3 Italy 12 in 248.76; 4 The Netherlands 12 in 251.41; 5 USA 24; 6 Great Britain 32. (GB scores: Prince of Wales (M Whitaker) 0.8; Elise (M Armstrong) 4.0; Traxdata Wiston Bridget (T Stockdale) 8.16; Virtual Village Calvaro (J Whitaker) 4.23.) Preis der Tuchfabrik Becker: 1 Candela (H-H Engemann, Ger) 54.45sec; 2 Verelst Mufusa (L Philippaerts, Bel) 57.53; 3 Loro Piana Aramis (R Arioldi, It) 57.63.