Equestrian: Kuerten hoping to build on dream Irish start to season
Jessica Kuerten will be hoping to replicate the back-to-back victories she recorded in the Rolex FEI World Cup qualifying series last season when lining out in Zurich this weekend along with Denis Lynch, writes Louise Parkes.
She ticked off the first part of the repeat double when coming out on top in Leipzig last Sunday riding Castle Forbes Libertina, which has returned to the ring after a seven-month injury break, with all of her trademark enthusiasm intact.
They finished second in the Belgian leg in Mechelen just after Christmas and last Sunday showed that devastating turn of speed that gives them the edge against the clock to register the Irish rider's third consecutive victory at Leipzig.
Kuerten (right) said afterwards that she doesn't want to make big plans for the year, but intends to "just keep tipping along" with her string of horses, which also includes her other two great mares, Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois and Cosma.
Irish team manager Robert Splaine could be forgiven for thinking he must be dreaming right now. The runaway success of the previous weekend when the Irish were all over the opposition at Basel in Switzerland, followed by young Darragh Kenny's victory over the best of the best in the USA to win the World Cup qualifier in Florida, provided the perfect start to the year. And last weekend's results were also stunning.
While Kuerten was stealing the limelight in Leipzig on Sunday afternoon, Billy Twomey was winning the Amsterdam Grand Prix with the stallion Je T'Aime Flamenco, which was also on the injury-list for much of last season.
Irish success in 2010 is contingent on horses staying on-form and sound, but there are now high hopes for both the FEI Nations Cup series, which begins in May, and for the World Equestrian Games which kick off in September.
Notable absentees from the top-level Nations Cup circuit this year will be the British, whose appeal against relegation has failed to persuade the judicial arm of the international equestrian federation, the FEI Tribunal. Britain, Belgium and Italy were all demoted at the end of the last season and British Chef d'Equipe, Derek Ricketts, was sacked earlier this month.
The British Federation can appeal the Tribunal's decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but unless they get an early date for a hearing, it is hardly worthwhile, because the series could already be well under way before it takes place. Their only other route back to the premiership of Nations Cup jumping is through the long, hard slog of the less-attractive second-division Nations Cup competitions, which provide considerably less prize-money.