USA Pips Netherlands in Jump-Off Thriller at Sopot

Laura Kraut clinched victory for Team USA at the fifth leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Europe Division 2 series in Sopot, Poland, on Friday. The 51-year-old double-Olympian had to ride for her life in the third round jump-off to beat Dutch teenager Sanne Thijssen (18) whose breathtaking performances with Con Quidam RB had spectators riveted to their seats.

This was vintage Nations Cup competition. Olaf Petersen Jr.'s testing track produced plenty of surprises including an unexpected early exit for experienced sides from Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and Russia along with the Polish hosts at the end of the first round. The Americans were well out in front with just a single time fault at the halfway stage, but the Dutch fought back from fifth place to chase them right down to the wire.

Kraut knew what she had to do when following Thijssen against the clock.

"Sanne is a great rider — always very fast," said Kraut. "Robert Ridland (USA chef d'équipe) told me, 'You've got a fence to work with so just try to out-race her so that you will beat her even if you have a fence down!'"

Just 2 faults separated Hungary, Portugal, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Belgium as round two began, and the addition of just two more to their 11-fault total would leave the Dutch on level pegging with the Americans in the closing stages when Aniek Poels and Athene and Doron Kuipers and Charley collected single time faults and Thijssen's spring-heeled stallion jumped spectacularly clear.

Team USA added 12 faults in the second round as Lauren Hough (40) and Waterford fell victim to the penultimate triple combination and Paris Sellon (25) also faulted there and at the water with Cassandra. However, 20-year-old Chloe Reid's rounds with her sensational 10-year-old stallion Codarco were another highlight of the day where young riders simply sparkled. The pair followed their first round clear with just a single mistake and Kraut's second clear halted the American decline and confirmed a showdown with the Dutch.

Thijssen's little wonder-horse posted the jump-off target at 4 faults in 38.03 seconds.

"He's special, there are not many horses like him," said Thijssen. "He's so careful and really wants to jump the course. He forgets that I'm sitting on him!"

Kraut and Deauville S followed and cranked up the speed after hitting the second fence to post the winning time of 36.29 seconds.

"[Olaf] did an unbelievable job," Kraut said. "The time-allowed was very tight but doable and the fences fell everywhere. It was big enough and technical enough but you couldn't have asked for a better competition."

Photo: M. Chrzan/FEI