Hickstead, Great Britain Ė July 27, 2006 Ė Thunder and lightning rolled around the showgrounds at Hickstead this afternoon as riders used the Royal International Chase Two-Phase to warm-up their horses ahead of tomorrow's Samsung Super League with FEI Nations Cup. Great Britain's Mark Armstrong topped the line-up with Thesaura ahead of America's Christine McCrea with Vegas today, but this was not speed competition at its very best as riders used the class to test out the arena and let their horses see the fences in an effort to avoid as few surprises as possible in tomorrow's big event.
The USA lies just over six points behind the leading Germans going into the sixth round of the eight-leg Samsung series so their second-to-go draw won't cause them too many worries, but the luck of the Irish is definitely not in evidence as the country which is trailing the Samsung leaderboard will be first into the ring for the third time in the 2006 Samsung season - as team manager Robert Splaine said this afternoon "I can't believe this has happened again, I think we should be allowed to be last to go in the next round at Dublin because we've been so unlucky so far!". The Dutch probably wouldn't be too happy about that though, because as it stands right now only 0.625 separates the two countries at the bottom of the table.
Hickstead has been a happy hunting ground for Americans in recent years and once the pressure of tomorrow's team effort has been put aside riders can look forward to putting their names on one of show jumping's most coveted trophies - the Queen's Cup. Political correctness would suggest that the disparity in prizemoney for the two separate menís and womenís competitions - the King's Cup and the Queen's Cup - which take place on Sunday afternoon should be looked at again - the top prize in the King's Cup is £10,000.00 stg while the girls are only battling it out for a winners purse of £3,000.00 stg - but financial gain has never been the key to Hickstead participation. Itís about competing in one of the most unique arenas in the world over fences that test the courage and accuracy of both horse and rider and in competitions that have a certain cache. Ireland's Irish Kellett won the inaugural Queen's Cup in 1949 with Rusty and the Roll of Honour includes so many of the greats - Pat Smythe riding Mr Pollard, Marion Coakes with the tiny little Stroller, Alison Dawes and The Maverick, Annelei Drummon-Hay and Merely a Monarch, Marion Mould, Liz Edgar, Caroline Bradley - what lady rider would NOT want to see their name lined up alongside these, and this weekend two former US winners, Molly Ashe and Laura Kraut who won in 2004 and 2005 respectively, have the opportunity to do it again. They may however have to beware of Ireland's Marion Hughes who scored a double of victories with Flo Jo in 1995 and 1996 and who is right on form at the moment.
Of course the King's Cup dates back all the way to 1911 when Russia's Dimitri d'Exe and Piccolo claimed it for the first time and this beautiful trophy which portrays Saint George slaying the dragon has a history all its own. Won by Count Alessandro Bettoni-Carzago in 1939 and taken back to Italy, it is believed that it was buried on Italian soil for a number of years during World War 11 and then dug up again in order to ensure its safety so, since it was retrieved and returned to the British Embassy, it has not been allowed to leave British shores again. Lt. Jack Talbot-Ponsonby won it outright in 1934 but, in a typically gentlemanly gesture, he re-presented it for perpetual competition and some of the legends whose name adorn it include Ireland's Capt Jed Dwyer, Britain's Harry Llewellyn, the great Piero d'Inzeo from Italy, America's Hugh Wiley, David Broome, Tommy Wade, Bill Steinkraus, Hans Gunther Winkler, Frank Chapot, Michael Whitaker, Alwin and Paul Schockemohle, Nick Skelton, Ludger Beerbaum the list goes on and on - so many great names and so many great memories. No wonder it still holds such a special fascination, even today. Jeffery Welles steered Armani home to claim it in 2005 and that was a very special occasion.....
Todays crowd-pleaser however was Irishman Shane Breen who galloped to victory in the Ford Ranger Eventing Grand Prix. And for the first time in the nine-year history of the competition which pits top riders from the sports of eventing and show jumping against each other it was a show jumping horse that headed the line-up as the eight year old Mullaghdrin Gold Rain stood top of the line.
Breen was obliged to call on all the experience honed on the hunting field with his two favourite Irish packs, the Scarteens in Limerick and the Tipperarys, when the eight year old Gold Rain, which placed second in the 7 Year Old Championships at the prestigious World Breeding Federation Championships at Lanaken in Belgium last September and won the 7/8 Year Old Championship at Aachen in Germany earlier this season, very nearly fell in the water on the cross-country phase of the track.
But the 31 year old Irishman kept the horse on his feet to finish almost a half-second quicker than British runner-up Cressida Clague-Reading to earn £3,000 and the use of a Ford Ranger for a year. His celebrations will be short-lived however as he must put his mind to the big task facing the Irish tomorrow. It's do-or-die time for the boys in green in the Super League series, and Breen is first man into the ring in the morning......
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/hickstead-samsung-super-league-7-06.html">Humid Hickstead Heats Up Tomorrow's Super League</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com