FEI World Cup Eventing qualifiers took place across the world on three different continents during Easter weekend and produced diverse wins for American Olympic silver medalist, Kim Severson, New Zealand university student, Clarke Johnstone and young British squad member, Oliver Townend.
Kihikihi, North Island, New Zealand
There was drama at the Mitavite-sponsored Kihikihi qualifier once the dressage leader, New Zealand’s Matthew Grayling, fell at the exit to the water complex when his mount, NRM Gordon, failed to clear the log and propelled Grayling out of the saddle. At that point he held an 11.8 penalty dressage lead and was on course for his fourth successive victory at the Te Awamutu, event.
Only two of the 13 starters, the eventual winner Clarke Johnstone, riding Oakley Vision, and runner-up Jenna Mahoney from Auckland riding Fassadi, jumped clear across country over an exacting course designed by event organizer, John Nicholson (brother of leading rider Andrew Nicholson). The water complex and "Winnie the Pooh"-themed area caused the most trouble, with no riders risking the direct route over the two stump houses after the drop.
The 1994 World Champion, New Zealand’s Vaughn Jefferis, described it as: "among the best courses he had seen. It not only requires brave riding, but it has a strong technical element and is beautifully presented."
Johnstone, a 19-year-old finance student from Otago, was left with three rails in hand for the final, jumping, phase and, at the climax, had six in hand to win. He dropped just two and finished on 74.9 penalties, 16.3 clear of Mahoney (91.2). Lucy Jackson from Waikato was third on Red Stag Mystery Creek (105.3), and Grayling produced the only clear jumping round to rocket back up from last to fourth place (145.9).
Johnstone, who described the win as the "highlight of his career", said competing in the final in Europe next year would depend on his university commitments. "Winning here was always the aim, and I am just so thrilled to come out on top in such a strong field," he said.
Burnham Market, England
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world at the Easco Burnham Market Horse Trials in Norfolk, 24-year-old, Oliver Townend, left a star-studded field of 34 standing when sweeping to his first victory in an FEI World CupTM Eventing qualifier.
The 2005 Champion, British-based Australian, Clayton Fredericks, led the dressage phase with 40.4 penalties on his Kentucky-bound ride Nullarbor, but he deliberately went steadily across country, clocking up 16 time penalties. This, coupled with a show jumping rail, dropped him to fifth place (60.4). Fredericks would have been well placed on Ben Along Time, his 2006 world silver medalist partner, but the pair parted company at the penultimate fence and, in an afternoon to forget, he had a run-out on another ride; The Frog.
There were further form upsets when last year’s winner, William Fox-Pitt, pulled up Moon Man on the cross-country because the horse had a nosebleed, and another British-based Australian veteran, Andrew Hoy riding Classy Touch, was eliminated in the show jumping phase for starting before the bell.
Burnham Market traditionally features a big and difficult jumping track, and there were only five clears, including from the eventual top three: Townend (52), runner-up another Aussie, Matt Ryan on Bonza Puzzle (58.5), and third-placed, Rodney Powell on Langarth Darcy (59.1).
Powell and Ryan picked up extra FEI World CupTM Eventing points with seventh and eighth places on Zinzan ll and Bonza Katoomba respectively. The reigning World Champion, Zara Phillips, was 12th on Toytown (80.3) after a steady performance for the horse’s main pre-Badminton outing.
There were 19 clears over a cross-country course designed by Hugh Lochore, whose brother Alec is the event organizer, and described by Fox-Pitt as: "asking some good questions and causing a few mistakes".
No one achieved the optimum time, but Townend and fourth-placed Francis Whittington on Sir Percival lll were nearest, with 2.4 and 2 penalties respectively.
Oli Townend, who is one of the most prolific winners on the national circuit, gained the ride last spring on the 11-year-old grey Flint Curtis, home-bred by his owner Edward Nicholson, who owns the sire, William Curtis. After a short acquaintance, the pair came third at Badminton last year and competed as individuals at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games finishing 10th.
"Flint Curtis is still improving," said Townend. "The excitement of the Badminton experience last year rather blew his brains and he is still recovering. He’s sharp, needs work and is a horse on which you have to sit tight."
The pair are entered for Badminton again where Townend takes on another new ride, Tom Cruise, formerly a triple CCI 3* winner under Fox-Pitt’s saddle.
Norwood, North Carolina, USA
Hours later at the Fork Horse Trials in North Carolina, Kim Severson enjoyed the perfect preparation for her first Badminton on Winsome Adante when they led from the start to win the Adequan FEI World CupTM Eventing qualifier at Fork Farm Stables, Norwood, the third of four American qualifiers.
Severson jointly led the dressage (40.3) with Tallahassee winner and FEI World CupTM Eventing rankings leader Jonathon Holling on The Lion King ll. But whereas Severson finished the cross-country within the optimum time, one of five riders to do so, and jumped clear in the stadium, Holling clocked 2.8 time penalties and, on the final day, dropped to sixth place with two rails down.
Clear stadium rounds elevated Will Faudree and his four-star horse Antigua to second, also on a clean sheet, and Jan Bynny and Waterfront to third; both riders finished on a final score of 48.4, but Faudree’s faster cross-country time gave him the advantage.
Kristin Bachman was fourth on Gryffindor (49.4), ahead of 2006 World bronze medalist Amy Tryon on Le Samurai (49.4) in fifth.
There were 26 clear rounds from the 30 cross-country finishers.
World Cup Rankings
Jonathan Holling (USA) has strengthened his lead in the FEI World CupTM Eventing rankings with his Norwood placing and now has 138 points, with one more U.S. fixture—Kalispell, MT, in July—to go. In his wake is a cluster of qualifier winners on 100 points: Peter Thomsen (GER), Tiana Coudray (USA), Nicolas Touzaint (FRA), Oliver Townend (GBR), Clarke Johnstone (NZL) and Kim Severson (USA).
The next qualifier in the 2006-08 FEI World CupTM Eventing series is in Ballindenisk, Ireland on April 21-22, 2007.
Courtesy: The HorseTV Channel News, http://www.horsetv.com
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/world-cup-usa-new-zealand-england-4-07.html">FEI World Cup Eventing Qualifiers Emerge on Three Continents</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com