Australian, British and U.S. riders try to look their best at this pre-Olympic outing.
GREAT Britain and Australia signaled they were the teams to beat in Hong Kong following a near Olympic “dress rehearsal” at Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, England, on July 3-6.
Lucinda Fredericks and Headley Britannia headed the 114-starter CIC***, with husband Clayton third on Ben Along Time, both for Australia.
William Fox-Pitt filled second, fourth and fifth with Parkmore Ed, Ballincoola and Tamarillo, while British teammates Mary King and the recently called-up Daisy Dick finished seventh and eighth, with the remaining British riders and equine reserves all in the top 20.
Headley Britannia had been controversially scratched from the Luhmühlen CCI**** (Germany) due to the rider’s concerns about the ground, but there was no question that she would run on the good footing, made softer by rain that was heavy even by the standards of a British summer.
This beautifully presented venue, not far from Gatcombe Park, is where the U.S. event team will complete their seven-day pre-export quarantine before flying to Hong Kong on July 30. The site is owned by Nigel Bunter, who is developing one of the few integrated horse racing and equestrian facilities in the United Kingdom, a country notorious for its reluctance to make mixed use of racing facilities.
Barbury’s cross-country—designed by Mark Phillips—utilizes old turf gallops, and the well-drained chalkland retains plenty of spring and turf cover even in a dry summer.
Lucinda led from start to finish, with a dressage mark of 30.8, a clear show jumping round and 17.2 time penalties after a feisty cross-country, to finish on a mere 48 penalties.
“We knew we had to do well here, so I went as fast as I could, albeit with handbrake on. She was going but not in an impetuous or crazy way as she sometimes can,” said Lucinda. “She produced a couple of fliers, but in a safe way, and I had a great, fun ride—and she was still pulling at the finish.”
Ben Along Time’s dressage was “rock solid” for Clayton. “He got a bit fiery during the cross-country, but he went fantastically and is fitter than he has ever been,” he said.
• Mark Todd, who has come out of retirement to head the New Zealand team, was riding in his first high-profile U.K. event since 2000.
• Other storming cross-country rounds came from Andrew Nicholson, clear on Muschamp Impala (12th), until recently the unreliable ride of Ruth Edge, and the 18-year-old British-based Alex Hua Tian, 16th on FBW Chico. Hua Tian is set to make history as both the youngest rider and first Chinese to take part in an Olympic three-day event. Still at school at the world famous Eton College, Alex is trained by Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks.
• The late changes to the British team have provided the owners of Tina Cook’s ride Miners Frolic with a challenge. Nick and Valda Embiricos—who won the 1981 Grand National with Aldaniti—never thought their horse would go to the Olympics when daughter Alex arranged to have her marriage blessed in Barbados on July 26. Now the long vacation planned for family and friends will be hastily rearranged.
• Zara Phillips was widely hyped to ride at Barbury, but following the disappointment of withdrawal from the British team, the world champion diverted her remaining four-star horses to a low-key national event at Tweseldown in Hampshire the following day. This Army-owned site was ironically the location for the 1948 three-day event, the last time the Olympic Games were held in England.
One shock, though, was the omission of Matt Ryan and Andrew Hoy from the Australian team, named the following day.
Ryan, the 1992 Olympic champion, must have thought selection was “in the bag” after finishing eighth at the Badminton CCI**** (England) on Bonza Puzzle, but, apart from the Frederickses, the remaining Australian squad is made up of riders based “down under.” Bonza Puzzle did a 42.9 dressage at Barbury
but had four fences down in the show jumping and was withdrawn from cross-country.
Britain is still re-grouping after the withdrawal of Zara Phillips (Toytown) and Badminton runner-up
Lucy Wiegersma (Shabraak) due to horse injuries. Fox-Pitt, who had three options for mounts, announced he would be riding in Hong Kong on Parkmore Ed, his Burghley CCI**** (England) champion, owned by Philip Adkin of the United States.
Whereas some nations will have made final decisions based on Barbury, the U.S. selection is mostly made at three-day events, and for the Americans Barbury was more of a “final outing,” according to Mark Phillips, team chef d’equipe.
Best of the five was Gina Miles and McKinlaigh, 22nd on 73.2 penalties after scoring one of the better dressage marks (46.0) of the day. Most had confidence-boosting rounds, other than Clark Montgomery (Up Spirit), who had a run-out to finish 59th on 102.6.
Karen O’Connor and Mandiba finished 32nd (81.2), while Amy Tryon finished 30th(79.3) with Poggio II and 50th (95.2) with Leyland, and Elisabeth Halliday on Red Letter Day was 61st (105.0). Their final placings were mostly anchored by 30-odd time penalties each, but this is academic, according to Phillips.
“On balance it was a good outing, with the emphasis on proving well-being and fitness, not being first past the post,” he said. “Karen was a little disappointed with her dressage marks, and McKinlaigh unusually had two show jumps down [though all day only 20 show jumped clear].
“Poggio did his Poggio ‘thing.’ And maybe Clark showed his relative inexperience a little bit,” he added.