Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Touzaint Takes The Title At Pau CCI****

The Frenchman wins the first four-star held on his home turf.

Nicolas Touzaint showed that he has a strong back-up to Galan De Sauvagere in his Olympic build-up by winning on home ground at France’s first four-star with Hidalgo De L’Ile.
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The Frenchman wins the first four-star held on his home turf.

Nicolas Touzaint showed that he has a strong back-up to Galan De Sauvagere in his Olympic build-up by winning on home ground at France’s first four-star with Hidalgo De L’Ile.

Touzaint had leapt well in front after a blistering cross-country round, and although he needed both of his show jumps in hand, there never seemed much doubt  he would triumph in Pau, Oct. 26-28, on the fast improving Selle Français.

Britain’s evergreen Mary King finished second with a stunning new ride, Imperial Cavalier, while Pippa Funnell made a return to this level after a short break to finish third on Ensign.

Jennifer Wooten produced the top U.S. finish with The Good Witch, 11th despite being anchored by a dressage score of 60.6.

Dorothy Crowell, also scoring badly in dressage (75.0), rode one of the cross-country rounds of the day on Radio Flyer, shooting up the leaderboard to ninth place with only 3.6 time penalties. She lost that advantage in show jumping with three down for 16th place.

Show jumping was also the undoing of Missy Ransehousen and Critical Decision, 21st with five down.

The long trip was unrewarding for Darren Chiacchia, who had a run-out with Better I Do It at a farmyard corners complex halfway round, while Windfall 2 did not even start, found to be unwell and thus left behind at Amsterdam after the trans-Atlantic crossing.

Exceeding Expectations

With a small start list, all dressage took place on Friday. For a long time, Matt Ryan led on Bonza Puzzle, and as the day wore on, the 1992 Olympic champion started to hope that he would go into cross-country in pole position for the first time in his long career.

However, he was finally overhauled by Funnell and Ensign, whose immaculate test scored many 9s.
Ensign has never been rated in the same league as Funnell’s Supreme Rock or Primmore’s Pride by eventing commentators, or, indeed, his rider. His dressage prowess is all the more remarkable because, after three years in training, Ensign came off the racetrack with a pelvis injury that still inhibits some of his movements.

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“Mum [Jenny Nolan] and I had never owned a horse at top level so we literally bought him between us to have some fun,” said Funnell. “I only came down here because I always love Pau, and we thought that if it goes wrong, with all the French food and wine we’d be having a holiday anyway! He has exceeded all my expectations!”

Touzaint was third after dressage and Andrew Hoy fourth, just a penalty short of the leader, with Yeoman’s Point. However, Hoy played no further part in the competition after receiving an e-mail from the owner instructing him to withdraw as the horse is on the market.

Separating The Field

On cross-country day, a thick fog burnt off just in time, but the afternoon’s showcase was slightly marred by major power failures on the site, which meant that live scoring was non-existent and public address patchy.

An Important Role

Pau takes place on a pretty racecourse-related site near the small city of the same name, which nestles in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the mountain range between France and Spain.

As a three-star, Pau has long been popular with British riders. Its courses are built by the revered Pierre Michelet, whom many feel was overlooked for the London 2012 Olympic course designer’s role.

But having lobbied hard to get Pau upgraded to four-star, the French ended up with a full-on test with the maximum permitted jumping efforts.

The host country managed to put up six of the 37 horses that started the event, and apart from the winner, a further two managed to get into the top 10—Sandra Cazaubon (Diamant Du Pontet) and Jean Renaud Adde (Haston D’Elpegere), both of Anglo Arab breeding.

The small field suggests there is a shortage of top horses available to service the four four-stars now in northern Europe, though third-placed Pippa Funnell stressed that Pau was making a valuable contribution to the global calendar.

Funnell said: ”I always have complete confidence in Pierre. He sets you traps, but if your horse is going well, even if you fall into them you know you will be OK.

“Pau is going to play an important role in the calendar, because the track makes horses and riders think in a different sort of way to the big, scary fences you get at [the British events] Badminton and Burghley, and unlike them, you have to keep on the ball till the very, very end; the others tend to ease off in the last third of the course,” she continued.

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Funnell was fascinated to watch how easily the French horses turn into their fences.

“This is because, over Michelet’s other courses, they have been doing it all their lives,” she said. “I wish he would come to the U.K. to build some two-stars for our younger horses. It would be an education.”

Better I Do It was the trailblazer, coming home with one refusal and nearly 1:20 over the time, but Luisa Palli of Italy (Axia II) then scored a clear inside the time, and Radio Flyer also flew round for 3.6 time penalties, enjoying one of the most fluent rides through the twisty first water complex at fence 6, which in the end was to penalize nearly one third of the start list.

Only 13 got round clear, and it soon became clear that any faultless round would parachute the rider up the leaderboard.

Andrew Nicholson and Ginger May Killinghurst—unusually for him, a mare—did even better than that, and with the day’s fourth clear inside the time they went into runner-up spot overnight.

After King won a European silver medal and team gold in Italy, British team manager Yogi Breisner said he saw no reason why she should not compete at London 2012, when she will be 51. Her claims are even stronger following her ascent up the Pau leaderboard on a new ride, Imperial Cavalier.

Having built a career on home-produced horses, King is now showing her mastery of the “made” animal too. Like Call Again Cavalier, Imperial Cavalier is by Cavalier Royale and produced to advanced level by Vicky Brake. “Cavvy’s” owners, Sue and Eddie Davies and Janette Chinn, bought him in secret two months ago for King, reportedly for nearly $800,000.

“I was driving along when they rang to tell me. I nearly crashed the car!” said King, who has ridden him just once in an advanced intermediate national contest.

Cementing their partnership at Pau, they recorded one of just four cross-country clears inside the time to rise to fourth place overnight.

Then came Hidalgo De L’Ile, over whom there has been a slight question mark following his fall in the water at the Europeans in 2005 and again at Badminton (England) this spring.

Touzaint, though, is now riding out of his skin and had no anxious moments, to overtake the dressage leaders to the near delirium of the home crowd.

The hard luck story of the event was Zara Phillips who brought a four-star debutante, Red Baron, 15th after dressage. The chestnut—who is owned by Trevor Hemmings, who also owns the Grand National winner Hedgehunter—seemed to be jumping fluently but “missed” at the upright into the second water complex, giving his rider her first dunking.

Pippa Cuckson

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