Rio 2016 Olympic selection will be firmly on the minds of Australia's top Eventing athletes, when the second leg of the FEI Classics™ 2015/2016 series - which unites the world’s top six four-star Eventing competitions - opens tomorrow (19 November) at the Adelaide International 3 Day Event.
The Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games course designer Mike Etherington-Smith (GBR) has signed on at Adelaide for the next three years, and as advisor to Equestrian Australia's Eventing High Performance programme he will be ensuring the cross country is a good test for those aspiring to fly to Rio. Leading the 34-strong field are four Australian Olympic medallists - Stuart Tinney, Shane Rose, Sonja Johnson and Megan Jones.
British athlete Alice Dunsdon has also flown Fernhill Present to Adelaide in her quest to compete in all six FEI Classics™. "After I completed Luhmühlen with Hilly, my third four-star, I wondered if anyone had done all six with the same horse, and if not why not,” said Dunsdon. “Wouldn’t it be great if we were the first to do it! Adelaide will be four-star number five, with Badminton a history-making sixth next year.”
New Zealand’s Clarke Johnstone, team bronze medallist at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2010, has also made the trip across the Tasman, and New South Wales-based rider and trainer, Christine Bates, who has narrowly missed out on FEI World Equestrian Games™ and Olympic selection, has a very good horse in the 2015 Saddleworld Melbourne International CCI3* 2015 winner, Adelaide Hill, and is a strong favourite in Adelaide.
Given that anything can happen in Eventing, the other hopefuls are all previous winners. Sydney Olympic team gold medallist Stuart Tinney has resisted the call of the Northern Hemisphere, but has nonetheless regularly received team call-ups. He has three rides this year in Pluto Mio, who finished 11th at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014, Annapurna who was second in the Adelaide International 3 Day Event CCI2* in 2013, and War Hawk, second in the 2015 Melbourne CCI3*. After a gap year, Shane Rose is back with the Jumping-bred pair, CP Qualified by Quiet Capitol and Virgil by Vivant.
"I'm sick of being a bridesmaid at Adelaide", said the Western Australian sheep farmer and Beijing 2008 team silver medallist Sonja Johnson. She is riding her athletic former racehorse, Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison that just missed a 2014 Games call-up due to a minor injury. L
ocal girl Megan Jones has retired her Beijing team silver medal partner, the charismatic Kirby Park Irish Jester, and will ride Kirby Park Allofasudden by Rustic Amber that has been very lightly campaigned since taking second place last year. Katja Weimann of Victoria is also determined to make an impression on the Olympic selectors with her home-bred, BP Flamboyant, second in the Melbourne CCI3*.
Western Australian Jessica Manson, who won the FEI Classics™ at Adelaide last year, and Victorian rider and coach Will Enzinger, who broke his leg just before Adelaide in 2013 and handed Chris Burton his winning ride, are back this year with two rides, Wenlock Aquifer and Britannia MVNZ, completing a stellar Adelaide line-up.
The London 2012 Olympic Games equestrian venue was spectacular in Greenwich Park, and Adelaide, with its inner city parkland location, sets a similarly striking scene - it is like starting the cross country at Hyde Park Corner.
The Australian International 3 Day Event followed on the back of the Gawler competition, which began in 1954. Gawler was the site of the FEI World Eventing Championships 1986 and many of its stalwart supporters stayed on to establish the world's only urban three-day event.
Gill Rolton, double Olympic gold medallist in Atlanta, initiated the movement behind the first Adelaide event in 1997. The event went four-star in 1999 and in 2011 entered the FEI Classics™ series. Since the very beginning, Rolton has been making it happen. The event has grown and grown, and is now an established part of Adelaide's and Australia's pre-Christmas Eventing activities. The party atmosphere is very obvious, with the event offering something for everyone in or outside the horse world.
This year, the headline for the event is "Three phases, two hearts, one passion" with the emphasis on passion. And it has taken a lot of passion to bring international Eventing to the masses in the glorious late Spring in the Adelaide Park Lands.
FEI Classics™ 2015/2016 Leaderboard (after 1 of 6 events)
1 Astier Nicolas (FRA) 15 points
2 Michael Jung (GER) 12
3 Tim Price (NZL) 10
4 Emily King (GBR) 8
5 Karim Florent Laghouag (FRA) 6
6 Claas Hermann Romeike (GER) 5
7 Sarah Bullimore (GBR) 3
8 Clare Abbot (IRL) 2
9 Sir Mark Todd (NZL) 1
See full leaderboard here
For more information visit www.fei.org/fei/events/fei-classics