Great Britain's Piggy French and DHI Topper maintained the lead they established in the dressage arena yesterday with a superb cross-country run at the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) in London (GBR) today.
They go into tomorrow's final jumping phase with more than a fence in hand over Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt and Mrs Medicott, one of just five horse-and-rider partnerships to complete the 19-fence course without penalty, while Michael Jung lies close behind in third with River of Joy. Despite setting off at a ferocious gallop, the German who took the individual title at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky collected 0.40 time faults as the testing terrain took its toll. The addition of 1.20 time penalties saw Australia's Clayton Fredericks and Bendigo drop two places to fourth. French is the only one with any real breathing space at the top of the order however.
The cross-country took place in blazing sunshine over a course of 19 fences and using only part of the track that will be used in 2012. And while riders agreed that the twists and turns were not ideal as they followed the magic carpet of specially-prepared ground through the historic city venue, the "wow" factor of competing right in the heart of London couldn't be denied.
The fences came up very quickly, and British star William Fox-Pitt described it as "a bit like a BMX track, so you need a handy pony!" while Kiwi legend, Mark Todd, said the experience was "a bit like a jump-off against the clock!". However he added that the course rode really well "and it gives us a good idea of what we've got to do to get our horses fit, because it will be twice as long and steep next year". He hopes to bring Land Vision, with which he won the 2011 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, back to London in 2012. And he loves the venue and the fact that it will allow the equestrian events to take place close to all the other main Olympic activities.
The Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) has provided the perfect opportunity to present equestrian sports to a larger public, and crowds of local school-children screamed with delight as they got their first-ever glimpse of galloping horses at close quarters, particularly at the water jump where they roared encouragement as riders appeared on the horizon and headed down to the first element. This wasn't a day for the faint-hearted equine, but that didn't bother Clayton Fredericks. "There were lots of little kids getting excited just about us jumping some fences. It's great!. My horse (Bendigo) loves crowds and kept wanting to stop and chat to people, so I was saying to him "come on, pay attention!" he explained afterwards.
Early analysis of today's competition has already provided riders, organisers and officials with plenty of food for thought. "For next year you will need a horse that's very rideable, not a puller or strong. He has to be athletic and able to turn quickly to save time" said French, who when asked how important it is for her to win tomorrow replied "well it would be very nice, but we've all come here to get the best feel of the place as possible so it's not all about winning". She is in a strong position however and recognises that a British victory would be the icing on the cake.
Cross Country course designer, Sue Benson, said she got a lot of positive feedback but realises there are some areas that need attention including some tight turns which she said she will "iron out".
"I'll be listening to what everyone has to say but in the end, as far as the course is concerned, what I've got is what I've got and the terrain here just keeps coming at you!" she pointed out.
Tim Haddaway, Equestrian Competition Manager for London 2012, said this afternoon that "it's already been an interesting few days and today we learned a lot, particularly about the spectators".
The learning continues tomorrow when, in order to reflect the Olympic format, competitors will jump two rounds over the coloured poles before the final result is decided.
Facts and Figures:
3 eliminations - Italy's Alberto Giugni (Pastel L'Anguillere) for three refusals and both Lukasz Kazmierczak (Branco) from Poland and Germany's Sandra Auffarth (Parancs) for falls.
5 horse and rider combinations finished without any additional penalties
25 picked up just time faults
Four horse and rider combinations had a single refusal - America's Logan Rawlings (Jaybee Star Celebrity), Brazil's Renan Guerreiro (Rongotai), Thailand's Nina Ligon (Jazz King) and Colombia's Brian Nunez-Hughes (Libro Archie).
Benoit Johner SUI - "The horse (Lit-il Peccau Ch) jumped well, but I have the feeling I made some mistakes myself. The water was the most memorable obstacle, because I nearly fell off at the second part when my horse was looking at all the crowds".
Jayne Dohherty IRL - "I really enjoyed it. It's a challenging course with its hills and twists. It gives you no time to recover. Normally on the flat stretches you have time to recover, but not here".
Karin Donckers BEL - "I am proud of my little pony, he's only seven years old. It's a big atmosphere for him with a huge crowd applauding. The course rode very intensely as we expected, you couldn't relax".
Result after Cross Country: 1, DHI Topper (Piggy French) GBR 34.70; 2, Mrs Medicott (Sara Algotsson Ostholt) SWE 41.60; 3, River of Joy (Michael Jung) GER 41.80; 4, Bendigo (Clayton Fredericks) AUS 42.10; 5, Billy Shannon (Pippa Funnell) GBR 44.90; 6, Sir Medicott (Frank Ostholt) GER 48.90; 7, Limestone (Joris van Springel) BEL 50.10; 8, Nepal du Sudre (Virginie Caulier) BEL 50.80; 9, Gaucho (William Fox-Pitt) GBR 52.30; 10, Viscount George (Andrew Nicholson) NZL 52.80; 11, Lamicell Unique (K Donckers) BEL 53.10; 12, DHI Colour Candy (William Faudree) USA 54.10; 13, Pivoine des Touches (Donatien Schauly) FRA 56.00; 14, Borough Pennyz (Vittoria Pannizon) ITA 56.40; 15, Paulank Brockagh (Sam Griffiths) AUS 57.60; 16, Blockbuster (Waylon Roberts) CAN 58.00; 17, Furst Love (Alex Hua Tian) CHN 58.50; 18, Chuckelberry (Joseph Murphy) IRL 58.60; 19, Incognito (Clarke Johnstone) NZL 61.10; 20, Cavalor Telstar (Raf Kooremans) NED 61.60; 21, NZB Campino (Mark Todd) NZL 62.10; 22, Olipper Schervil (Denis Mesples) FRA 62.90; 23, Gunstone Wallstreet (Julian Stiller) USA 63.40; 24, The Only One (Jayne Doherty) IRL 65.50; 25, Let it Bee (Kathryn Robinson) 65.60; 26, Hooligan (Takayuki Yumira) JPN 67.10; 27, Carlow Miller (Paul Hart) RSA 67.70; 28, Lit-Il Peccau CH (Benoit Johner) SUI 68.50; 29, Killossery Harvey (Jaroslav Hatla) CZE 74.10; 30, Idaho D'Argonne (Ruy Fonseca) BRA 76.00; 31, Culture Couture (Samantha Albert) JAM 81.40; 32, Jabadaba Doo (Andreas Riedl) AUT 86.80; 33, Jaybee Star Celebrity (Logan Rawlings) USA 97.70; 34, Rongotai (Renan Guerreiro) BRA 99.80; 35, Jazz King (Nina Ligon) THA 102.10; 36, Libro Archie (Brian Nunez-Hughes) COL 103.30; 37, Pastel L'Anguillere (Alberto Giugni) ITA, Branco (Lukasz Kammierczak) POL, Parancs (Sandra Auffarth) GER Elim.
Photo: Sara Algotsson Ostholt from Sweden riding Mrs Medicott in 2nd place after cross country. Kit Houghton/FEI