Simon Gordon is poised to win his first-ever Kihikihi International Horse Trial crown after snatching the lead in a brilliantly ridden cross country course on Saturday.
But he’s only just ahead of Dannie Lodder aboard her nine-year-old thoroughbred gelding Moochi, who sit a single penalty point behind them.
Eleven started the John Nicholson-designed course, with three being eliminated after parting company with their mounts.
Overnight leader Monica Oakley and Fontain had a cheap run-out early in the course at a corner fence and have slipped into sixth spot.
Donna Smith rode two beautiful rounds aboard Balmoral Tangolooma and Britannica MVNZ to sit in third and fifth places respectively.
Christen Hayde and Tandarra Sweet As flew around to move four spots up the leaderboard, into fourth.
Gordon was rapt with the efforts of his lovely 11-year-old grey. Just a few weeks ago, he was crowned Eventer of the Year at the New Zealand Horse of the Year Show, and Gordon been quite clear that he’s at Kihikihi with a similar goal in mind.
“I had to change my ride a little because he was a bit slow to get going,” said the 23-year-old, “but I really enjoyed that course out there, it was great to ride.”
Nicholson’s courses are renowned for the ability to challenge the riders while forcing them to lift their game.
“You have to be a bit more on your mark with John’s courses,” said Gordon, who has done Kihikihi twice before but never managed to finish inside the top six. “There’s not as much margin for error on these ones.”
Nicholson was very pleased with the efforts of all 300-odd riders in the various grades, but it is the three star class that continues to inspire him to work his magic.
A man of few words, Nicholson is flown around the globe to advise would-be course builders. He’s the brother of world number one ranked eventer and Olympic medallist Andrew Nicholson, and is always keen for feedback from riders and fellow designers.
In the CIC** Virginia Thompson has taken the lead aboard Ashbury Pee Cee after going clear and just over time, adding just 0.8 penalty points to her overnight score of 56.6.
Right behind her is Amanda Pottinger on Achilles II who was also clear but collected 9.2 penalties, leaving her on 66.4 heading into the showjumping.
Overnight leader Georgia Dufty and Charlton Tabloid came unstuck at the second to last fence where the two fell and were eliminated.
There were four eliminations and four retirements from the 24 starters. No one managed to go clear and inside time over the course.
In CIC* A, Monica Oakley and Saltador have taken the lead, with Kate Wood on Tobruk are at the front of the field in the CIC* B.
The event concludes today with the showjumping phases for all remaining divisions.
CIC***: Simon Gordon (Karaka) Fletch.com 59.4 1, Dannie Lodder (Papakura) Moochi 60.4 2, Donna Smith (Te Kauwhata) Balmoral Tangolooma 67 3, Christen Hayde (Pukekohe) Tandarra Sweet As 76.1 4, Donna Smith (Te Kauwhata) Britannica MVNZ 78.3 5, Monica Oakley (Waipukurau) Fontain 80 6.
CIC** (after the dressage and cross country phases): Virginia Thompson (Henderson) Ashbury Pee Cee 57.4 penalty points 1, Amanda Pottinger (Wairarapa) Achilles II 66.4 2, Alex Chambers-Stewart (Auckland) Peti Peti Wai 66.7 3, Sarah Broughton (Mystery Creek) Rockhill Radish 70 4, Virginia Thompson (Henderson) Star Nouveau 74.5 5, Diane Gilder (Cambridge) Your Attorney 79.2 6.
CIC* A: Monica Oakley (Waipukurau) Saltador 51.5 1, Megan Finlayson (Kerikeri) Greensleeves 52.1 2, Larissa Srhoy (Ashburton)Smirnoff 52..8 3, Nick Brooks (Cambridge) Striking 53.5 4, Cherie Jaques (Otorohanga) Tobinator 54 5, Abby Lawrence (Te Puke) Class of Sixty Two 57.1 6
CIC* B: Kate Wood (Whangarei) Tobruk 47.9 1, Helen Bruce (Palmerston North) Toblerone NZPH 49.1 2, Georgia Dufty (Rotorua) TC Maverick 53.5 3, Lauren Alexander (North Shore City) BMW Ripley and Chanel Campbell (Auckland) Kingston Time 55.1 =4, Zoie Gray (Te Awamutu) FIS Overcast 56.8 6.