Eventing is completely sold out at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and it is no wonder, given the calibre of the competition at Normandy.
A record entry of 97 combinations from 28 nations head for the spectacular Haras du Pin, the French National Stud founded by Louis XIV known as “the Equestrian Versailles”, where the dressage and cross-country phases will be held followed by a nail-biting jumping finale at the Stade d’Ornano in Caen, with six team places at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games also up for grabs.
The competition begins with the first horse inspection on August 27 at Haras du Pin, followed by dressage on Thursday and Friday August 28-29 , and cross-country on Saturday, August 30. The final jumping phase to decide team and individual medals will be held in Stade d’Ornano in Caen on Sunday, August 31.
More than 70,000 tickets have been sold for the Eventing, and 50,000 spectators are expected on cross country day.
Four years ago at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Kentucky, Germany’s Michael Jung embarked on his record-breaking run of gold medal success. He dazzled the world there with his superb horsemanship on La Biosthetique Sam FBW, before the pair went on to amass four more gold medals at the 2011 European Championships and London 2012 Olympic Games.
Jung, 32, is now attempting to win his fifth successive title, following double gold at the FEI European Championships on Halunke FBW last year, and he has the 14-year-old Sam looking as well as ever, back in action after having last season off.
Jung’s main rival is likely to be his team mate Sandra Auffarth with her brilliant chestnut gelding Opgun Louvo, team gold and individual silver and bronze medallists in 2011 and 2012 and recent winners of the Aachen CICO3*, and the combination many people consider is the one to beat.
In fact, it’s hard to look past the Germans for team gold in Normandy, when you factor in Ingrid Klimke on her European team gold and individual silver medallist FRH Escada JS, Dirk Schrade on the sparky chestnut Hop And Skip, Andreas Ostholt on the exciting prospect So Is Et and the consistent Peter Thomsen on Horseware’s Barney.
But other nations are hungry for medals. Astonishingly, Australia has never won a world team or individual title. The nearest they have been in recent years is team bronze and Clayton Fredericks’ individual silver medal in Aachen (GER) in 2006.
Perhaps this will be the year that is rectified, as they field two CCI4*-winning combinations in Sam Griffiths (Paulank Brockagh) and Christopher Burton (TS Jamaimo), plus team newcomer Bill Levett on the 2013 Saumur CCI3* winner Shannondale Titan and Paul Tapner with the Badminton 2014 cross-country leader Kilronan. The British-based quartet are joined by two highly experienced home-based riders in Shane Rose (CP Qualified) and Stuart Tinney (Pluto Mio).
New Zealand has known great success at this level, winning team gold at the inaugural FEI World Equestrian Games at Stockholm (SWE) in 1990, and again at Rome (ITA) in 1998. Mark Todd was a member of both those teams, and of the quartet that won bronze in 2010. He has a new ride this year in the German-bred Leonidas ll, 14th at Badminton.
The Kiwis again look exceptionally strong with Andrew Nicholson on Nereo, team and individual bronze medallists in 2010 and members of the bronze medal team at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Jock Paget with Olympic team bronze medallist and 2013 Badminton winner Clifton Promise and newcomer Tim Price, who makes his team debut with Luhmühlen CCI4* winner Wesko.
The host nation, France, also have rejuvenated fortunes and field five hugely experienced riders in Jean Teulere (Matelot du Grand Val), Cedric Lyard (Cadeau du Roi), Denis Mesples (Oregon de la Vigne), Pascal Leroy (Minos de Petra) and Rodolphe Scherer (Makara de Montiege), plus youthful talent in Maxime Livio with the Saumur CCI3* winner Qalao Des Mers.
Great Britain, the defending champions, are an interesting prospect. Three of their great horses from 2010 – Imperial Cavalier (Mary King), Opposition Buzz (Nicola Wilson) and Miners Frolic (Kristina Cook) – have been retired, and only two of their six horses have team experience, even if their riders have plenty of medal-winning credentials.
William Fox-Pitt, the individual silver medallist in Kentucky on Cool Mountain, this time rides the imposing chestnut stallion Chilli Morning, individual bronze medallist at the 2013 FEI European Championships. Zara Phillips, world champion on Toytown in 2006, is back in action after their birth of her daughter, Mia, in January and partners her 2012 Olympic team silver medallist High Kingdom.
Kristina Cook and Nicola Wilson have new team rides in De Novo News and Annie Clover respectively. Oliver Townend, who competed as an individual on Flint Curtis at Aachen in 2006, rides Black Tie and Harry Meade makes his long-awaited team debut on Wild Lone, third at Badminton.
This promises to be the most competitive FEI World Equestrian Games yet. Nations fielding teams are: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and USA.
The following nations will be fielding individuals: Austria, Belarus, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Portugal, South Africa and Russia.
- 28 nations; 16 teams; 97 combinations – the previous record, in 2010, was 80 combinations and 24 nations
- 3 former world champions: Jean Teulere (FRA, Espoir de la Mare, 2002); Zara Phillips (GBR, Toytown, 2006); Michael Jung (GER, La Biosthetique Sam, 2010)
- 2 dual team gold medallists: Mark Todd (1990, 1998) and Kristina Cook (1994, 2010)
- 2 riders who have competed at all six previous FEI World Equestrian Games: Andrew Nicholson (NZL) and Phillip Dutton (USA)
- 8 partnerships from 2010: Michael Jung & La Biosthetique Sam FBW (individual gold); Andrew Nicholson & Nereo (double bronze); Hawley Bennett-Awad (CAN) and Gin & Juice, (17th and team silver); Jock Paget (NZL) & Clifton Promise (7th); Pascal Leroy (FRA) & Minos de Petra (20th); Sam Watson (IRL) & Horseware Bushman (26th); Ruy Fonseca (BRA) and Tom Bombadill Too (36th); Bruce (Buck) Davidson JR (USA) and Ballynoe Castle RM (42nd)
- 1 horse who competed in 2010 under a different rider: Hop And Skip was previously ridden by Kenki Sato for Japan and is now with Germany’s Dirk Schrade
- 1 married couple: Tim and Jonelle Price (NZL)
- 1 pair of brothers: Felix and Ben Vogg (SUI)
4 children of former medallists: Bruce (Buck) Davidson JR, son of dual world champion Bruce Davidson (1974, 1978); Sam Watson (IRL), son of John Watson, individual silver medallist in 1978; Zara Phillips, daughter of team gold medallist Mark Phillips (1974); and Harry Meade, son of the multi-medalled Richard Meade
- 3 CCI4* winners in the New Zealand squad: Andrew Nicholson & Nereo (Pau, 2012), Jock Paget & Clifton Promise (Badminton, 2013) and Tim Price & Wesko (Luhmühlen, 2014)
- 2 CCI4* winners in the Australian squad: Christopher Burton & TS Jamaimo (Adelaide, 2013); and Sam Griffiths & Paulank Brockagh (Badminton 2014)
- 36 years since Sir Mark Todd, 58, first rode in a championship, at Kentucky in 1978; he’s not the oldest rider, however, as that honour goes to Jean Teulere (FRA), who is 60
- 16 caps for William Fox-Pitt (GBR); other highly-capped riders are Andrew Nicholson and Jean Teulere, 14; Kristina Cook, 12; Sir Mark Todd, 11