January 23, 2008

by Diana Dobson

Showjumper Oliver Edgecombe doesn't get fussed about much, but the World Cup (NZ series) leader has to admit it's too tight to call going into the final rounds this weekend.

The 32-year-old farmer from Waipukurau plans to start both JJ Freelance and Vancouver in the two final rounds at the Larsen Sawmilling Equestrian Championships - the first a speed round on Friday and the second and final of the eight-round series, on Saturday.

Oliver Edgecombe: two points ahead in the rankings.

Robert Steele: will be the one to watch at the weekend.

Anna Trent: can be counted on for a consistent performance.
Pictures: © Megan McKay

He has a two-point buffer over fellow New Zealand representatives Robert Steele (Hawera) and Claire Wilson (Waipukurau). Just their best four rounds count, and points are worked out on the number of starters in the class - it's a tricky series to predict.

Anna Trent (Auckland) won the last round and is proving a bit of a dark horse, sitting quietly in fourth spot. A fantastic rider on any given day, Trent can never be discounted - especially as her win at Waitemata earlier this month, which none of the other top six chose to start in, zoomed her up the leaderboard, to just three points behind Edgecombe.

But Edgecombe has two very classy horses and has been the king of consistency this season. He's the current Bell Tea Horse of the Year title holder and remains the pick of the bunch.

He owns the 10-year-old JJ Freelance, who he won the Horse of the Year title on last year, and used to own nine-year-old Vancouver, who is now owned by Brita Petersen.

Edgecombe backs both the horses.

"It's a tough decision on who to nominate," he says.

Riders have to nominate just one horse to win points on. "It will probably be Vancouver though - although JJ Freelance is probably a little quicker in a speed class."

He has not given any thought to the bonus that the winner of the series has the chance to travel to Germany to represent New Zealand at the world final.

"You've got to win the class before you start even thinking about things like that," he says.

That said, it would prove the ideal bouncing board for anyone serious about Olympic aspirations this year. Edgecombe could fall into that category.

He's not ruing his decision not to travel to Waitemata either.

"I think if we had gone there and then to Gisborne, it would have caught up with us - it's a lot of traveling to do in a short period of time."

Gisborne has always had a soft spot for Edgecombe, who figures he was in single digits when he first rode his beloved little ponies there. His days now are far busier, running the 1300 acre sheep and cattle station. He doesn't use any of his eight horses for farm work, preferring the other horsepower.

Edgecombe gets training from one of New Zealand's best - double Olympic silver medalist Greg Best, who is now team manager for Olympic and world championship teams. Best, and he's the first to declare his interest, backs his younger charge all the way.

"There probably are seven or eight who have a shot at winning the series, but realistically it is a two or three horse race," says Best. "Oliver has two very competitive horses and is hot - he's going to be tough to beat."

He's picking Robert Steele as the danger man, purely because the format of the two classes better suits Edgecombe and Steele's horses. "Both of them can come out on Saturday and not be affected by having given it a good shot in the speed class on Friday."

Steele finished second equal in last year's series and in 2005 won the final round in the Australian league.

And while Best absolutely rates Trent's riding ability, he figures her horse Cortaflex Muskateer NZPH is perhaps a year or two away from his peak World Cup performances.

Claire Wilson (Waipukurau) is another Horse of the Year title winner and is sitting is second equal spot with Steele, with long time campaigner Maurice Beatson (Dannevirke) and Simon Wilson (Waipukurau) sitting in fifth equal spot just six points adrift of Edgecombe.