January 27, 2008

by Diana Dobson

They call Robert Steele the iceman and in the Bell Tea World Cup (NZ) series final in Gisborne on Saturday he showed why.

The Hawera dairy farmer won the final round, edging out series winner Oliver Edgecombe (Waipukurau) by just a rail.

The pressure was on, but Steele and his homebred horse Gospel pulled off the only clear round of the 15 starters, over a big and challenging Gerrit Becker-designed course at the Larsen Sawmilling Equestrian Championships.

Steele was one of the last to go in the class. Before him, series leader Edgecombe and Vancouver had picked up four faults at the second to last fence, with former series winner Maurice Beatson (Dannevirke) and My Gollywog also taking a rail – both clocked faster times.

Double silver Olympic medalist Greg Best always picked it to be a two-horse race between Steele and Edgecombe.

"You can take nothing away from either rider - fantastic," he said.

Edgecombe and Vancouver's owner Brita Petersen now had to think about whether the combination would take up the invitation to represent New Zealand at the World Cup final in Sweden in April.

"This is a once a lifetime opportunity," says Best, Edgecombe’s trainer. "The final is in late April and then there is the Olympics ... but there’s a lot to happen between now and then."

He felt New Zealand would only see how truly special the combination was, when they were challenged in the much bigger offshore events.

For Edgecombe the series win is just the continuation of a fabulous season. He now prepares for the Kelt Capital Horse of the Year Show in early March where he will defend his Bell Tea Horse of the Year crown.

"It's just a great feeling to win this," he said.

There were a few hard luck stories from the round - Anna Trent (Auckland) and Cortaflex Muskateer NZPH were clear right up to the last, almost forcing a jumpoff. The horse is still only young and jumps with a head far beyond his years.

Catherine Cameron (Cambridge) and Kahurangi Valentino were another combination who were going so well, until they hit the treble right at the end of the round.

In the Young Rider it was a Gisborne battle between best mates Caroline Parkes on Bush Magic and Melissa McBreen on Gorgeous George, who notched the only clear rounds of the class.

In the end it went to Parkes, who now has a comfortable buffer on the series leaderboard.

The show, which has attracted 1800 entries, continues today.