January 29, 2008

by Diana Dobson

Oliver Edgecombe didn't quite have everything his way en route to victory in the World Cup (NZ) series.

The 32-year-old farmer from Waipukurau went into the final two rounds at the Larsen Sawmilling Equestrian Championships in Gisborne at the weekend with a two point buffer over fellow New Zealand representatives Robert Steele (Hawera) and Claire Wilson (Waipukurau). Just a point back from them on 41 was Anna Trent (Auckland), with Maurice Beatson (Dannevirke) and Simon Wilson (Waipukurau) both on 38.

Edgecombe won the speed class on the first day of the show when he was the only clear round of the 15-strong lineup. He stopped the clock at 73.78.

Trent and Cortaflex Muskateer NZPH were the fastest but paid for it with a rail towards the end of the round, meaning 74.82 and second place.

"I knew I had rubbed the odd rail out there, but they all stayed up," said Edgecombe.

He sliced corners and was very economical over the Gerrit Beker-designed course, notching a tight round.

It laid a challenge for those following, forcing them to take risks they couldn't deliver on.

The win meant a seven point advantage over his rivals, with Steele in second place on 48 and Trent on 47.

Edgecombe says he always struggles with who to nominate for each round, but he has stuck with Vancouver for the season. He could have chosen either and still been up with a chance, so consistent have his mounts been.

Double Olympic silver medalist Greg Best, who trains Edgecombe, has always felt his student would be tough to beat - but he put it down to a two horse race between Steele and Edgecombe for the final.

How right he was.

Steele's nickname of 'the iceman' proved apt as he calmly rode his way to victory in the Bell Tea World Cup (NZ) series final.

It is the second consecutive year the Hawera dairy farmer has taken the final round, but not done enough to take the series.

With the pressure on, Steele and Gospel pulled off the only clear round of the 15 starters, over a big and challenging Gerrit Beker-designed course.

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.

"Gospel must like Gisborne - he does well here," said Steele.

He said the hard ground had prevented a decent warm-up for his big horse.

"We just went in there hoping I had done enough."

Steele says the track was a tough one and before the class he and Beatson had picked there would be very few clear rounds.

"I knew I had rubbed a few on the way around."

He was ruing dropping the last fence in the previous day's speed round - it cost him three very valuable points on the leaderboard which would have tied the two in the end.

Best had nothing but praise for both riders.

"You can take nothing away from either," 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. "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 - Catherine Cameron (Cambridge) and Kahurangi Valentino were going so well, until they hit the treble right at the end of the round.

And Trent and Muskateer were clear right up to the last, almost forcing a jump-off.

The horse is still only young and jumps with a head far beyond his years.

Trent proved to be the dark horse of the competition, quietly edging her way up the leaderboard.

It was her first season in World Cup and she was just aiming for top six.

Her top horse Levitation NZPH injured himself early in the season meaning her eight-year-old Muskateer was quickly pulled up to top level. And he more than rose to the challenge.

"Everything happens for a reason," she says. "We never would have known how good this horse was if he hadn't been pulled up into this grade early."

The 16.2hh Selle Francais canters around the courses like an old hand.

"He has a fantastic brain and learns very quickly, getting better each round."