April 6, 2008

Heelan Tompkins and Sugoi power their way through the Kihikihi cross-country.

Anne-Marie Styles and Opera Groove take Tigger's Home. The combination finished second overall.

Heelan Tompkins has sent a clear message to the New Zealand eventing selectors that she and Sugoi are serious Olympic contenders after claiming victory at the FEI World Cup Eventing, the flagship class of the Mitavite International Horse Trial near Te Awamutu.

Tompkins made light of her achievement when standing on the podium. "This is where I want to be at the Olympics," she said, but her task of selection has been made harder by the resurgence of former dual gold medallist Mark Todd, who has come out of retirement. Unlike Todd, Tompkins will continue her Olympic campaign from her Taranaki, New Zealand, home.

Tompkins led the class of 10 riders on a dressage score of 52.6 and, with the fastest cross-country time around the inventive course, designed by John Nicholson (brother of New Zealand team rider Andrew), retained her pole position with 2.8 time penalties to add.

This gave her the luxury of two show jumps in hand over her nearest rival, Anne-Marie Styles on Opera Groove. Both she and third-placed Jonathan Pagent, who was cross-country trailblazer on the inexperienced Clifton Promise, also jumped clear to retain their positions.

There were five clear cross-country rounds over Kihikihi's imaginative course, which uses Winnie the Pooh as its central theme, with narrow house fences, and which had a new water complex added this year.

Last year's winner, Otago student Clarke Johnstone on Oakley Vision, ran out at a narrow stump before the second water complex. This dropped him from third place after dressage to eventual seventh.

Matthew Grayling, a three-time winner of this event, will miss out on selection because his top horse Gordon is sidelined, but he was eighth after a cross-country fall on the youngster NRM Ru Star.