Paul Athanasoff and Wirragulla Nicklaus
Riding his homebred stallion Wirragulla Nicklaus, Paul finished fifth but only because Nicklaus showed his exhuberance by several high spirited bucking sessions between fences in the jump off, wasting precious seconds. The horse appears to have finally got over the journey to Europe, the weather and missing out on a southern summer.
"We are still thrilled," said Paul, who has been accompanied to Italy by twin brother James. The brothers had to sell a farm to finance a trip to Europe which Paul considered essential once the equine flu epidemic effectively closed down the Australian circuit. The striking chestnut is on the shortlist for Hong Kong and will be returning to Australia at the end of April.
There was a very international flavour to the end of the week's competition. The March tour really belonged to the home side which won several big classes, but in April arenot having it all their own way. Brazil's Alvaro Miranda won the Gold Tour Grand Prix, chased home by Bulgaria's Angel Diner Nyagolov and France's Guillaume Fortrier. The jump off also featured competitiors from Poland and Greece.
No Italian celebrations in the Silver tour Grand prix either, where the highest placed Italian was 10th. Hungary's James Wingrave took the honours riding Agropoint Calira, one of the horses he took over following the untimely death of the great Joe Turi. Good enough to compete at WEG 2006, last year the mare lost form after what connections thought was a little too much travelling, something it is hard for the eastern Europeans to avoid if they wish to compete at the highest levels, having precious few internationals at home.
But a few months off seems to have given the mare her enthusiasm back and an encouraging start to the season for Wingrave, who was also second in two other classes.
Also worthy of mention was the second placegetter in this class, Turkey's Sencer Can, who looked all over the winner with a ferociously ridden round on Ransom. Already a great favourite here, Sencer was a little unfortunate to come up against the giraffe-like stride of Agropoint Calira who appeared to canter round sedately, but won by less than half a second. Next weeks rematch will be interesting!
The Hong Kong contingent are still here continuing their training for the Olympics and Great Britain, Germany and Ireland are amongst the other visitors. Grant Wilson has returned to Belgium to compete at one of their big internationals.