May 19, 2008

Double Olympic gold medalist Mark Todd put himself formally in the running for a record sixth games as part of a strong New Zealand eventing performance at the Saumur horse trials in France at the weekend.

Interview with Todd after the Saumur cross-country:

The 52-year-old and his former Olympic team-mate Andrew Nicholson came fourth and sixth respectively at the three-star event, with fellow New Zealander Tim Price finishing between them in fifth place.

Todd and his 10-year-old grey gelding Gandalf gained the crucial second Olympic qualifying score they needed to be considered for selection in the New Zealand squad to be named next month.

To gain the qualifying score, Todd needed less than 75 penalty points in the dressage, a maximum of one stop and 36 or fewer time penalties in the cross-country and 16 penalties or fewer in the showjumping.

The combination finished on 71.3 penalties, 8 behind the winner, Australian Sam Griffiths, on Happy Times.

Todd said he was "really, really pleased" with Gandalf's performance.

"We came here thinking that if we got a place in the top 10 that would be good, so he's done really well," Todd said after the final showjumping stage.

"We've come away with a lot of positives and we know the horse can do a lot more yet so we can go home [to the UK] now and start working on things and hopefully we will get the nod from the selectors."

Todd said more work needed to be done on Gandalf's dressage and showjumping. The pair were 25th after the dressage and moved into 13th following the cross-country. Then, in the showjumping a combination of their clear round and higher-placed pairs knocking down rails allowed them to move up to sixth.

Nicholson said he was "very pleased" with the fourth placing of his eight-year-old gelding Nereo (67.8pts), who was competing at his first three-star event.

"He's only young to be competing at this level [but] he's very consistent; he's always gone very well," Nicholson said.

That consistency showed in the pair's relatively high placing of 16th after the dressage and their move up to sixth at the end of the cross country.

Nicholson, 46, had an even better cross-country ride on his other eight-year-old gelding, Epic, with the pair clocking the fastest round to push them from 17th to third place. But the horse had to be withdrawn after that stage due to an injury.

Price and his mount, Vortex, put in the fourth-best performance in the cross-country to move from 39th to eighth place, and with just one rail down in the showjumping, finished fifth (68.5pts).

Todd was less fortunate in the cross-country when his second mount Dusky Moon, who went into the stage in 21st place, refused three jumps, resulting in automatic elimination.

Todd now joins the other shortlisted riders from whom the five-strong eventing team will be selected next month to represent New Zealand at the August games.

Earlier news from Saumur