Brits edge into lead after European champs dressage

September 26, 2009

A battle royal is developing in the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championship at Fontainebleau, for at the close of the dressage phase Great Britain, the defending champions, have now drawn ahead of Germany, the favourites - by just 6.1 penalties.

Kristina Cook aboard Miners Frolic during their dressage test at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championship.
© Kit Houghton/FEI
The hungry French team is edging closer all the time in third, less than the cost of one cross-country run-out behind Britain, and the Belgians are looking dangerous in fourth, ahead of the young and exciting Irish team, fifth.

The individual contest is just as thrilling, as less than 2 penalties divide the top 8 riders, who have all scored in the 30s.

Dual Olympic bronze medalist Kristina Cook (GB) is sharing the individual lead with her team mate Oliver Townend, who is no stranger to the winner's podium this year, but they have little to spare over the defending individual champion, Nicolas Touzaint on his Les Etoiles de Pau runner-up, Tatchou.

Cook, who had the unenviable task of following renowned dressage exponent Ingrid Klimke (GER), currently lying equal 6th with team mate Frank Ostholt, said that the audience's excitement at Klimke's test actually helped her horse.

"I thought Hong Kong was Miners Frolic's test of a lifetime, but he has even gone up a gear since then," said Cook. "I could nit-pick a few mistakes, but generally he was fantastic. He has a fabulous brain and, although he has taken time to produce, he is continually improving and to be ahead of Ingrid is a miracle! I was worried about going after her, and I knew the crowd would be excited by her mark, so I took care to stay out of the way, but the atmosphere worked in my favour."

Touzaint, however, perhaps lost the lead when Tatchou shied in surprise at the cameras.

"It is typical of his character," said Touzaint. "He can get distracted, but it is the tenseness that makes him brilliant."

Oliver Townend said he felt lucky to be in the top position. "The horse hadn't been at his best beforehand and wasn't dancing as much as usual, but as long as I press the right buttons he does a good job. It's a great position to be in, but I'd rather be here on Sunday! The course will be very tough for Flint Curtis, but it's going to be a great competition. The facilities here are superb and the French should be very proud of their European Championships here."

The exciting rising star Tim Lips (NED) has made a brilliant start at his first senior European Championships and is lying 4th on Van Schundel's Comprex Owaola, a horse with an interesting record. The mare is Dutch-bred, by Indoctro, but has a Spanish passport after being sold to a Spanish jumper. She then returned to The Netherlands, in the experienced hands of leading jumper Piet Raymakers, who approached Lips's father Martin for some cross-country help.

"We thought Owaola would be a super eventing horse," explains Lips. "So we ended up buying her. This is her 53rd international competition, which is pretty amazing - 40 of them were in jumping. I qualified her for this through HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing competitions - she was 5th in Marbach - so I don't know how she will cope with the longer distance across country here, but she is very honest: she usually just sees the flags and goes."

Pierre Michelet's cross-country course, at an approximate distance of 6000m and an optimum time of 10 minutes, is causing plenty of head-scratching - William Fox-Pitt said he was going to walk it at least five times to be sure of the routes, for at times it weaves confusingly through the ancient hunting forest.

The early part of the course has a number of inviting fences in open countryside, but then comes a bank and big corner at 7, followed by the water at 8-9, where horses have to jump out of the water and negotiate one of Pierre Michelet's trademark fences, a corner with the ground sloping away.

Fence 11, a pair of substantial angled hedges, is another familiar test, and the pair of narrow fences either side of a water splash at 14 are reminiscent of the narrow fences which caused so much trouble at Pratoni del Vivaro (Italy) in 2007.

Fence 16 is a bank followed by a choice of brush fences and 17-18 is a double of houses on a cunning line. Fence 20 is a turning pair of logpiles built on a turn in the path, but it is fence 22, a big spread to a fiercely narrow corner, again on downhill ground, which is causing riders to walk it over and over again.

The second water, at 23, comprises a big jump in over a log with an S-shaped line over two narrow brushes in the water, before the course loops back around and through the main arena, where there are more accuracy fences in store.

"It's a challenging, interesting course," said Ingrid Klimke, "and riders will have to maintain total focus throughout."

Nicolas Touzaint said there was pressure on the French team because it was their home turf, "but we know Fontainebleau well as we compete in national competitions here every year, and we're enjoying being the host nation. I think the dressage may in the end not be very influential; the cross-country is very technical and the optimum time will be difficult."

Swedish rider Linda Algotsson , who rides the 19-year-old Stand By Me in the event: "I thought Hong King (the Olympics last year) would be his last event, but this spring he came out fresher than ever. He feels really well and as long as he feels happy, I will keep him going because he gets bored at home. He is a very special horse to me; my mother bred him and his championship career started 10 years ago when he was nine - some horses on the Swedish team hadn't even been born then!"