Drama aplenty on European champs cross-country

September 27, 2009

Providing the jumping rails stay in place today, Great Britain is on course to win a record eighth consecutive team gold medal at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships, after the cross-country produced a thrilling day's sport which dramatically altered the leaderboard.

A total of 20 international combinations were eliminated on the French cross-country course during the day.

Individual leaders Kristina Cook Miners Frolic on the cross-country.

Germany's Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam are in second place.

William Fox-Pitt and Idalgo are in third place individually. © Kit Houghton/FEI

France has risen to silver medal position - 57 penalties in arrears of Great Britain - despite the shock loss of their defending champion, Nicolas Touzaint, who was eliminated for jumping the wrong side of a flag at fence 8c, and Italy has moved up three places to bronze, after two brilliant rounds from Roberto Rotatori and Juan Carlos Garcia, who is now in line to make history by winning medals in both the FEI European Jumping and Eventing Championships in one year.

In a disastrous day for Germany at Fontainebleau; three team members were eliminated. Michael Jung now remains their sole medal hope; he and his brilliant La Biosthetique Sam are in individual silver position after producing a superb early clear round, one of only three inside the optimum time of 10 minutes 27 seconds.

Five out of the six British riders jumped clear, and Kristina Cook and William Fox-Pitt are now in individual gold and bronze positions with newcomer Piggy French lying 4th on her senior team debut, although Oliver Townend's amazing run this season ended with two run-outs, both at corners, at 8c and 22.

Cook said Miner's Frolic was "magic". She has had the horse for seven years, since he was a four-year-old and the pair have developed a real partnership. "This is not a course that suited Henry and William (Fox-Pitt) said to me this morning, 'don't ride to look pretty, ride ugly and be effective,' and this was what I thought about on the way around."

Fox-Pitt was thrilled with his big chestnut Idalgo, who is nearly 18hh. He said the horse was "totally unsuited to this course. He got very strong - I'm a bit hot, actually - but he was fabulous, so generous and staying on the line. At the water (fence 24), I had no reins, no nothing, and I didn't think it was worth the risk, which is why I took a longer route."

Townend was philisophical about the end of his golden run. "I suppose it was too much to expect after Badminton and Burghley that I could pull this off too. Flint Curtis is fine, but he has not felt on his best form."

Fox-Pitt summed up the day after the completion of the first two phases. "It has been a wonderful day for the team and the sport in general. The faults have been spread across the whole course which is a credit to the course designer. I am sorry for the Germans as they came to the competitions as favourites, but I'm thrilled we are in such a great position going into the show jumping with it all to play for."

The French team now has to count the score of Eric Vigeanel and the 19-year-old Coronado de Prior, who had two run-outs - ironically, individuals Arnaud Boiteau and Didier Dhennin are lying 5th and 7th - but 57-year-old anchorman Jean Teulère and his 17-year-old 2002 World Champion Espoir de la Mare, the very last on course, were simply magnificent, returning to a hero's welcome from an ecstatic home crowd.

Germany's day started to go badly wrong when their second team member, Frank Ostholt, was eliminated for three refusals, at the corner at fence 22 and at the narrow fences in the second water complex at 24. Ingrid Klimke had a difficult jump into the troublesome double of angled brushes at 11 when Butts Abraxxus cat-jumped the first element and then stopped. She, too, was eliminated after further run-outs at the brush arrowhead at fence 16. Individual rider Dirk Schrade and team anchorman Andreas Dibowski both fell at double of arrowheads at fence 14.

Michael Jung, the only German rider in with a chance, said La Biosthetique Sam FB was in good shape. "He looks good in the stable and I am hoping to stay in the medals. Today was a very difficult course from beginning to end; there wasn't a second to breathe and zillions of places to make a mistake. But Sam is a very good horse at the cross-country; he has proved it many times this year already and he did it again today. Obviously today went worse than you could imagine for the team."

Belgium's Karen Donckers is in ninth place. "I had a really good time, maybe not fast enough, but it was great. I thought after I saw Michael Jung and Nicola Wilson that the course was perhaps quite easy, but I soon realised that it was tough enough. But I've got a smart mare who works well with me. I like to jump the fences well, rather than fast, which is perhaps my weakness and is why I'm often in the top 10 but don't win! But it's important for the jumping and for my team."

Nicola Wilson, is in 10th place individually, and is the fourth British rider in the top 10. "Opposition Buzz loves his cross-country - he thinks all his Christmases and birthdays have come at once. I took all the direct routes and the course jumped as well as I'd hoped. He was very strong, though, so I may try a different bit next time."

Sweden's Linda Algotsson is currently 12th with the evergreen Stand By Me, who is 19. "He was fantastic. He has a huge stride so he was happier on the second half of the course. I had a big headache about fence 22, but he was brilliant there, and we had a scary moment at 24b in the second water, but he popped some of the fences as though they were pony club."

When Ireland's last team rider Liz Power and Kilpatrick River went out on the cross-country course, the team was lying in bronze medal position, with a possible individual silver medal within Power's grasp, after her outstanding dressage score on Friday.

The 24-year-old, who was competing in her first European championships, went clear as far as Fence 22 on the 27-obstacle course, where a tiring Kilpatrick River ran out and then faulted twice more at Fence 23 to face automatic elimination.

This left the Irish out of team contention, Sacha Pemble also having been eliminated with I've Been Dun at Fence 24. A minimum of three scores from the four riders are necessary to keep a nation in the team competition.

Ireland's top individual rider is now Trish Ryan with Fernhill Clover Mist, who lies in 19th place. Next is Sam Watson with Horseware Bushman in 21st place, with individual riders Ciaran Glynn in 26th place with Killossery Kruisita and Michael Ryan with Old Road in 33rd place.

Watson, after his refusal at 24b said: "Horseware Bushman was just too far off the second element because he jumped very big into the water. He had been spot on all the way round, so I couldn't be more disappointed."

Horse Sport Ireland's High Performance Manager Ginny Elliott said the day was "heartbreaking, but it was a very tough course which caught out a lot of the world's top combinations. We had a very inexperienced team here and it will stand us in good stead for the future. I am proud of all the riders."

The Netherlands also fell apart when Jan Van Beek retired and Tim Lips had three refusals.

The stats

5 teams completed
44 riders completed
27 clear rounds
3 inside the optimum time
6 riders retired
14 riders were eliminated
7 falls (5 horse falls)
Fence 11 was the most influential, with 12 faults
There were 10 faults at fence 16 and at fence 24