British eventer Sharon Hunt
enjoyed the biggest thrill of her long partnership with Tankers Town when the fleet-footed gelding gave her a first CCI4* win, at Luhmühlen, the third leg of the HSBC FEI Classics.
Sharon Hunt claimed her first CCI4* victory when winning at Luhmühlen with the Irish Sport Horse Tankerstown to move into fourth place in the HSBC FEI Classics standings after three of five events.
Ingrid Klimke and FRH Butts Abraxxas, who were second. © Kit Houghton/FEI
"I'm shocked," said the 32-year-old, "but I always knew he was a phenomenal horse."
The optimum time of 90 seconds proved extremely difficult on the spacious jumping track and only nine out of the 32 finishers avoided collecting time penalties.
Tankers Town lowered the third fence, but Hunt kept up a good speed and did not incur any other penalties, giving her the slimmest of leads - just 0.2 of a penalty - over Germany's Ingrid Klimke, whose chances of a first CCI4* win disappeared when she had both parts of the double at five down.
"The course really suited my horse because he is so good at jumping fast," explained Hunt, who took home €33,000 for the win.
Andreas Dibowski also has to wait for his first CCI4* victory, but his excellent third place on the mare FRH Fantasia has handed him a seven-point advantage in the HSBC FEI Classics, and he will be bidding to hold onto his lead in Pau, France.
Andrew Nicholson, who jumped a beautiful clear round - one of only two without time faults - on the elegant Mr Cruise Control, one of his two rides, rose three places to fourth. He was also 10th on Armada, and has now gained a foothold on the HSBC FEI Classics rankings.
A cross-country time that was just over the optimum meant the pair finished on less than one penalty over their dressage score or 49.0. It was an outstanding four star debut for the nine year old grey.
"I think they (the HSBC FEI Classics) are a very good thing for the sport because they are encouraging more riders to go to these CCI4* events and that is good for the sport," he said, signalling his intention to take horses to both Burghley and Pau.
Nicholson's second ride on Armada finished in 10th place, having climbed from 32nd place after the dressage to 14th following a fast time clear cross-country. They rolled one rail and incurred two time penalties to take their final score from 58.5 to 64.5.
Lucy Wiegersma also had two horses in the top 10: Woodfalls Inigo Jones, sixth, and Granntevka Prince, ninth. There were five British horses in the final top 10, the others being Ashdale Cruise Master (Oliver Townend), who dropped two places after hitting fence three and incurring eight time faults, and Apache Sauce, who rose two places to seventh for Mary King.
Kiwi Joe Meyer, slipped to 13th place after collecting four rails and four time faults in the final show jumping phase, taking their score to 69.0 penalties. The pair had been placed sixth overnight after a superb cross-country performance.
Clifton Lush, owned by Frances Stead and Lucy Allison, had rails at fences 1, 3, 5a and 13.
Despite jumping well over the practice fences, "he just seemed a bit switched off at first in the arena," said Stead afterwards, "but after the first few he started jumping really nicely. I was hoping he would finish in the top 12, so 13th is a bit of a disappointment."
"The time was almost impossible to make, so the riders had to really go for it to make time. Only four combinations jumped clear and two made the time, which is not many at a four-star," Stead said.
The first of the Kiwis to ride the show jumping course was Daniel Jocelyn on Special Advocate. They were lying 28th going into the final phase of the competition, but had three rails and nine time-faults, adding 21 penalties to their overnight score of 75.0 and 28th place.
Neil Spratt and Upleadon had moved up to 16th after the cross-country, but five rails and five time faults took their score from 61.3 to 86.3 and 22nd place.
Sharon Hunt's victory is the culmination of a 12-year partnership. Her parents bought Tankers Town, an Irish Sport Horse by Ceredigion, as a four-year-old and she broke him in herself.
Hunt gained her first Union flag competing as an individual at the 2006 World Equestrian Games on Tankers Town and was a member of Britain's bronze medal team at the 2008 Olympics. Her previous best CCI4* result was fifth at Badminton in 2008. She has recently moved to a new base in Kent, England, and is now trained in dressage by former British team rider Anna Ross-Davies.
When asked if she will be attending any more of the HSBC FEI Classics, Hunt said: "Obviously, I now hope that I will be on an aeroplane to Kentucky, but if that doesn't come off I shall certainly be at Burghley trying to win some money!"
• As well as the winner Tankers Town, two other Irish-bred horses finished in the top five. Both are sons of the famous Irish stallion Cruising - Nicholson's Mr. Cruise Control (fourth) and Townend's Ashdale Cruise Master (fifth).
Two Irish riders finished in the top 20, also riding Irish-bred horses. Cork's Patricia Ryan was 14th on Fernhill Clover Mist and husband Michael Ryan was 17th with Ballylynch Adventure.
• Of the 37 horses who completed the cross-country, three were withdrawn overnight, including Allison Springer's Arthur who was second after the dressage, and two were not accepted by the Ground Jury.
• The HSBC Training Bursary, worth $US1000 to the highest-placed CCI4* first-timer, was awarded to French rider Regis Prud'hon, who finished 12th on Debiut with a clear jumping round.