New Zealand eventers have given Olympic selectors plenty to ponder in recent weeks, and the latest big win was by Clarke Johnstone
, who took out his second World Cup round, in Sydney today.
Clarke Johnstone and Orient Express. © Libby Law Photography
Johnstone, 24, won the Sydney CIC3* on the 12-year-old Orient Express this afternoon, barely a month after winning the Kihikihi round
The combination finished on their dressage score of 45.4 penalties, after a faultless showjumping round to finish the three day event.
But it came right down to the wire. Johnstone was sitting in second spot going into the showjumping, and when leader Shane Rose aboard Taurus took the first fence and then another, the crown was his for the taking.
"It was all pretty nerve-wracking," says Johnstone. "We had given one jump a little rub and because I was so nervous it probably wasn't my most stylish jump ever!"
But it didn't matter - Johnstone and Orient Express were well deserved winners of the title.
"In the dressage I missed one change but Blue (Orient Express) went really well, and then on the cross country he was just fantastic. It was fast and furious to get inside the time allowed - Sydney is very hilly and twisty."
There weren't many combinations that did keep the time-keepers happy, but the Kiwi combo were one of them.
"We rode it last year and almost made the time so we knew what we had to do."
Blue recovered beautifully after the cross country and went into the showjumping arena every bit the professional.
Defending champion, Australia's Christopher Burton and Hostein Park Leilani, had to settle for bridesmaid once again. They were runner-up to Johnstone at Kihikihi.
The win gives Johnstone an even greater lead in the World Cup series, after his victory and third placing in the Kihikihi round last month. The series ends in France in August and with only three results to count, Johnstone says he's pretty happy with where he is sitting.
"It is pretty fantastic really," says Johnstone, who heads to England towards the end of the month to continue his bid for the London Olympics.
Alice Montgomery, Johnstone's groom at the World Equestrian Games, was 15th aboard Gordon, while Aussie based Kiwi Laura Wallace and Heelan Tompkins' Olympic horse Sugoi were 17th.
It wasn't just eventing at the Sydney event - New Zealand showjumpers were also on form, with Billy Raymont and Nicalette NZPH winning the 1.4m class yesterday and finishing third in the World Cup today.
The combination were first to go in the jump-off of the World Cup and while they notched the fastest time, they paid for their speed with a rail. The class was won by Cathy Graham aboard Da Vinci's Pride.