Kiwi eventer Clarke Johnstone joined an elite group of riders last weekend when he won his second FEI World Cup event for the season.
Clarke Johnstone and Orient Express on the cross-country in Sydney. © Rachel Smith/FEI
Johnstone followed up his victory at Kihikihi in New Zealand last month by travelling across the Tasman Sea to pick up another win in Sydney aboard Orient Express, his team bronze medal-winning mount at last year's World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
Only three riders have won two FEI World Cup events in a season: Michael Jung (Germany) last year, Megan Jones (Aust) in 2009, and Nicolas Touzaint (France) in 2007. Johnstone's two wins, plus a third at Kihikihi, gives him an impressive tally of 119 points.
With riders' three best results counting towards the final rankings, which carry a first prize of €28,000 the New Zealander could prove hard to beat. He has further chances to improve his tally as he sets off for Britain this month to further his ambition of selection for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The cross-country at Sydney produced a thrillingly tight finish, with just 1.6 penalties covering the top three riders. Olympic silver medallist Shane Rose was in pole position on Taurus, the horse on whom he was also placed fourth at Kihikihi, but two fences down dropped them to eventual third.
In a repeat of Kihikihi, Chris Burton finished second to Johnstone, moving up a place with a clear jumping round on Holstein Park Leilani, the horse on whom he made his Australian squad debut last year. But Burton, fastest of the day across country on Newsflash, picks up valuable extra points for fifth place on that horse and is now second in the FEI World Cup Eventing rankings, 11 points in arrears.
Despite his nerves, Johnstone managed to keep a cool head and produce a clear Jumping round to clinch victory. "It was all pretty nerve-racking," he admitted. "We gave one jump a little rub and because I was so nervous it probably wasn't my most stylish jump ever!"
Summing up his overall performance, Johnstone said: "In the Dressage, I missed one flying change, but 'Blue' (Orient Express) went really well and he was just fantastic across country. It was fast and furious to get the optimum time because the track is hilly and twisty, but we rode it last year and almost got the time, so I knew what I had to do."
Sixteen combinations went clear across country, but the overnight dressage leader, Tim Boland, fell foul of fence 14, correctly predicted by former Australian team coach Wayne Roycroft to be the most difficult fence, a sequence of angled apexes. There were nine stops in total there, including for Shane Rose on his other horse, APH Moritz. Chris Burton also had a mishap with his second string, Haruzac, recording a fall on the flat at a corner. Twenty of the original 30 starters completed the competition.
The FEI World Cup Eventing action now moves across the world to Great Britain, where northern hemisphere-based riders will have their first chance to climb the rankings at Chatsworth this weekend.