New Zealand eventer Clarke Johnstone says his horse Orient Express is "looking and feeling amazing" on the eve of his dressage test for the final round of this year's Eventing World Cup in France.
Clarke Johnstone and Orient Express. © Rachel Smith/FEI
Johnstone said the 13-year-old gelding, on whom he was part of the bronze medal winning New Zealand team at the World Championships in Kentucky last year, is looking "a million dollars".
The Kiwi eventer is at the top of the World Cup eventing leaderboard, 10 points ahead of nearest rival Chris Burton of Australia. With a format change last year, it is the first time New Zealand has had a rider at the sharp end of the Eventing World Cup series, which is worth €30,000 to the winner.
With two wins and a third from the six rounds so far, Johnstone said he was heading to Le Grand Complete in Normandy a little nervous but very excited.
Johnstone and Burton - who finished first and second in the two first legs of the World Cup series - have joked it would be good to finish the series with a similar result.
"Of course he wants to win this time though," Johnstone says.
ESNZ high performance director Sarah Harris describes Johnstone as a real credit to the sport and its support programmes for elite riders.
"He stepped up to top level international competition at the World Champs last year, picking up the team bronze medal, and has not looked back," she said.
"His true professionalism and hard work makes him a fantastic athlete for New Zealand. A win in this series will firmly cement him on the world stage as we count down to the London Olympics next year."
Johnstone moved to his Gloucestershire base in the UK earlier this year to step up his Olympic 2012 campaign.
The shift hasn't been without its challenges, but he says he is loving being in the hub of such world class competition. He will start at the prestigious Burghley Horse Trials aboard Incognito in two weeks.
Also competing at Le Grand Complete in Normandy this weekend is Mark Todd aboard NZB Campino, who will be looking to qualify another horse for the London Olympics.
The event has attracted 266 horses from 14 countries and features some of the world's best combinations, who will do battle across three international classes - 47 combinations are set to start in the premier World Cup class.
The cross country for Le Grand Complete, which is being held at the French national horse stud at Haras du Pin, is also the venue for the 2014 World Championships. Johnstone will do his dressage test on Friday evening (NZ time) followed by the cross-country on Saturday and showjumping on Sunday.
The World Cup series runs over seven events, with just the best three scores to count.
Last year's winner Emily Baldwin has withdrawn Drivetime after an injury, and Clayton Fredericks has left Bendigo at home.
• French riders are in the top three positions after the first day of dressage for the CIC 1-star at Le Pin. Sophie Caron and Lartiste de Courthoe lead with 43.1, with Hervé Letheux and Odeon de Champloue in second with 44.7, and Thomas Bouquet riding Omega du Rozel third with 45.0 points. They French trio is followed by two British riders: Jodie McGregor with Spot On XII (45.3 pnts, 4th), Will Furlong riding Pioneer Silvie (47.0 pnts, 5th).
The two-star riders are yet to perform their dressage tests.