The sole four-star eventing competition in the southern hemisphere gets under way in Australia today, as the second leg of the FEI Classics 2015/2016 series opens at the Adelaide International 3 Day Event.
The FEI Classics series encompasses the world’s top six four-star eventing competitions, and leading the 34-strong field at Adelaide are four Australian Olympic medalists – Stuart Tinney, Shane Rose, Sonja Johnson and Megan Jones.
Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games course designer Mike Etherington-Smith has signed on at Adelaide for the next three years, and as advisor to Equestrian Australia’s Eventing High Performance programme he will be ensuring the cross-country is a good test for those aspiring to fly to Rio.
British rider Alice Dunsdon has also flown Fernhill Present to Adelaide in her quest to compete in all six FEI Classics. “After I completed Luhmühlen with Hilly, my third four-star, I wondered if anyone had done all six with the same horse, and if not why not,” Dunsdon said.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we were the first to do it! Adelaide will be four-star number five, with Badminton a history-making sixth next year.”
Just one New Zealander has made the trip to compete at Adelaide. Clarke Johnstone, team bronze medalist at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010, crossed the Tasman with Balmoral Sensation, but will be joined by Australian-based Tasha Mitchell and Airaz in their first 4* start.
It will be Balmoral Sensation’s first four star, but Johnstone, 28, is not fazed. “He is feeling amazing,” said the Matangi-based rider. “He’s probably at his best ever. We have had a really good preparation – he’s very fit and going well in the dressage. I am just thrilled with him.”
The combination was allowed to ride their 4* test at Equidays in front of top-ranked international judges, and were a late entry in the CIC3* at the National Eventing Championships at Takapau where they were comfortable winners. Initially they were just there to do the dressage phase only, but Johnstone says the horse was feeling so good, the grounds excellent and everything just seemed to fall into place.
“Everyone seems to be helping me to get the best preparation I can for Adelaide and a good push for Olympic selection.”
Johnstone has competed twice before at Adelaide, finishing sixth in 2009 aboard Orient Express and in 2006 with Oakley Vision where he finished 11th. “It was my first ever 4* and was amazing. I think this is one of the best events in the world – it has a unique atmosphere because it is in the middle of the city, is fun, interesting and has a great vibe.”
The Adelaide field includes several previous winners. Sydney Olympic team gold medalist Stuart Tinney has resisted the call of the northern hemisphere, but has nonetheless regularly received team call-ups. He has three rides this year in Pluto Mio, who finished 11th at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014, Annapurna who was second in the Adelaide CCI2* in 2013, and War Hawk, second in the 2015 Melbourne CCI3*.
After a gap year, Shane Rose is back with the jumping-bred pair, CP Qualified by Quiet Capitol and Virgil by Vivant.
“I’m sick of being a bridesmaid at Adelaide”, said the Western Australian sheep farmer and Beijing 2008 team silver medalist Sonja Johnson. She is riding her athletic former racehorse, Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison who just missed a 2014 Games call-up due to a minor injury.
Local girl Megan Jones has retired her Beijing team silver medal partner, the charismatic Kirby Park Irish Jester, and will ride Kirby Park Allofasudden (by Rustic Amber) who has been very lightly campaigned since taking second place last year.
New South Wales-based rider and trainer, Christine Bates, who has narrowly missed out on FEI World Equestrian Games and Olympic selection, has a very good horse in the 2015 Saddleworld Melbourne International CCI3* 2015 winner, Adelaide Hill, and is a strong favourite in Adelaide.
Katja Weimann of Victoria is also determined to make an impression on the Olympic selectors with her home-bred, BP Flamboyant, second in the Melbourne CCI3*.
Western Australian Jessica Manson, who won the FEI Classics at Adelaide last year, and Victorian rider and coach Will Enzinger, who broke his leg just before Adelaide in 2013 and handed Chris Burton his winning ride, are back this year with two rides, Wenlock Aquifer and Britannia MVNZ, completing a stellar Adelaide line-up.
The London 2012 Olympic Games equestrian venue was spectacular in Greenwich Park, and Adelaide, with its inner city parkland location, sets a similarly striking scene – it is like starting the cross-country at Hyde Park Corner.
The Australian International 3 Day Event followed on the back of the Gawler competition, which began in 1954. Gawler was the site of the FEI World Eventing Championships 1986 and many of its stalwart supporters stayed on to establish the world’s only urban three-day event.
Gill Rolton, double Olympic gold medalist in Atlanta, initiated the movement behind the first Adelaide event in 1997. The event went four-star in 1999 and in 2011 entered the FEI Classics series.
Since the very beginning, Rolton has been making it happen. The event has grown and grown, and is now an established part of Adelaide’s and Australia’s pre-Christmas Eventing activities. The party atmosphere is obvious, with the event offering something for everyone in or outside the horse world.
This year, the headline for the event is “Three phases, two hearts, one passion” with the emphasis on passion. And it has taken a lot of passion to bring international eventing to the masses in the glorious late Spring in the Adelaide Park Lands.
The dressage starts on Friday, with the cross-country on Saturday, and showjumping on Sunday.
Reporting: Anna Sharpley
FEI Classics 2015/2016 Leaderboard (after 1 of 6 events)
1 Astier Nicolas (FRA) 15 points
2 Michael Jung (GER) 12
3 Tim Price (NZL) 10
4 Emily King (GBR) 8
5 Karim Florent Laghouag (FRA) 6
6 Claas Hermann Romeike (GER) 5
7 Sarah Bullimore (GBR) 3
8 Clare Abbot (IRL) 2
9 Sir Mark Todd (NZL) 1