The good news for competitors at Luhmühlen CCI4* presented by DHL, penultimate leg of the FEI Classics 2015/2016, is that Michael Jung can’t win it: the runaway series leader, winner of Kentucky and Badminton, does not have a ride at his country’s premier event.
But this doesn’t mean that it won’t be a German victory; although many leading riders, including last year’s winner Ingrid Klimke are running their Olympic prospects in the CIC3*, previous winners Andreas Dibowski and Bettina Hoy plus younger riders Julia Krajewski, Claas Romeike and Kai Rüder are flying the flag for the hosts.
A New Zealand win is also well on the cards, with former winners Andrew Nicholson (2013) and Tim Price (2014) returning to the scene of previous successes.
Price, who could rocket up the FEI Classics rankings from current 10th place, rides the experienced Ringwood Sky Boy, runner-up at Badminton in 2014.
Nicholson, clearly back to his best form after a serious fall last year, comes here on the back of a brilliant CCI3* win at Bramham at the weekend. The 54-year-old rides the bright chestnut Perfect Stranger, whose support team can’t be missed in their orange clothing, and the Spanish-bred mare Qwanza.
Australia is represented by Andrew Hoy on the veteran Rutherglen, Emma Dougall (Belcam Bear) and Bill Levett (Alexander NJ and Improvise).
Hoy, a triple Olympic gold medalist, says Luhmühlen is one of his favourite events. “Julia [Otto, Director] does a great job, the organisation is excellent and I love Mark Phillips’s courses here.”
Oliver Townend heads the British contingent, with the New Zealand Thoroughbred Black Tie, whom he retired near the end of the course at Badminton when going well, and Dromgurrihy Blue, and Joseph Murphy (Sportsfield Othello) the Irish squad.
There are also riders from Italy, Belgium, Sweden and the US and don’t be surprised if we have Luhmühlen’s first French winner, with Arnaud Boiteau and Maxime Livio in form in recent months.
After 12 years, this is Captain Mark Phillips’ last year as course designer – he will be succeeded in 2017 by Mike Etherington-Smith.
The track will go in the same direction as last year, but riders shouldn’t be complacent. “Last year’s course went well and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “The questions are still very different, though. The first three fences are the same, after that it’s all new.
“I think the course is very fair to the horses. As ever it’s a true CCI4* test and the riders have to concentrate all the way round. I don’t think there will be one influential fence but a number of significant questions spread evenly throughout the course. Again, we have used frangible devices in every place possible but the most important safety aspect is the riders’ respect for the jumps. It’s a question of the balance between forgiving fences for the horses and questions that are taken seriously by riders.”
Competition got under way on Thursday with the dressage phase.
FEI Classics 2015/2016 Leaderboard (after 4 of 6 events)
1 Michael Jung (GER) 42 points
2 Clarke Johnstone (NZL) 16
3 Astier Nicolas (FRA) 15
4 Shane Rose (AUS) 15
5 Sir Mark Todd (NZL) 13
6 Andreas Ostholt (GER) 12
7 Lauren Kieffer (USA) 12
8 Gemma Tattersall (GBR) 10
9 Maya Black (USA) 10
10 Tim Price (NZL) 10
FEI Classics 2015/2016 calendar
1 Les 4 Etoiles de Pau CCI 4* (FRA) – 22-25 October 2015
2 Adelaide International 3 Day Event (AUS) – 19-22 November 2015
3 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (USA) – 28 April-1 May 2016
4 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR) – 5-8 May 2016
5 Luhmühlen CCI 4* presented by DHL (GER) – 16-19 June 2016
6 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR) – 1-4 September 2016