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London cross-country full of twists

July 6, 2011

by Louise Parkes

London's Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) cross-country took place in blazing sunshine over a course of 19 fences with the undeniable "wow" factor of competing right in the heart of the city.

An iconic view of the Greenwich course. © Lulu Kyriacou

Piggy French and DHI Topper W remain in the lead after the cross-country. © Peter Nixon/FEI

Great Britain's Piggy French and DHI Topper W maintained the lead they established in the dressage arena with a superb run over the course, which used only part of the track that will be used in 2012.

And while riders agreed that the twists and turns were not ideal as they followed the magic carpet of specially prepared ground through the historic city venue, the thrill of competing in London couldn't be denied.

French and DHI Topper W go into the final jumping phase overnight (NZ time) with more than a fence in hand over Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt and Mrs Medicott, one of just five horse-and-rider partnerships to complete the 19-fence course without penalty, while Michael Jung lies close behind in third with River of Joy.

Despite setting off at a ferocious gallop, the German who took the individual title at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky collected 0.40 time faults as the testing terrain took its toll. The addition of 1.20 time penalties saw Australia's Clayton Fredericks and Bendigo drop two places to fourth. French is the only one with any real breathing space at the top of the order.

The fences came up very quickly, and British star William Fox-Pitt described it as "a bit like a BMX track, so you need a handy pony!" while Kiwi Mark Todd said the experience was "a bit like a jump-off against the clock!".

But he added that the course rode really well "and it gives us a good idea of what we've got to do to get our horses fit, because it will be twice as long and steep next year".

He hopes to bring Land Vision, with whom he won the 2011 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, back to London in 2012. And he loves the venue and the fact that it will allow the equestrian events to take place close to all the other main Olympic activities.

The CIC** has provided the perfect opportunity to present equestrian sports to a larger public, and crowds of local school-children screamed with delight as they got their first-ever glimpse of galloping horses at close quarters, particularly at the water jump where they roared encouragement as riders appeared on the horizon and headed down to the first element. This wasn't a day for the faint-hearted equine, but that didn't bother Clayton Fredericks.

Clayton Fredericks and Bendigo. © Lulu Kyriacou
"There were lots of little kids getting excited just about us jumping some fences. It's great!. My horse (Bendigo) loves crowds and kept wanting to stop and chat to people, so I was saying to him "come on, pay attention!" he said afterwards.

Early analysis of the competition has already provided riders, organisers and officials with plenty of food for thought.

"For next year you will need a horse that's very rideable, not a puller or strong. He has to be athletic and able to turn quickly to save time," French said.

She said that a win in the event would be "very nice, but we've all come here to get the best feel of the place as possible so it's not all about winning".

She is in a strong position and recognises that a British victory would be the icing on the cake.

Cross-country course designer Sue Benson said she got a lot of positive feedback but realises there are some areas that need attention including some tight turns which she said she will "iron out".

"I'll be listening to what everyone has to say but in the end, as far as the course is concerned, what I've got is what I've got and the terrain here just keeps coming at you!" she said.

Tim Haddaway, Equestrian Competition Manager for London 2012, said that "it's already been an interesting few days and today we learned a lot, particularly about the spectators".

The learning continues when, in order to reflect the Olympic format, competitors will jump two rounds over the coloured poles before the final result is decided.



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