New Zealand’s eventing representatives are ready to get their championships underway with all five combinations through the horse inspection and having had their first look at the Captain Mark Phillips-designed cross country.
Sir Mark Todd aboard McClaren, Tim Price on Cekatinka, Jonelle Price on Classic Moet and Blyth Tait on Dassett Courage will ride as the team with Dan Jocelyn aboard Grovine de Reve the individual.
The riders’ walking of the cross country was interrupted with another torrential downpour, which Blyth said hindered their inspection a little. “It is beautifully dressed, and the footing is superb. It does look less technical than we expected,” he said, “but there are definitely some combinations that will need careful consideration. There will be problems, but it is a strong 3* – probably not a 4*.”
Mid field there is a combination of corners that Blyth said he would certainly be wary of. “There are distance and line issues and it is right up to height – that is one to walk many, many times before I ride it.”
The “big pull” up the hill at the eight-minute mind will be something riders will have to keep in mind late in the cross country. “It will be very energy-sapping.”
But there is something bigger that could come into play – the weather. “One of the biggest contributing factors will be the weather,” he says. “It’s a bit hit and miss really as to whether you are riding in a thunder storm or 10 minutes later in bright sun and heat. It is certainly tough enough out there.”
And he is chuffed to be at WEG – all those years after he won double gold back in Stockholm in 1990. “For me it is a reward for our effort over the last couple of years. I like my little horse (Dassett Courage) and although he has not got a more solid 4* career, I don’t think he lacks in ability.”
All five riders were in good form at an earlier press conference with chef d’equipe Graeme Thom saying he thought his Kiwi charges were probably “the best group of people” he has ever met. He said there had been a definite focus on speed horses for the event. “We chose horses with the stamina to tackle the hill at the end,” he said.
Both Blyth and Dan were excited to be back in a New Zealand team at top level. “For me it is a big thrill,” said Dan. “It has been a long time in between.”
His sentiments were echoed by Blyth. “It is the first time I have ridden on the team with the two Prices, so that is exciting for me. I am kind of just treating it like it was my first championships it is so long since the last one!”
Jonelle Price said her feisty mare Classic Moet had been run fairly lightly since Badminton which was perfect for a horse who knew her job so well. “Her strength is the cross country and we brought her here hoping the hill and speed was going to be influential. If it is not, then I am in trouble. Let’s just hope that they have got it right and we get 10 inches of rain and it is as hot as hell and the hill is a minute longer than anyone realises.”
Husband Tim said he would be reminding himself of the pressure he handled at Burghley. “Hopefully it makes this track look a little bit more negotiable. It is very much a team effort here – it is not going to be about one single performance.”
Tomorrow is dressage day with pure dressage rider Julie Brougham (Palmerston North) and Vom Feinsten in action at 9.18am (EST) followed by eventing dressage for Blyth Tait aboard Dassett Courage at 10.11am and Sir Mark Todd on McClaren at 2.34pm.
On Friday Team mates Tim and Jonelle Price competes aboard Cekatinka and Classic Moet at 10.59am and 3.37pm respectively. Individual Dan Jocelyn and Grovine de Reve is set to go at 9.08am.
By Diana Dobson – NZ Team Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ