World no.2 Tim Price and Vitali have bounced the Kiwi eventing team right back into contention with a super dressage test that saw the team move from sixth to third at the end of the phase.
Tim’s score of 25.6 penalty points is just .5 off New Zealand’s best-ever which unsurprisingly came from Sir Mark Todd and Charisma at Seoul in 1988 with their 25.1 effort. Sir Mark holds four of the top 10 scores since 1980.
Tim’s 25.6, alongside Jonelle Price and Grovine de Reve’s 30.7 and Jesse Campbell aboard Diachello’s 30.1 sees the Kiwis on 86.4 with the Brits on 78.3 and Germany on 80.4 in what is shaping up to be a hard-fought contest.
The second day of dressage gave the leaderboard a good shake-up with birthday boy Michael Jung (GER) and Chipmunk, the second to last combination of the 61-strong field, flying into the lead with a 21.1 penalty point test. The two-time Olympic champion bumped world no.` Oliver Townend into second and brought the German team up into second place.
Tim felt today’s dressage was “a little bit of a glimpse” of what Vitali is capable of. “As an established advanced horse in the future he is going to be pretty special in the dressage department,” said Tim. “He was really good. Just showed a little bit of his age and stage with a couple of little moments but he is a real trier and kept coming back to me and I think he executed pretty well.”
The horse, who had only been with Tim since October last year, had had to do everything right in that limited time. “I am very confident in him but it is a short time in terms of partnership because that is one of the key things on display at the Olympics – the partnership between horse and rider and what they can do and how they can rely on each other. I am very confident with him. He is a very genuine guy and he has been with me the whole time so I feel very confident on him. I am excited.”
The plan for the team was to be “solid and consistent”. He said the cross country course would be big and difficult, with a tight time which would put everyone under pressure. It felt like a good three phase competition. “It will be a good competition for us all,” he said.
Jesse was very proud of the efforts of Diachello. “He did everything he could. I think we both executed the best we could. We made a couple of tiny little mistakes in what is a very demanding test. You don’t really have the time to build your score back up after a little mistake,” he said. “I think that is what stopped us from going really low – just a couple of little mis-steps. On the whole I am just really proud to be here and really really happy with my horse – he was awesome and tried really hard and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
He is looking forward to tackling the cross country at Sea Forest.
Jonelle too was happy with the efforts of Grovine de Reve. “He is not the fanciest horse in this phase and really for him to be scoring any better than that, it needs to be 120% clear round,” she said. “It was blimmin’ close to a clear round but every tiny, small detail has to be perfect and there was just one or two small little things which kept us a bit shy of that. He doesn’t have a lot of high marks in him so we need to be very consistent across the board. It only takes a couple of sixes to pull the score down.”
She is looking forward to tomorrow’s cross country. “It is not an easy job designing a course that these lesser nations can get around safely but then provide the challenge for the world’s very, very best. That is not an easy task. I hope Derek (de Grazia) has it right – he is a very clever man and knows a lot more than we do. I think the time could be very influential. The terrain too – there is a lot of varying camber out there and it will be interesting to see how the day unfolds.”
The new format was providing plenty of chatter amongst the riders. “I think if I was coming out here on my own, I would be riding very differently to what I am going to have do riding for the team so I think that is what has thrown up the biggest change for us.”
It certainly meant the woman known as the world’s fastest on cross country, would be playing a much safer game. “It changes the way we look at things.”
In the individual competition, Tim now sits in fifth with Jesse in 15th and Jonelle in 17th. Olympic chef d’equipe Graeme Thom said he was very happy with the team’s dressage efforts. “We targeted sub 90 for the team coming here – we wanted to be 88-89 and have come in at 86, so that was better than expected,” says Graeme.
“Tim did a fantastic job. We had a long chat before we came here that we didn’t want to be in the usual position of playing catch up after dressage. We wanted to be in the hunt right away and Tim’s horse Vitali was the horse to pull us through to that level.”
He also praised Jonelle and Jesse had also “hit their marks”. “Tim went ahead of what was expected, even though he had a little bobble at the beginning, and that pulled us down into an 86 so we are eight points off the lead but it is still tight. We have only got 17 points between the leader and 10th and only about nine between third and 10th, so we are still in a very big competition here.”
The team dynamic was being led by Tim and Jonelle, according to Graeme. “They really do a fantastic job bringing the team together. They are huge team players themselves – there is nothing they won’t do to help other riders. We also have the benefit of having the same three riders that we went to Kentucky with so this group has all worked together. It was sort of a test event there and was really good.”
He was looking forward to tomorrow’s Derek de Grazia’s cross country. “There are a lot of 5* horses here who should be able to tackle it quite aggressively but what we are saying is that we have seen Derek’s courses before and he always comes up with something that we don’t see when we walk it, so we aren’t taking anything for granted.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos By Libby Law/ESNZ