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Landolt Takes The Lead At Puchestown
Naas, Ireland
Photo: EPS/Camilla Walter
Julian Stiller and Mr. Ramsey at Punchestown
Switzerland's Christian Landolt and Macinyre took the early lead in the Failte Ireland CCI 2-Star class as dressage got underway at the Punchestown International Three-Day Event in Kildare, Ireland today.

The battle with the elements continued, with gale-force winds and torrential rain doing all they could to disrupt proceedings, but eventers are not easily thrown off their stride and even though the tented village flapped and billowed and the advertising banners waved merrily at the side of the sand arena as horses passed by, most of the equines were extraordinarily patient and well-concentrated so just simply got on with the job.

As expected, Matthew Wright was well to the fore with his Ballindenisk winner Grove Joucas who tucked into second spot on a mark of 42.1 while fellow-Britons Pippa Funnell riding Matter of Opinion and Mary King partnering King's Fancy slotted into third and fourth ahead of Eddie Stibbe and Autumn Romance for the Dutch Antilles in fifth.

The Irish were well-pleased with three finishers in the top-ten led by Caroline Bjoerk and her handsome Huckleberry Friend who lie sixth going into day two.  Caroline is married to Lars Bjoerk, a Swedish businessman and former rider who has lived in Ireland for many years and who co-owns Dollanstown Stud in Kilcock, County Kildare - a popular venue for both eventing and dressage training. Known locally as "Larry Burke" - because that's far easier to pronounce - Lars has spear-headed the highly acclaimed Future Event Horse series along with former army rider Lt. Col. Ronnie McMahon who now works in the UAE. Swedish reticence was cast aside as Lars watched his wife produce a very nice test from the 11 year old dyed-in-the-wool Irish-bred, by Ballinvella Lad out of an Errigal Flight mare, and he threw his arms in the air in delight as Caroline drew to a halt to record a mark of 51.0.  It was a special achievement for the horse who was injured after winning the 1-Star at Dartfield in the west of Ireland three years ago and who suffered another setback with a virus last season before bouncing back at the beginning of 2006.

June Burgess finished ninth for the home side with Flurry Knox V while Sue Shortt, the Kildare woman whom Kiwi legend Mark Todd once described as "one of the greatest cross-country riders in the world", filled tenth spot with her 2005 Dartfield winner Karamea Dublin.  Shortt suffered the worst of the weather and yet produced an excellent test so when the Ground Jury tally only added up to a score of 53.7 there were a few groans from her many fans but her horse's owner, Kieran Connors, whose development company CLG is sponsoring the 2-Star Young Rider section, was still well-pleased.

American, Julian Stiller, proved a bit of a surprise, partly because she turned out to be a girl instead of a boy.  Her Christian name would tend to be reserved for the male of the species more often than not, but there was nothing unladylike about her performance with Mr. Ramsey which earned her 14th place out of the 26 starters at the end of the opening day.

From Charlotte, Vermont, the 22 year old moved to England last January to train with Andrew and Bettina Hoy at Gatcombe Park after spending the previous five years with Kelly McMullen-Temple in Middleburg, Virginia and she seemed to be experiencing a mixture of amusement and awe on her Punchestown debut.  "It's amazing to be training with Andrew and Bettina" she said after completing her test.Stiller has been eventing for eight years and, winner of team silver at the North American Young Rider Championships back in 2002, she competed at Foxhall in 2003 with Market Mover.  "I only just got this horse - Bettina found him for me in Germany and he used to be ridden by Karl Bolten" she explained.  "He did Boekolo last Fall and he's a bit difficult in dressage" she added.  Having put the dreaded dressage phase behind her she was now thinking ahead to Saturday's cross-country course - "it's plenty big and galloping and I hope it suits my horse.  I've never ridden him round a course so I have no idea whether he will like it or not, but my ambition is to finish and to feel good about it!" she pointed out.

She is likely to find herself further down the leader board after the second group of 2-Star riders have completed their first phase tomorrow evening, and Landolt's leading score of 40.4 should be strongly challenged by the remainder of the 50 starters including the Hoy husband-and-wife team.

Meanwhile the 3-Star contenders were today preparing for take their turn, and Ireland's Austin O'Connor will be first into the ring in the morning with the first of his two rides while Britain's William Fox-Pitt leads the way in the afternoon. The final group looks particularly interesting with Mary King, Pippa Funnell and Matthew Wright all in there along with, amongst others, Ireland's Steven Smith, Philippa Peters, Joseph Murphy and army rider Lieut. Geoff Curran.  

And they will hoping that the weather Gods are in a much better mood.

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