Fox-Pitt Just Can't Wait To Go Galloping
Photo: EPS/Camilla Walter
It's Friday evening at Punchestown, and William Fox-Pitt is sitting in his lorry at the end of another day's work. If he's thinking "oh, no, please - not ANOTHER interview" then it is not apparent. The fact that he is leading The Irish Horse Board CCI 3-Star after producing a lovely dressage test from his horse, Idalgo is probably helping.
"I've had him for three years - he's a French horse, Selle Francais, and he was fifth in Le Lion d'Angers as a seven year old but I have produced him slowly. He's a kind of "special needs" character - a bit quirky and opinionated so its taken a while to establish a relationship with him" the quintessential Englishman explains.
Idalgo is owned by the Apters, also owners of Fox-Pitt's ride Stunning, and supporters of the British team member now for more than seven years. "He was second in Boekolo last year and won the 3-Star at Burnham Market recently so I reckoned he just might be ready to come here now" the rider says about the horse.
He pulled into the lead when first into the dressage ring this afternoon and his mark of 33.5 gives him more than a 10-point advantage over fellow-Briton Pippa Funnell. "It's not often that happens!" he points out, and the British hold a firm grip going into cross-country day with Funnell followed in third by Mary King and Apache Sauce while, as hoped, young Irish army rider Lt Geoff Curran is well up there, holding fourth with Kilkishen.
Fox-Pitt is taking nothing for granted. He may be in the lead today but tomorrow is another whole ball-game. "The track is great. The organisers said they did it on a limited budget but its big and bold for a 3-Star - there are plenty of opportunities to make a mistake." he points out. "The bounce into the water is big enough, and the well at the Crannog's has to be jumped at an angle this time. The whole course will take some jumping and the ground could be tiring after all this rain. It's going to take a lot of physical effort and be a test of fitness but most of the going is still fantastic." he adds.
"I haven't seen a track like this since the Europeans" he muses, thinking back to 2003 when the Irish venue played host to the cream of the eventing world. Not for the first time though. The place has resounded to the sound of cross-country commentary for 40 years and has seen some great action. Course designer Tommy Brennan's name has become synonymous with Punchestown, particularly since his spectacular track for the European Championships in 1991 which earned him widespread acclaim. His trademark style is uncompromising. Not for him the trappy "take-a-pull and turn" type courses that are so much more common today. Tommy builds for brave jumpers that can gallop down to their fences without turning a hair and Fox-Pitt wonders what Idalgo will make of it all tomorrow. "My horse is a big galloper and its for that reason that I brought him here. I had a choice of here, Saumur or Luhmuhlen but decided this was the best track for him and if he goes well then it will set him up really well for 4-Star level - I'm about to find out just how good he is" he continues.
He's thinking through tactics and reckons it would be best to err on the side of caution on the early part of the course. "It wouldn't be a good idea to set off too quickly. The going will take it out of them so I think horses should be allowed to travel comfortably and riders don't want to use up too much horse-power early on or they won't have enough to get home" he explains. And, should things go according to plan on the morrow, what about his prospects in Sunday's show jumping phase? "He's not a bad show jumper" he replies, probably a bit modestly, "but it's only my third three-day with him so its difficult to know how he will be on Sunday" he says. Tired probably, like a lot of the others, and therefore undergoing a true test of character.
"It's going to be an interesting day tomorrow and one thing's for sure - this is definitely NOT going to be a dressage competition!" he insists.
Meanwhile in the Failte Ireland 2-Star class Switzerland's Christian Landolt and MacIntyre maintained their first-day dressage lead ahead of Britain's Matthew Wright in second while Pippa Funnell moved into third ahead of Germany's Bettina Hoy. Britain's Kitty Boggis and Australia's Andrew Hoy share fifth spot. Wright is also stalking the leaders in seventh spot and the Irish are edgy. He had the bare-faced cheek to steal most of the cheques on offer at Ballindenisk in Cork last month but at least they had the satisfaction of knowing that he didn't find it too easy to cash them. Because when he brought them back to his lorry his dog ate them. Good enough for him - he was far too greedy anyway. If he wins any more this time around he'll probably put them away a little more carefully this time.
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