Eventing World Cup: Let the Dressage begin...
Great Britain's Tristram Owers, riding Brief Respite, kicks off proceedings at the fourth annual FEI Eventing World Cup final, which takes place this weekend in Malmo (SWE). He will be first into the dressage arena, which has a backdrop of the Baltic Sea and Malmo's distinctive Twisting Torso building, at 8.30am today (Saturday).
The draw order is decided by riders' World Cup points, with the highest going last. However, as defending champion, Clayton Fredericks (AUS) has the honour of going last of the 38 starters, and he has already got his weekend off to a good start by leading the Australians to victory in the traditional singing competition they produced an accomplished performance of "Waltzing Matilda" at the welcome schnapps and crayfish party.
"It brought me luck last year, so I thought I'd better stick with tradition this time," said Fredericks, who is riding on the crest of a wave, following his individual silver and team bronze medals at Aachen.
This time he rides the nine-year-old Nullarbor who, like his 2005 champion Ben Along Time, is Irish-bred and was found through the English-based Irish dealer Donal Barnwell.
Karin Donckers will precede Fredericks into the arena; she is the second highest-placed rider on the FEI World Cup rankings behind Australia's Phillip Dutton, who led the rankings from the start but is absent from Malmo this time.
The Malmo field includes some high-class horses, and Donckers rides the Irish-bred Gormley, the horse on whom she has been close to major honours many times, including winning team bronze for Belgium at the 2003 Europeans.
The French entry looks particularly strong, and huge interest surrounded the appearance of Nicolas Touzaint's spectacular grey horse Galan de Sauvagere, for whom this is his most high-profile competition since winning team gold at the Athens Olympics.
Touzaint is supported by Pierre Marie Dubois, recent surprise winner of the Martinvast (FRA) qualifier on Ira d'Islea; former European Champion Jean-Lou Bigot riding his 2005 squad horse Derby de Longueval; and Rodolphe Scherer riding Heidi Antikatzides' Good Enough, a horse originally produced by British Olympian Karen Dixon; and Athens Olympic gold medallist Arnaud Boiteau, whose experienced Expo du Moulin looks fully recovered from his crashing fall at Aachen.
Other horses re-routed from Aachen include Piia Pantsu's Ypaja Karuso (FIN), who fell in the first water complex there, and the Danish horse My Hamlet, ridden by Morten Haugaard. He had the misfortune to strike into himself in the dressage and go lame.
The most distinctive horse, however, and the crowd favourite, is the striking piebald Two Tone Tyrone, ridden by Britain's Serena Russell. The Irish-bred Two Tone Tyrone was originally to be retired this summer, following his Badminton debut, but when Russell received an invitation to Malmo, she brought him out of retirement.
All 38 horses passed the first horse inspection, held in beautiful sunshine in front of a ground jury comprising David Lee (IRL) as president, with Marilyn Payne (USA) who recently judged at Burghley, and Alain James (FRA).
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