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Difficult Cross-Country Day at Punchestown
Punchestown, Ireland
by Amber Heintzberger
Photo: Anthony Trollope/StockImageServices.com

RedBayGroup.com
Andrew Nicholson (NZL) and Silbury Hill
Sometimes when you recognize the name of the leader at an event you assume that he or she might be a safe bet for the winner, but cross-country day at the Punchestown CCI*** reminded everyone that only one thing is sure in eventing, and that is that all bets are off until the last rider crosses the finish line on Sunday.

Following a fall from Regulus at the fourth fence on course, overnight leader Polly Stockton (GBR), an accomplished international competitor, retired from the competition. Andrew Nicholson (NZL) used his vast experience to ride both of his horses to fast and clear rounds, moving into the lead on Silbury Hill, 9 and third with Armada, 8, both horses that he imported from Spain and produced himself.

Nicholson said that Silbury Hill is a nervous type of horse with a short attention span, so his job was keep the gelding focused today. "He's not the kind of horse that you can pat on the neck after a big jump, or he thinks he's finished and loses focus," he said. Tomorrow should go well, as both horses are out of a show jumping mare and Nicholson said they are both talented jumpers.

Sally Corscadden (IRL) had the bad luck of a refusal and 20.8 time faults, which dropped her from second after dressage to 12th after cross-country with Millridge Kamar, but she was not alone in her misfortune. Lt. Geoff Curran had a stop and 12.8 time faults and moved from fifth to 11th. Ireland is still in the running though, with Olympic and World Championship veteran Niall Griffin moving up from fourth to second with Lorgaine. Oliver Townend had the great fortune of moving up from tenth to fourth with his Aachen WEG partner, Flint Curtis.

34 horses started in the CCI*** and only 19 of them finished the course. Clare McKenna and Mr. Smartie suffered the most serious fall of the day - the horse was fine but McKenna was taken away in an ambulance. One unfortunate rider fell off in the warm-up area just before McKenna's fall, so almost comically there were two horses loose on course at the same time. Admittedly, funding concerns meant that the event was not sure to run until only a few weeks ago, when lottery funding and support from Failte Ireland kicked things into gear. Course designed Hugh Lochore had a seemingly impossible task of putting together courses for three international divisions, and managed to pull it off. But Nicholson, who has competed at Punchestown many times, winning in 1990 and placing second several other times, said that he missed the good old days when Irish course designer Tommy Brennan was at the helm. "He's a proper horseman and would build a course that you'd be terrified of but they would ride fine," he said. "They still have all the fixtures and fittings here now, they just didn't use them."

Nicholson said that the course was basically okay, but that he did not like the corners at 6a and b, which he felt had too much birch on them. "I have seen that at a lot of events lately and I don't think it's fair to the horses, because the birch is not soft and there is too much of it," he said. Even though he intentionally took the long option at this fence with both of his horses, Nicholson had two of only six rounds all day that were both clear and within the optimum time.

Oliver Townend's luck did not end with the three-star. The 24-year-old British team member rode three horses in the Failte Ireland/Irish Horse Board CCI** and is in the lead on Jackson D'Allez and fifth with Daisy Crazy. He did have a minor comeuppance when Waterview, who had a run-out at the skinny fence at the bottom of the steps, dropped from fourth to 22nd place.

Townend has a successful record for such a young competitor: he completed Boekelo in 2003 with Western Justice finishing 17th and with Topping he came 43rd at Blenheim 2005. In 2006 he finished 3rd with Flint Curtis at Badminton and went on to finish 11th at the WEG in Aachen with Flint Curtis as an Individual.

"All of my horses gave me confidence for their futures," he said. "It was good for them to jump around such a good track." Fifteen horses were clear and in the time in the two-star; Irish rider Michael Ryan and Master Mexico went double clear to remain in second place and Australian Paul Tapner on Stormhill Michael also finished clear and in the time to stay in third. Of 39 entries in this division, one horse was retired from course, two were eliminated and one withdrew.

While the weather was predictably unpredictable, since it is May in Ireland, there was quite a lot of clear skies and sunshine mixed in with the blustery wind and occasional torrential downpour. Hopefully tomorrow the rain will hold off as the final day of competition begins with a veterinary inspection and concludes with show jumping for all divisions.


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