Close Contest Promised As Great Britain Snatches Lead
Photo: Kit Houghton
A battle royal is developing in the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championship at Fontainebleau for at the close of the Dressage phase Great Britain, the defending champions, have now drawn ahead of Germany, the favourites - by just 6.1 penalties.
The hungry French team is edging closer all the time in 3rd, less than the cost of one Cross-Country run-out behind Britain, and the Belgians are looking dangerous in 4th, ahead of the young and exciting Irish team, 5th.
The individual contest is just as thrilling, for less than 2 penalties divide the top 8 riders, who have all scored in the 30s.
Dual Olympic bronze medallist Kristina Cook (GBR) is sharing the individual lead with her team mate Oliver Townend (GBR), who is no stranger to the winner's podium this year, but they have little to spare over the defending individual champion, Nicolas Touzaint on his Les Etoiles de Pau runner-up, Tatchou.
Cook, who had the unenviable task of following renowned dressage exponent Ingrid Klimke (GER), currently lying equal 6th with team mate Frank Ostholt (GER), said that the audience's excitement at Klimke's test actually helped her horse. Touzaint, however, perhaps lost the lead when Tatchou shied in surprise at the cameras.
The exciting rising star Tim Lips (NED) has made a brilliant start at his first senior European Championships and is lying 4th on Van Schundel's Comprex Owaola, a horse with an interesting record. The mare is Dutch-bred, by Indoctro, but has a Spanish passport after being sold to a Spanish jumper. She then returned to The Netherlands, in the experienced hands of leading jumper Piet Raymakers, who approached Lips's father Martin for some Cross-Country help.
"We thought Owaola would be a super eventing horse," explains Lips. "So we ended up buying her. This is her 53rd international competition, which is pretty amazing - 40 of them were in Jumping. I qualified her for this through HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing competitions - she was 5th in Marbach - so I don't know how she will cope with the longer distance across country here, but she is very honest: she usually just sees the flags and goes."
Pierre Michelet's Cross-Country course, at an approximate distance of 6,000m and an optimum time of 10 minutes, is causing plenty of head-scratching - William Fox-Pitt (GBR) said he was going to walk it at least five times to be sure of the routes, for at times it weaves confusingly through the ancient hunting forest.
The early part of the course has a number of inviting fences in open countryside, but then comes a bank and big corner at 7, followed by the water at 8-9, where horses have to jump out of the water and negotiate one of Pierre Michelet's trademark fences, a corner with the ground sloping away.
Fence 11, a pair of substantial angled hedges, is another familiar test, and the pair of narrow fences either side of a water splash at 14 are reminiscent of the narrow fences which caused so much trouble at Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA) in 2007.
Fence 16 is a bank followed by a choice of brush fences and 17-18 is a double of houses on a cunning line. Fence 20 is a turning pair of logpiles built on a turn in the path, but it is fence 22, a big spread to a fiercely narrow corner, again on downhill ground, which is causing riders to walk it over and over again.
The second water, at 23, comprises a big jump in over a log with an S-shaped line over two narrow brushes in the water, before the course loops back around and through the main arena, where there are more accuracy fences in store.
"It's a challenging, interesting course," said Ingrid Klimke, "and riders will have to maintain total focus throughout."
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