ESJ’s last Olympic team selection – The Brits

Piggy French & 'DHI Topper W' at Blenheim in 2011. The horse has since been campaigned by Paul Burgess and Bubby Upton. Image by ESJ Photo. Piggy French & 'DHI Topper W' at Blenheim in 2011. The horse has since been campaigned by Paul Burgess and Bubby Upton. Image by ESJ Photo.
Piggy French & DHI Topper W at Blenheim 2011

Piggy French & DHI Topper W at Blenheim 2011, image by ESJ Photo

The Brits, or as us Aussies prefer to call them, the Poms. As home team one would assume that they perhaps have a home team advantage.  But given that Greenwich park is a new venue much of the home team advantage is eroded.  Even the lack of travel can’t be claimed as an advantage.  For instance the entire Kiwi team is UK based, a good portion of the Aussie team is likewise.  The French, Germans, Italians, Irish and many more are just a short boat ride from London.

Certainly there will be a weight of British crowds supporting the team, the bulk of the 50,000 (has it changed again??) spectators on XC day will be supporting the Brits but no doubt there will be large and vocal teams of supporters from all other nations.

So when it comes to picking a British team I had trouble finding a list to start with, I have found the Team GBR [http://www.equestrianteamgbr.co.uk/performance-squads/] – Eventing list but surprisingly I cannot find an actual list on the British Eventing website. Anyhow we move on and start at the top of the list. I also know I have procrastinated for MANY weeks on writing this one.

The challenge for the entire British based Eventing community is getting the competition experience they need before the Games in July. With Badminton cancelled there was a mad scramble to re-schedule horses to other suitable events. The problem is that the poor weather has continued and events continue to be cancelled. How many events that end up cancelled will be anyone’s guess.

First up is Kristina (Tina) Cook, who was a member of both the Beijing bronze medal winning team and more recently the WEG Kentucky gold medal team. Tina’s number one ride and partner for both championship successes, Minors Frolic, is certainly a possibility to represent Britain for a third straight championship event. There have been a couple of incompletes recently that present a warning sign for selectors, however the most recent results seem to point to this pair being back on track.

Tina & Miners Frolic are running in the CIC3* class this weekend against some class competition, so this I guess is their final chance to prove themselves worthy of selection. Tina has two other horses entered at Bramham in the massive (over 90 entries) CCI3* class both Regal Red and De Novo News. However going on form I do not believe either horse is a serious contender for the British team.

Next on the list is Ruth Edge and who currently has three horses that may be possibilities on the surface at least. Ruth’s most experienced horse is Two Thyme, unfortunately their recent history is somewhat checkered with three retirements at major competitions including last weekend’s Tattersalls in the CIC3* class. I don’t believe this pair are serious contenders for the team. Ruth’s other two mounts Rogersdale and Nick of Thyme, may be possibilities in the future but not London.

William Fox-Pitt & Bay My Hero at Blenheim 2011

William Fox-Pitt & Bay My Hero at Blenheim 2011, image by ESJ Photo

Next on the list is William Fox-Pitt, the question for selectors is not whether to include William but which mount of his is fittest and best suited to the Greenwich track. William has huge depth of horsepower below him, by my count there are nine horses in the Fox-Pitt stables that are theoretically qualified to compete at the Games. While some are LOOOOOONG shots there are at least three possible mounts for William at the Games.

First up is Parklane Hawk which is an obvious choice after winning back to back four stars Burghley and then Lexington (Rolex), this horse is amazing and could be a easy pick for the selectors.

Let me divert for a moment, given the cancellation of this year’s Badminton, William has two very interesting possibilities in the next 12 months. Firstly and uniquely he has the chance of winning the Rolex Grand Slam on one horse, highly unlikely normally given the timing of the events. Secondly he has the chance to theoretically be competing for two chances at the Grand Slam at the same time.

He already has Burghley & Rolex in the bag and they have clarified that if he wins Badminton next year he will win the Grand Slam. But what happens if he wins Burghley later this year and Rolex again in 2013. Is he up for two lots of prize money if he wins at Badminton in 2013? Five straight Grand Slams would certainly be worthy of at least double the prize money???

Back to the Games, Oslo is also in contention on the team with four wins in recent starts, he would be my number two choice for William. [UPDATE: UK Eventing Blog just tweeted out this morning that Olso is injured and will NOT be in contention for the Olympics.] Macchiato who seems to have been around for a million years was due to compete this weekend at Bramham, this 14 year old Argentinian/Aussie gelding has eight 4* starts to its name and would have been a great back up horse for Team Fox-Pitt, however earlier this week Team Fox-Pitt announced the retirement of the horse. Lionheart remains in the frame as he and Oslo compete in the CIC3* class this weekend at Brahman. Neuf Des Coeurs is also in the mix with an entry into the CCI4* at Luhmuhlen next week.

Piggy French has two top class rides in the running for the British team, I think it will be very hard for the selectors to leave Piggy off the team the simple question is which mount. Jakata is in fine form and cleaned up at Houghton a couple of weeks ago finishing on their dressage score of 38.1 this pair have a tonne of experience and while it hasn’t always been rosy, the last couple of years have been stellar.

Piggy’s second ride is DHI Topper W which I was lucky enough watch them win at Blenheim last year, back then they looked unstoppable. The pair picked up a second place at Burnham Market in April with six top three finishes in seven starts must also be on the radar of the British selectors.

The next name on the list is Pippa Funnell, unfortunately Pippa ruled herself out of contention in April when her two top mounts Redesigned and Billy Shannon sustained injuries. Pippa is a tough competitor and while this is a setback I expect to see her again in contention for Normandy in two years.

Mary King & Kings Temptress

Mary King & Kings Temptress Burghley 2011, image by Peter Nixon/FEI

Mary King has three mounts in the mix although I think only Imperial Cavalier and Kings Temptress are really in contention. My pick would be Kings Temptress, this 12 year old mare has been on a roll at four star level in the last two years including a win at Rolex last year and then coming third to Fox-Pitt and Nicholson at Burghley last year.

Polly Stockton poses an interesting question for the Brits, she has great experience, has been part of the team before and while on the surface appears to have horsepower, her results are not what you might hope. Her top mount Westwood Mariner finished in a fantastic 3rd place at Tatts last weekend and you would think would have them in the clear running.

Personally while I hope that this Tatts result is a sign of things to come from this 11 year old gelding I don’t think their past results warrant selection on the team. As for Regulus Polly’s other mount, I think that he at 16 is past his best. Unfortunately I don’t believe we will see Polly on the 2012 London team.

The next name on the list is Oliver Townend, he has three mounts that are qualified to compete at London, his first is a young and very green horse Arctic Mouse who no selector would risk their reputation on; this horse has a future but just doesn’t have the miles to run at an Olympics. Next up is Armada, Andrew Nicholson’s former mount. Oliver took over the ride earlier this year, strangely after the cut off for the change of Nationality of ownership of horses so no matter what his performance he CANNOT compete under the Union Jack.

Finally is an interesting mount ODT Sonas Rovatio, Oliver has him entered next weekend at Luhmuhlen in what I assume is a last ditch effort to gain selection. This horse has four star experience running 6th at Rolex last year. It came 8th in the CIC3* class last weekend at Tatts. Oliver might pull this one out of the bag, we will see after Luhmuhlen.

Lucy Wiegersma has two horses in the running the first is Simon Porloe a 12 year old gelding who has been in great form for the last 12 months, the problem I see is previous to that this horse had a real consistency problem only finishing half of the time. To me this horse is a big risk for an Olympic competition.

Lucy’s second horse Granntevka Prince also presents a conundrum for selectors. They recently made the trip to Rolex in April and unfortunately Lucy had a fall on XC, so they came home incomplete. Prior to that they had been a pretty consistent team with the occasional blemish on XC but lots of top ten finishes. Lucy will be out on Granntevka this weekend at Bramham CCI3* (Simon Porloe is in the CIC3* class too) to prove to selectors that Kentucky was an unlucky blip and that they are worthy of selection.

Nicola Wilson is the final name on the official list, Nicola theoretically has three horses in the running including her long time partner Opposition Buzz. This pair will be running in the CIC3* class where many Olympic hopefuls from around the world will be competing. A good performance will once again see this pair representing their Nation.

There are two more names not on the list I would like to examine, the first is Zara Phillips, we all know Zara and being a former world champ we should at least look at where she is in the running. The second is Laura Collett, a young rider with a profile that is building. So firstly Zara, what rides does she have at the moment?

Zara really only has one prospect for London the Irish Sport Horse High Kingdom which she finished in 10th place on at Burghley last year. Zara is rolling the dice with High Kingdom at Luhmuhlen next weekend. They have had plenty of top 10 finishes as a pair and apart from a couple of earlier incompletes they look great. I guess the question to be answered next weekend is simply are they a London or a Normandy pair?

Finally, Laura Collett has been creating a buzz lately, not the least for the shoot she did with her pony painted from head to toe in the Union Jack. Laura and Rayef have had a roller coaster ride in the last two years with peaks including a lot of top ten finishes, including a notable 8th at Badminton (Laura was 21 then) and lows which include most recently an “E” at Saumur just a couple of weeks ago. They are competing at Bramham this weekend in the CIC3*.

Laura’s other mount Noble Bestman is much more consistent than Rayef, however despite the fact the horse completed Burghley last year I don’t think it yet has the miles for an Olympic horse. I believe that Laura will miss out on competing at her home Olympics but I see a bright future for the 22 year old.

Anyhow, now that I have finally put pen to paper, things will change, I always make mistakes, which will be pointed out in the comments below and of course many people just say I am plain crazy. Here is my British Olympic Eventing Team.

William Fox-Pitt – Parklane Hawk
Piggy French – DHI Topper W
Mary King – Kings Temptress
Nicola Wilson – Opposition Buzz
Tina Cook – Miners Frolic

If anything goes wrong with any of these pairs, then the UK has three top class alternatives in Lucy Wiegersma – Granntevka Prince,  Zara Phillips – High Kingdom and Oliver Townend – ODT Sonas Rovatio.

We will see. Thank you for bearing with me throughout this series, I didn’t expect it to be so epic. Only a few short weeks til the games and we will see how accurate I was, I am hoping better than 50% for all teams.

Yours in Eventing,

ESJ

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