Whoops of joy and relief erupted as Australia secured Olympic qualification by winning the CCIO3*-L at Millstreet International Horse Trials, County Cork. “Paris, here we come,” exclaimed team member Shenae Lowings, who also took individual honours with a classy clear show jumping round on the former racehorse Bold Venture.
“This has been the plan for a long time, so to do the job here is great and means that we can now work towards Paris and maybe going one better than in Tokyo,” explained 2021 team silver medallist Shane Rose, who had flown all the way from Australia to help the national effort.
China made history by qualifying for a team spot in second place and just managed to hold off a disappointed Japanese team by a mere 3.6 penalties. British-based Alex Hua Tian (fourth individually on Chicko) first rode at the Olympics in 2008 but, until now, he has been China’s sole representative.
His team mates Huadong Sun (eighth) and Yingfeng Bao (ninth) are both based in the Netherlands with trainer Martin Lips, and Ruiji Liang (17th) divides his time between Belgium and China and is chiefly a show jumper. “It’s worth saying just how much of a sacrifice they have all made, leaving their families behind to represent their country in eventing,” said Alex.
The FEI Nations Cup™, presented by Connolly’s Red Mills, also carries great significance because the leading country at the series conclusion in October will also secure an Olympic team place.
New Zealand has earned the Paris ticket already as world bronze medallists, and they won the Millstreet leg comfortably, rising to fourth on the FEI Nations Cup™ standings. World number one Tim Price headed the individual leaderboard with a superb all-round performance on Sue Benson’s Falco, beating Millstreet regular and British team member Kirsty Chabert on Classic Vl.
“We took this seriously because because the selectors were using Millstreet as a marker event and it’s good that we were able to show some consistency,” said Tim. “Falco is a cracking horse. He does everything because he wants to.”
Belgium moved a step nearer to Paris by finishing second at Millstreet; they are now the clear leaders in the 2023 FEI Nations Cup™with 270 points, 65 ahead of Italy and 85 ahead of the Netherlands.
“We are really going for the Olympic qualification,” explained Belgian team member Tine Magnus. “We’ll now be going to Strzegom [Poland] and we’re going to win it! This is our first time in Millstreet and it has been wonderful. The cross-country was great to ride – we’re not used to having such beautiful galloping tracks to ride.”
Ireland gained their first Nations Cup™ points when bouncing back into third place at Millstreet, thanks to great clear cross-country rounds from Joseph Murphy, who rose to third place individually on Calmaro, Sarah Ennis (Grantstown Jackson, 18th) and Ian Cassells (Millridge Atlantis, 23rd).
Breeder Michael Burke was present at Millstreet to see the Irish Sport Horse Coolparks Sarco, ridden by Britain’s Piggy March and owned by the Lamberts, win the Noel C. Duggan Engineering CCI4*-L with an excellent clear show jumping round. Gemma Stevens, the cross-country leader on Flash Cooley, hit one rail to drop a place to second. Camilla Speirs, fifth on the 10-year-old BT Angelo by Indoctro, was best of the Irish.
Britain’s Emily King scored her first win on Irish soil, in the Donagh Hickey Motors CCI3*-L on Stewart and Vicki Irlam’s Dutch-bred Jackpot, who was produced in Devon by former British international rider Polly Schwerdt.
“He’s a dude,” was how Emily described the nine-year-old. “He’s an athlete, but a bit green. This was his first long format competition and he’s never galloped for this long before. Like all the tracks here at Millstreet, it was properly tough and educational.”
Second was Italy’s Vittoria Panizzon on the similarly named DHI Jackpot and Robbie Kearns flew the Irish flag in third and fourth places on Chance Encounter and Pisco Sour.
Flora Harris led from start to finish in the Carr & Day & Martin CCI1*-Intro, taking the honours with Rochefort van de Vossenhoek.
The Duggan family’s Great Glens Arena has hosted 368 horses from 20 countries this weekend, not to mention two popular Discovery sections, and there has been a high completion rate across all 10 international classes.
“It’s been a great weekend of competition in amazing surroundings and we’d like to thank Millstreet and the Duggan family for putting on an amazing Olympic qualifier and Nations Cup™,” said Catrin Norinder, FEI Director of the Eventing and Olympic departments, who was present in Millstreet. “It was a truly competitive situation for the teams, and a unique opportunity for so many nations to come together.”