New Zealand’s quest for eventing gold is on a back foot today, with dressage performances from the last two team members, Jonelle Price and Clarke Johnstone, failing to fire at the Rio Olympics.
The combined score of our best three riders, 137.5pen, has New Zealand in equal sixth place with the American team, 15.5pen behind leaders Germany, who are just 0.2pen in front of a seriously impressive France. Australia is just 4.2pen behind them in third on 126.4, Great Britain is fourth on 127.7, and Ireland is fifth on 135.6.
But if the riders know what they are talking about – and who else would? – these scores could be rendered almost meaningless in 24 hours’ time. The cross-country track is genuinely tough; the time seemingly impossible to get without tackling some treacherous straight-through routes. There’s a significant climb at the start which will catch out any horse with questionable fitness, though at least the weather forecast, overcast and 24deg, is kind.
As a deeply disappointed but philosophical Jonelle Price said after her test score of 49.5pen became the New Zealand discard, with Faerie Dianimo boiling over in the arena: “Thankfully, it’s called three-day eventing for a reason.”
It was most unexpected though, as the talented little mare generally performs at her very best on the big occasions. She was clearly a bit unsettled going around the outside of the arena before her test, and unfortunately Jonelle was unable to rectify matters. The medium and extended trots – normally her party pieces – just didn’t happen. She broke into canter, and the trot was never re-established, provoking a string of 2s and 3s from the judges.
In actual fact Jonelle did extremely well not only to keep her own head but to salvage as much as she could in the walk and then especially the canter work, showing some decent glimpses of what we all were hoping for, with some solid 7s and 8s in the latter part of the test.
“I don’t really know what to say,” she said afterwards, bravely fronting up to the world’s media. “Moving from the second-to-last warm-up, where she was very good, into the final warm-up, I picked up the medium trot and just didn’t have it. She’s never, ever done that before. And then we just ran out of time, so we were on a back foot coming in.
“I was hoping for some miracle, but sadly, it didn’t happen.”
Jonelle says ‘Maggie’ has worked super all week, and had a wonderful lead-up to Rio, including a polished performance at Aachen last month. “I felt very happy about being in last [for the team]. Obviously, New Zealand needed something special, and I felt confident we could do it. It is what it is – it’s horses. It’s hard being brilliant all the time, and it’s unfortunate it was today; coming at the end of a less-than-perfect two days didn’t help.”
So Jonelle has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, for showing us all tomorrow why she’s considered the best female cross-country rider on the planet. The plan is to go hard, go fast, go straight.
“Yes, I think the team tactics are pretty straightforward now – there’s not really much to decide! The job’s easy from that point of view,” she says. “Typically, New Zealand’s good at cross-country and hopefully we can go out and prove that tomorrow.”
Clarke Johnstone was the other New Zealand rider performing at the Deodoro Equestrian Park today, and though he was disappointed with his score (46.5pen), which has left him in 23rd place individually, he was happy with both his test and his horse Balmoral Sensation.
“I thought it had gone really well. He was very good and I’m very pleased with him. He didn’t let me down at all, but just for whatever reason, he didn’t appeal to the judges as much as we would have liked today,” he says.
“There weren’t any mistakes, and he felt really concentrated and relaxed, but the judges weren’t so thrilled.”
Sir Mark Todd remains the best of the Kiwi quartet, his score of 44pen leaving him and Leonidas II in 17th place individually. Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy’s score of 47 has them 29th, and Jonelle is 43rd.
Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt has held on to the lead he captured yesterday with his stallion, Chilli Morning, and Australia will be thrilled that Chris Burton and Santana II are still in second spot.
Their anchorman, Shane Rose, however, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the judging that saw his very tidy test with CP Qualified score 42.5 for 12th place. “I think he did a great test. Was the score a fair reflection? You can be the judge of that. There was a fair amount of discrepancy between Marilyn [Ground Jury president Marilyn Payne of the USA] and the other two judges. It’s a bit disappointing when you get to the Olympic Games and they can’t decide what’s good and what’s not.”
Germany has three riders in the top eight, with Ingrid Klimke on Hale Bob OLD the best, scoring 39.5 for fourth spot. Michael Jung and Sam are right behind her in fifth and Sandra Auffarth is eighth with Opgun Louvo.
The always happy and obliging Ingrid was thrilled with her horse. “I was so pleased. He was quite excited outside – it was quite noisy and he even bucked a little. But he contained his excitement during the test and it was pure fun. We could not do any better.”
But as Ingrid says, dressage is history now. “It’s nice to be in front… but we need a plan A, plan B and even C in our heads. It’s great to know Bobby is so fit. After being so obedient in the dressage he deserves to be allowed to go tomorrow. He is a fast horse, mature and clever and he can do all the questions.”
Could we be looking at the Olympic’s first female eventing gold medal winner?
France was tipped by many to be the ‘dark horse’ of the competition. Their four riders are all Olympic debutantes, and have all performed superbly in the first phase. Everyone was talking about the amazing trot of Qing du Briot, ridden by Thibaut Vallette into sixth individual place, and team mate Mathieu Lemoine with Bart L is sitting third individually. He says the team is quite a new one. “So we’re all trying to work together. We trained together for 20 days, and the goal was really to form this new team and build the links between competitors.”
Rio Olympic eventing results after dressage:
Individual: William Fox-Pitt (GBR), Chilli Morning, 37, 1; Christopher Burton (Aus), Santano II, 37.6, 2; Mathieu Lemoine (FRA), Bart L, 39.2, 3; Ingrid Klimke (GER), Hale Bob OLD, 39.5, 4; Michael Jung (GER), Sam FBW, 40.9, 5; Thibaut Vallette (FRA), Qing du Briot, 41, 6; Karin Donckers (BEL), Fletcha Van’t Verahof, 41.1, 7; Sandra Auffarth (GER), Opgun Louvo, 41.6, 8; Jonty Evans (IRE), Cooley Rorkes Drift (41.8), 9; Stefano Brecciaroli (ITA), Apollo VD Wendi Kurt, 41.9, 10. Mark Todd (NZL), Leonidas II, 44, 17. Clarke Johnstone (NZL), Balmoral Sensation, 46.5, 23. Tim Price (NZL), Ringwood Sky Boy (47), 29; Jonelle Price (NZL), Faerie Dianimo, 49.5, 43.
Team: Germany, 122, 1; France 122.2, 2; Australia, 126.4, 3; Great Britain, 127.7, 4; Ireland, 135.6, 5; New Zealand, 137.5, 6=; USA, 137.5, 6=; Italy, 140.9, 8; Brazil, 144.1, 9; Sweden, 144.2, 10.