Andrew Nicholson is aiming to take his Barbury CIC3* winning record to six this weekend. He has won four times at what is his local event on Avebury, and once on Nereo – this year he has Swallow Springs in the premiere Event Riders Masters class, and Yacabo BK in the other CIC3* class.
But there will be stiff competition for Andrew – there is a cracking line-up in the lucrative ERM, with last year’s winner, France’s Tom Carlile, returning with his lovely grey stallion, Upsilon.
Jonelle Price is on Kindred Spirit IV, while husband Tim lines up on Ascona M, and they will be joined by fellow Kiwis Sir Mark Todd on NZB Campino, Blyth Tait on Dassett Courage and Virginia Thompson on Star Nouveau.
Other former ERM winners who will battle it out for the prize pool of £50,000 in this class include Oliver Townend (Cillnabradden Evo), Gemma Tattersall (Pamero 4), Izzy Taylor (Director General), Astier Nicolas (Vinci De La Vigne), Alex Hua Tian (Don Geniro) and Chris Burton (Polystar I).
The ERM class kicks off with dressage and show jumping on Saturday, and the new layout for the cross-country with the course finishing in the main arena will make for maximum excitement as the reverse order of merit contest comes to a head.
The ERM class is the highlight over four days of action at Barbury; competition kicked off in the CIC3* section B today with Britain’s Nicola Wilson leading the way on the former Lizzie Green ride Bulana, with 25.2 penalties.
William Fox-Pitt is sitting second on Fernhill Pimms, Australian Sammi Birch is third, and Andrew fourth on 28.1 with Yacabo BK.
Riders and supporters will be out in force over the event wearing green T-shirts, wristbands, cross-country colours and more to show that Jonty Evans, the Irish eventer who suffered a serious brain injury in a fall last month, is constantly in their thoughts.
Andrew says he is optimistic about his chances of success, though admits that Nereo’s retirement at Badminton has left “a bit of a hole” in his team.
Ten-year-old Swallow Springs is in good form though, having recently won at Tweseldown before second-place finishes at Belton Park and Branham International.
He said: “I don’t have the range of horses I used to have with Nereo retiring – that left a bit of a hole.
“But my younger ones have stepped up well to do what we’ve asked of them. I’m pleased with how Swallow Springs has come along.
“You’ve just got to keep bringing the young ones up through the grades, and I’m happy with the way they’re going.”
The recent run of dry weather is expected to provide an additional element to the contest this year. Andrew says: “The course is perhaps a little more undulating than others. When you’re going fast, it’s harder to keep rhythm and keep things smooth.
“But it’s a very fair course and a nice place to compete.
“We have the opposite problem to Badminton, though [when it was very wet], and riders will be complaining now that the ground is too hard.”