Pressure on Kiwis as Burghley looms
As if there wasn't enough motivation already heading into the Burghley Horse Trials this week, a poor showing at the world championships has raised the stakes for New Zealand's three-day eventing team.
Andrew Nicholson is gunning for three consecutive Burghley wins, Jock Paget and Clifton Promise return to the place that their year from hell began and now you can add redemption to the storylines after the Kiwi team fluffed its lines at the World Equestrian Games in France.
Only Motueka's Jonelle Price, who finished fourth on Classic Moet competing as an individual only, and to a lesser extent Andrew Nicholson, who was ninth on Nereo, emerged unscathed from the nightmare at Normandy as New Zealand's hopes were dashed on a brutal cross-country day when Tim Price (Wesko) and Mark Todd (Leonidas II) were eliminated and Paget (Clifton Promise) retired.
Having claimed bronze four years ago in Kentucky, the Kiwis made a good start in traditionally their weakest discipline to be second after the dressage, only to fall apart on the cross-country, the phase they usually thrive in.
It was left to Price and Nicholson to salvage some pride and they did that, despite finishing outside the medals yesterday.
The cross-country proved instrumental in whittling away the field from 90 to 59, thanks to dreadful conditions underfoot, and despite two fences being taken out, and Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance coach Eric Duvander preferred to take aim at the conditions rather than his charges.
"The track was very well built and a proper WEG course, but the ground conditions were terrible," said Duvander. "It was beyond what it should be. When you are at a championships, it shouldn't be like that."
But for a dropped rail in yesterday's final showjumping phase, Price - a member of the bronze medal winning team at the London Olympics but omitted from the WEG team on form and was only a late callup for the individual event after the withdrawal of Caroline Powell - would have won a medal.
Still, it was the 33-year-old's best performance at the top level.
"But when you get that close to the medals, you can't help but think of what could have been," she said.
She's confident the horse, in just its second four-star start, is only going to get better.
"I came here hoping for a respectable performance ... and never dreamed [I] would finish fourth at the worlds. This is the highlight of my career."
She fired a cheeky shot at the selectors who had initially named her as a reserve.]
"That'll teach them for leaving me off!"
Nicholson was as the most high profile casualty among the top 10. His expensive three fences down on Nereo meant he slipped from fifth to ninth overall.
A classy one-two from the German pair of Sandra Auffart and Michael Jung in the individual section gave Germany the teams' gold medal.
They both had clear rounds to slip ahead of Britain's William Fox-Pitt whose one showjumping error cost him the title. He would finish third, while Britain were good enough to claim silver in the teams section.
Jung, who had held the world, Olympic and European titles at the same time, was gracious in relinquishing his individual title to his team-mate.
"Sandra has always been just under the top placings," said Jung, who has dominated since 2009.
"She and her horse have a big partnership and their show jumping round was perfect, so she really is the world champion."
Burghley, the final four-star event of the season, starts on Thursday night (NZ time).