Jock Paget stars in Games dressage debut
First-time Olympian Jonathan Paget has given the New Zealand eventing team a handy launching pad after a superb debut in the dressage phase at picturesque Greenwich Park.
Paget and Clifton Promise were in sixth place after the first day of dressage but many of the top riders, including New Zealand teammates Mark Todd, the double Olympic champion, seven-time Olympian Andrew Nicholson and Caroline Powell do their dressage tests on the second day (later tonight NZ Time).
Paget incurred 44.10 penalties, achieving a high of nine points in the entry phase.
New Zealand's first rider, Jonelle Richards, made a solid start too but her horse, Flintstar, had a nervy outbreak in the extended walk category, meaning Richards incurred 56.50 penalties to hold 23rd place.
The Paget performance was a major boost to the Kiwi contingent and the 28-year-old was stoked with his Olympic debut.
Three of the six riders ahead of Paget were Germany's Beijing teams gold medallist Ingrid Klimke, Britain's six-time Olympian Mary King, a teams silver medallist in 2004, and Australia's Andrew Hoy, the individual eventing gold medallist at Sydney in 2000. Klimke led the field with 39.30 penalties, from German compatriot Dirk Schrade.
"Apart from the late change I did, the first change, I am thrilled with him,'' Paget said.
"He was really good. He went out there and did his job as good as I could have expected him to.''
Eventing insiders predicted Paget's test could put him among the top 10 to 12 individual riders at the end of the dressage phase.
But Paget, who was born in Northland but grew up in Australia, refused to look too far ahead.
"There's a lot of work to be done [in the cross-country phase on Monday night (NZ time).
"I need to walk the course a bunch of times so I know my lines and try to be like a Formula 1 car out there.''
He said his dressage display could put him into individual reckoning, "if you finish on it''.
"I think it's going to come down to time faults a little bit and with two rounds of show jumping, If I can finish on my dressage score, I think it will be up there. It's going to all depend on tomorrow and there are a lot of good combinations to come. Tomorrow I could be midfield.''
He expected the cross-country course to be challenging.
"If you just want to get around and you're not too worried about time faults, it won't be too much of a problem.
But if you want to get around it quickly, it's going to be difficult."
Paget, who only took up riding 10 years ago at 18, said cross country was usually Clifton Promise's strongest discipline but, if the 13-year-old bay gelding "is good on the day, he's very good in all three phases''.
Not so Flintstar, a specialist showjumper. Richards candidly admitted the extended canter panic problem was "disappointing, but that is what he's capable of, certainly''.
But she was able to contain him well for the rest of the test to avert further scoring freefall.
"Aside from the mistake, we were really pleased with it,'' said Richards, 32.
The former Motueka woman, who is now based in Marlborough, England, said Flintstar was "not built particularly well, physically and mentally for this phase''.
The 12-year-old bay gelding much more suited to galloping, she said.
"He's very athletic, compared to some of the other horses you'll see out here in the next few days that are near the leader board, they're much more powerful, big-moving horses ... he prefers to be out running and jumping.''
That made the dressage, where precision and poise is so important, "tricky for us''.
"Because he's not 100 per cent reliable, you're never quite sure if he's going to stay or go, especially after you have a mistake like that, halfway through to get back on track and finish the test without any further mistake, is quite difficult.
"But we did manage to do that and he certainly didn't waste any extra marks, so from that perspective we were pleased.''
Todd, Olympic champion in 1984 and 1988, will be the last of the 74 riders to complete the dressage phase at 3.28am Monday.
- Fairfax Media