French leads the way in Olympic dress rehearsal as Irish pair falter
Great Britain's Piggy French and DHI Topper maintained the lead they established in the dressage arena on Monday with a superb cross-country run at the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational CIC 2-Star in London yesterday.
This is the equestrian Test Event for next summer's Olympic Games and is the first large-scale fixture in the London Prepares series. Jayne Doherty (The Only One) and Joseph Murphy (Chuckleberry) are flying the Irish flag, but poor dressage scores left them in joint 18th and 26th respectively after day one.
However, Murphy made amends when crossing the line in precisely the time allowed of 5.05 minutes yesterday to swap places with Doherty, who slipped to 24th when picking up 10 time penalties ahead of today's final show jumping phase. The cross-country took place in blazing sunshine over a course of 19 fences and using only part of the track that will be used in 2012.
And while riders agreed that the twists and turns were not ideal as they followed the magic carpet of specially prepared ground through the historic city venue, the 'wow factor' of competing right in the heart of London couldn't be denied.
The fences came up very quickly, and the British star described it as "a bit like a BMX track, so you need a handy pony!", while Kiwi legend Mark Todd described the experience as "a bit like a jump-off against the clock."
The event has provided the perfect opportunity to present equestrian sports to a larger public, and crowds of local schoolchildren screamed with delight as they got their first-ever glimpse of horse sport at close quarters.
French stormed home four seconds inside the time, while Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt climbed up three places to runner-up spot when producing one of just five fault-free runs. Australia's Clayton Fredericks lost his grip on second place due to 1.20 time faults with Bendigo, with Germany's Michael Jung, the individual champion at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, now in third.
In order to reflect the Olympic format, all competitors will jump two rounds of show jumping today.
Irish team coach Ginny Elliott said there is plenty to be learned from the Test Event. "The horses will have to be super-fit -- there will be even more hills in next year's course, but this has given us a good example of what we can expect."
Ireland have still not qualified an eventing team for London 2012 but are expected to make the cut through the world rankings list.