Early Moves Towards Rio Olympics

by Heath Ryan | June 4, 2015

14 April 2015 -

As I mentioned last month 2015 is a big year coming with a view to the Rio Olympics. Already the Australian equestrian scene is becoming a war zone (in a good way) as riders start to flex muscle, horsepower and embark on programs which are focused firstly at being selected for the Australian Olympic team and then secondly at performing at the Olympics. If you read that last sentence carefully you will think that it was poorly worded and that surely everyone should be aiming  at doing well at the Olympics first and foremost as opposed to being completely focused on selection. This is of course one of the massive complications of making the Olympics. You cannot put up a gold medal performance that the world can applaud unless you are selected on the Olympic team. Sometimes the effort required to make selection can be so great that by the time the Olympics comes around the horses and riders are a spent force. This happens often. Never the less the first goal is to make the Australian Olympic team. Right now big performances do give horses and riders plenty of time to recover and go again next year. Problem….. a big performance right now sure makes everyone sit up and look but will not put you on an Olympic team this far out and without a doubt history clearly illustrates that teams are selected in most instances from the final trials. This is a very difficult dilemma that all potential Olympic riders have to factor in when putting their Olympic campaign together.

Ok so where is the action happening at the moment?

Dressage First

The action started at the beginning of the year at the Boneo Park Equestrian Center on the beautiful Mornington Peninsular in Victoria. The only class we are interested in, in terms of Australian team selection, is the international Grand Prix class. At the 2015 Boneo Classic this class was sponsored by Horseland and Mary Hanna riding her Jazz gelding Umbro has immediately stepped up and won the class and made a significant Australian statement by scoring 70.62%. Going through the 70% mark is critical for Australia and for somebody to do this so early in the campaign is truly significant. If Australia can field a team at Rio and each member be capable of going through the 70% mark we will move into one of the top dressage nations. If we can field a team that can go through 70% and have one rider that can do a high 70% score, let’s say 76%, then Australia will become a serious medal chance. So Mary Hanna’s score at the Boneo Classic was both significant and exciting for Australia.  Second in the Grand Prix was Sue Hearn riding her young up and coming superstar Remington. Remington is by Riverdance which in turn is by Rubinstein. Sue did a score of 68.2% which is very good and part of a rapidly rising graph in terms of this partnership and their competition scores. Sue and Remington are piaffe and passage specialists which is what the Grand Prix is all about. Third was Maree Tomkinson riding the most spectacular horse in Australia, Diamantina. Maree and Diamantina did a score of 68.86% which was just behind Sue and Remington. Fourth place went to myself on Regardez Moi with a score of 67.82%. Regardez Moi is now 19 years of age and will not make the trip to Rio even if he was to win his way onto the Australian team. From a health point of view it is hard to travel him all the way down to Victoria and back even though he loves it so I cannot see us taking on the momentous journey and rigors of getting to South America next year. Never the less there is no doubt that on his day he will still keep everyone honest and contribute to the building momentum of the Australian riders on their journey to the Rio Olympics. Regardez Moi is right this moment the reigning Australian Grand Prix Champion.

The next significant competition after Boneo was the international show “Dressage with Altitude” held at Orange at John and Bev Healey’s beautiful facility. This was held on February 19th to the 22nd which is exactly one month after Boneo Park. The main sponsor for Dressage with Altitude was Bird’s Equisports and the HRC group Sponsored the international Grand Prix class. Mary Hanna exploded across the competition on Umbro scoring a massive 72.521%! for Australia this is a record score in a CDI Grand Prix class. This is far and away better than any Australian partnership based here in Australia or based in the Northern Hemisphere has ever achieved before. This is massively significant and does lend weight and credibility to Australian riders being based in Australia being able to launch a serious program towards the Olympics without having to base overseas. The problem with basing overseas is the cost, the complete disruption of any business activities a rider may have and the extreme strain put on personal relationships. Basing overseas does minimize how many Australians can seriously contemplate being part of an Australian Olympic program. In my opinion the future of dressage is completely dependent upon we Australians working out how to become Internationally competitive whilst basing our program here in Australia. Otherwise the sport becomes just for the kids who are sponsored by their parents and as yet do not have any serious commitments here in Australia. Or for those few, more mature riders, that are very well resourced and can afford to live as few of us can, overseas. This population of riders able to base overseas has nothing to do with sourcing Australia’s best riders and developing an exciting Australian future. Mary Hanna’s performance on Friday the 20th of February 2015 was a huge contribution to Australia’s future. Second in the Grand Prix was Maree Tomkinson and Diamantina with a significant score of 69.94% . You cannot get much closer to 70% and not score 70%.  Without question Maree and Diamantina are moving in and Australia is looking healthy. Third was Sue Hearn and Remington with a score of 67.98% . This was not quite the score Sue managed at Boneo and it will be fascinating to see if she regroups at the next big show. Fourth in the Grand Prix was again me however this time I was on a young horse called Utopian Cardinal who interestingly enough is by Regardez Moi. Utopian Cardinal scored 67.38% and is clearly a youngster on the up who is going to try and hook onto the momentum being created by the front runners. There is a good 12 months still to go before final selections and like Remington, Utopian Cardinal is a very exciting prospect.

The third and final international Grand Prix held this year so far was on Friday the 27th of March 2015. The PSI Dressage and Jumping with the stars show held at Werribee in Victoria. Again the class was won by Mary Hanna and Umbro however the scores did drop a little bit with Mary scoring 70.42%. The first two shows were at private facilities namely Boneo being owned by the McNaught family and managed by Fiona McNaught who is also a top Grand Prix dressage rider and the Bradgate park facility being owned by John and Bev Healey who are very involved with breeding dressage horses and sponsoring Australian riders. Both of these facilities do boast the most amazing surfaces on which the competition is held. These surfaces are very difficult to manage and very expensive to have in the first place. These surfaces however are what the competitions in the Northern Hemisphere boast and I personally think that this is significant in trying to spring board the Australian performances off equal footing. Werribee does try hard but certainly does not have a state of the art surface and I believe this is reflected in the scores. Having said that Sue Hearn and Remington regrouped from the previous show, Dressage with Altitude, and put in their best score ever with 69.30%.This placed Sue in second place. There is an enormous struggle between Remington and Diamantina at the moment for second ranking in Australia. On this occasion Maree Tomkinson and Diamantina had to settle for third with a score of 67.22%. This score was well below what Diamantina has been producing. 4th place went to DP Weltmieser and Brett Parbery with a score 67.06%. Weltmieser and Brett are a new Grand Prix combination finding their way up through the pack and it will be interesting to see if they can keep closing the gap. I didn’t figure in any of the results as I was off eventing however I was following the competition and the live scores as they went up on my phone.

The next big show will be the Sydney CDI on the 7th to the 10th of May which is perhaps the biggest of all the international shows in Australia at this point in time. The international Grand Prix class is on Thursday the 7th of May and is sponsored by Shadow Trailers. This class starts at 11:20 AM and goes through until 3:25 PM and will be fascinating to watch. I think at the moment Mary Hanna and Umbro have really built up some momentum and we should see the 70% barrier smashed again. Without a doubt there is momentum in the pack just behind her. This pack is clearly inspired by Mary’s performances and quite frankly they are out to get her! My prediction is that at least two more riders will charge through the 70% mark and for those astute critics the gap between Mary and the following 5 competitors is in general closing. Sue Hearn and Remmington, Maree Tomkinson and Diamantina, Myself with both Regardez Moi and Utopian Cardinal and Brett Parbery and DP Weltmieser have all shown the ability to put improving scores on the board at the top in the International shows up to this date. It is always worth remembering that the front runner is invariably doing the hardest miles. Slip streaming a front runner takes an inform top of the range athlete, however as long as you are tough enough to hang on this is the easy ground from which the next superstar will spring and attack.  History very clearly demonstrates this. Can Mary maintain the momentum for another 18 months and make the Australian Olympic team or will there be the inevitable challenge sprung from the chasing pack. When will that challenge come? The gap is closing and already there is excitement and electricity in the air. The Sydney CDI will be worth watching.   

Now for the Eventers

The Eventing selections revolve around CCI*** and CCI**** competitions.  In the old days this was called the Advanced class of the 3 day event! The first  CCI*** competition is imminent being Sydney on the 1st,  2nd and 3rd of May. Indeed the weekend just prior to the dressage CDI competition. May is a big month. Leading up to the Sydney CCI there have been 4 one day events which have some significance. These are big one day events and two of these have an international ranking and these are called CIC competitions. I do apologize however I suspect there is another CIC 3* one day event which I haven’t acknowledged in Western Australia called Wayer. These 3* events are never quite as tough as the real deal, CIC*** however they are significant enough to give a pretty accurate indication of who to watch and who is on the up and up. The first 3* event this year was the Sydney eventing summer classic and this was over the weekend of the 21st and 22nd of February. The clear winner was Shane Rose on Virgil who finished on a score of 47.4 penalties. Now this is a significant score and indeed anything in the low 50 penalties and lower is something to really sit up and look at. Shane came 2nd in the dressage with a score of 37.4 penalties which is a huge score. First place getter in the dressage was Tim Boland on the amazing GV Billy Elliot. Certainly there was a lot of discussion after the London 2012 Olympics as to whether Billy Elliot should have been given a run on the Australian team. I am not getting into that however this is the caliber of horse and rider we are talking about when we mention Billy Elliot and Tim Boland. Tim and Billy Elliot came second over all at the end of the competition on 58.7 penalties. So after a magnificent dressage test they did drift off the pace mainly due to 22.4 time penalties on the cross country. If Billy Elliot has a weakness it is his speed on the cross country course. Fantastic dressage, fantastic jumping both cross country and showjumping. Third place getter was the young Queensland girl Isabelle English on Feldale Mouse with a final score of 73.7 penalties, fourth place went to Elizabeth Lourey and KL Kismit with a score of 74 penalties. As you can see these two scores are a long way of the first two place getters but are definitely young riders moving up through the advanced horses. This was the first event of the year and so for a lot of people just a pipe opener.

The second event for the year was the Scone One Day Event on the 7th and 8th of March. The winner was the very experienced combination of Christine Bates and Adelaide Hill. They did an amazing dressage test of 43.1 penalties which indeed only got them in second place to start with. The leader after the dressage was Shane Rose and CP Qualified with a dressage score of 42.8 penalties. Christine and Adelaide Hills were the fastest cross country round and jumped a clear showjumping round to end up on a score of 50.30 penalties. A score like this is competitive anywhere in the World and could see Christine win the Sydney CCI*** if she can maintain this form. Second, third and fourth was Shane riding CP Qualified for second place on 60.80 penalties, third place Shane on Shanghai Jo with 62.70 and fourth place Shane on Virgil with a score of 64.30 penalties. Shane is a legend. All of these performances were high quality and likely to be prominent players in Rio selections.   

 

The third event for the year was the Australian Eventing Championships in Wandin, Victoria. The New South Wales and Queensland riders did not make the trip down to Wandin. The winner was Murray Lambert on a horse called Don Skipcello who won the dressage with 44.1 penalties. Murray then proceeded to Showjump clear and do a fast cross country round to finish with a score of 51.30 penalties. As you can see this leaves him very competitive with the top place getters in Sydney and Scone. Interesting to note Murray bought Don Skipcello as a 2 year old at the Auction of the Stars in 2006 for $2600. Don Skipcello is related to the horse that Andrew Hoy rode around the Atlanta Olympics, Gershwin. Second place at Wandin was Katja Weinmann on BP Cosmopolitan. Katja ended up on a score of 73.7 which is a long way off where the Australian riders need to be with team selection in mind. Having said that you do need to keep in mind that these CIC’s are not the real deal and so these results can be very different at a CCI***. Third place went to Tessa Cook and Heatherton Park Alfonze with a final score of 80.3 penalties and fourth place went to Natalie Davies on Chatswood Captivate with a score of 83 penalties.

The fourth CIC*** so far was Albury on the 3rd 4th and 5th of April. This event did see riders from Victoria, NSW and South Australia go head to head. The winner was Katja Weimann on BP Cosmopolitan. Katija scored 62.3 penalties in the dressage which had her in 12 position. This is certainly a score that Katja will need to improve upon however the Albury cross country course was tough and Katja and BP Cosmopolitan blitzed it producing the fastest time of 4.4 penalties. Katja then jumped a clear showjumping round to clinch the competition. It is really difficult to get a line on Katja. She is clearly going to excel if the cross country is difficult. She just has to get this dressage score down because there is little doubt that the very top riders in the other states are going to be as good as, or nearly as good as her on the cross country and still do a much better dressage test. Having said that, Katja is not to be dismissed. Second place went to Stuart Tinney on the young up and coming Annapurna. Stuart is setting this young mare for Adelaide and I am sure he is hopeful of being ready for the Rio Olympics. Stuart did score 50.9 in the dressage which is respectable and is likely to become very fancy with a little improvement. Third was Andrew Cooper and Evergem Perfection. Like Katja Andrew is very convincing cross country and in the showjumping phase. He certainly is a young rider with a great future, however his Achilles heel is the dressage with a score of 64 penalties in this phase. Andrew finished up on a score of 75.2 penalties. Fourth place went to Cooper Oborn from South Australia. Cooper was riding the mare Sunshowers for the Schaeffer family. This is the first time I have seen Cooper out in the 3* class and the first time I have seen him on Sunshowers, he was impressive. He finished on a score of 79.3 penalties however I did get the feeling that given a little bit of time he was going to get that score down to a much more competitive number. The real disaster at Albury was Hazel Shannon and Clifford. Hazel is one of the young riders coming up through the ranks and at the end of last year won two 3* events. Her scores have been improving in all three disciplines and after the dressage at Albury Hazel and Clifford had a score of 48.2 penalties to lie in second place. Unfortunately before having a chance to go cross country Hazel had a fall from a young horse in one of the lessor grades. Hazel was knocked unconscious and was airlifted to the Royal Prince Alfred hospital in Melbourne where she stayed unconscious for some 5 days. At this stage it does look as though she will make a full recovery however this sort of set back can definitely impact on your confidence and the program leading to Rio. I know we all wish her a speedy recovery and good health.

The next event on the horizon is Camden CIC*** on 18th and 19th of April. This will be a very interesting competition as many of the riders who are heading for Sydney CCI*** just two weeks later will use Camden as a final pipe opener.

The first CCI*** of the year is Sydney 3 day event which will be run on the 1st 2nd and 3rd of May. I do expect a huge field and all of those riders mentioned so far are likely to be there and a lot of riders who have not yet popped their heads up over the horizon. The Sydney 3 day event will be the first competition that the Australian selectors really pay much attention to. The cross country course at Sydney is being built by Mike Etherington Smith who originally designed the course for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. So the course will be tough and in touch with what is expected for the Rio Olympics in 2016. A win here will not immediately put you on the Australian Rio team but it sure won’t do you any harm.  

 

So who to watch at Sydney 3 day event?

Shane Rose on his three horses Virgil, CP Qualified and Shanghai Jo are likely to dominate. I will be surprised if Shane starts all three.  Shane is clearly producing good dressage tests with Virgil scoring 37.4 at the Sydney Summer eventing classic, CP Qualified scoring 42.8 penalties at the Scone one day event and Shanghai Jo scoring 44.6 penalties. Shane is a wizard cross country and showjumping. He will be difficult to beat. If Stuart decides to run Annapurna then he too is in the Olympic league with Shane. Both of these boys will be challenged fiercely by Tim Boland if Tim decides to ride GV Billy Elliot. Tim is quite a tactical rider and he might decide that he doesn’t need to perform this early and so not appear and leave us all guessing. Murray Lamperd is the wild man from Victoria and he does represent a rider with international experience and blinding brilliance. Whenever I think of Murray I always know he is capable of brilliance that can upset all calculations. In the past he has been a little bit hit and miss but these days I do get the feeling that he is more under control and more reliable than ever before. He could be real trouble! Murray and Don Skipcello have just won the Australian Eventing Championships. Definitely one to watch. Christine Bates is riding the very experienced Adelaide Hill. Christine and Adelaide Hill are capable of a dressage test which will challenge the best. They are fast cross country and very likely to showjump clear. This combination is probably the most experienced and I think the smart money will be on Christine and Adelaide Hill to win Sydney CCI***. Katja Wiemann and Cosmopolitan are clearly on form and will be there in the final results at the end of the Sydney 3 Day Event. Another Victorian rider who is yet to show some form who I think will be at Sydney will be Wilhelm Enzinger on Wenlock Aquifer. Will is always very competitive and I am sure that his best is yet to come. The young  Queensland girl, Isabell English and her part Connemara horse Feldale Mouse are rapidly rising through the senior ranks and without doubt have a destiny to ride for Australia at the Olympics one day soon. Elizabeth Lourey and KL Kismet traditionally perform poorly in the dressage but are super dooper reliable cross country and really fast. They do end up having a rail down in the showjumping phase but are so reliable that I do believe they will be in the placings at the end of the day. If Elizabeth and KL Kismet could do a good dressage test they would over night become one of the best combinations on the Rio journey. There is still time between now and final selections.

 

So there ladies and gentlemen is the beginnings of the Rio De Janeiro Olympic selection Journey for Australian riders in the eventing and dressage disciplines. This is just the beginning and this is a story that is going to have some wonderful highs and some terrible tragedies. Hopefully the conclusion of the story will see Australia holding up Olympic Gold Medals for all to see at Rio De Janeiro. It is going to make great spectating.

 

Cheers,

 

Heath

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