Australian riders head the leaderboard after Dressage at Les Etoiles de Pau (FRA), the final leg of the 2011 HSBC FEI Classics, which has attracted its most competitive field yet – 69 riders representing 17 nations.
Clayton Fredericks, currently ninth in the HSBC FEI Classics™, and his compatriot Christopher Burton, who is making his first visit to this popular event at the foot of the Pyrenees, are in equal first place on 43.7 penalties apiece.
Fredericks, whose last CCI4* victory was at Rolex Kentucky in 2007, is riding the 11-year-old Bendigo lll, the winner of Saumur CCI3* this year but a debutant at this level. Burton rides the experienced Holstein Park Leilani, winner of Adelaide CCI4* in 2008.
“Bendigo felt really rideable today,” commented Fredericks, who will be able to get an early feel of tomorrow’s Cross Country on his first ride, the mare Laurent Dunges Rose, on which he is lying 27th on 54.0 penalties.
“He was nice to ride – positive, but without the feeling he was about to explode. I have led the dressage before on him at other events, but he isn’t always reliable – he has a tendency to be a bit of a show-off. It’s his first four-star competition, but I’m quietly confident.”
Burton, who has brought a string of horses to Britain, where he is based with fellow Australian Sam Griffiths, with the aim of competing at the London Olympic Games, pronounced himself a fan of French events, having done well at Haras du Pin in August.
“I have found the UK-based Aussies to be a tightly-knit bunch, who have taken me under their wing and been very helpful,” said Burton.
Of his Dressage test, he commented: “Leilani was super and stayed with me, which was good after our problems at Burghley [where they posted a disappointing score]. However, I don’t think Pau is going to be a Dressage competition.”
Much interest surrounds the battle for supremacy in the 2011 HSBC FEI Classics™ between William Fox-Pitt (GBR), who has already won it twice before, in 2008 and 2010, and his team mate Mary King (GBR), the current series leader.
Fox-Pitt, who heads the HSBC Rider Rankings, is looking good with two horses in the top 10: the nine-year-olds Oslo (in third place) and Lionheart (ninth). King looks to have a little more work to do, with Apache Sauce in 11th on 48.3 and Imperial Cavalier surprisingly back in 18th place on 51.0. However, the odds are still stacked against Fox-Pitt overhauling King in the final standings as he has to win and she has to finish lower than eighth.
Andrew Nicholson (NZL), currently just outside the cash prizes in the HSBC FEI Classics™ in sixth place, is another rider with everything to gain this weekend. He is in equal sixth place after Dressage on the elegant Cruising-sired Mr Cruise Control, ninth at Pau last year despite a Cross Country run-out.
French riders have a chance to get a head start in next year’s HSBC FEI Classics™ as Pau is, uniquely, the linking event between the 2011 and 2012 series. Astier Nicolas, who has been making his mark in his first year of senior competition, is well-placed in fourth after Dressage, and Nicolas Touzaint, making a welcome reappearance on his 2008 Badminton winner Hildago de L’Ile, is eighth.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s Cross Country course, always an imaginative and challenging test produced by France’s premier designer, Pierre Michelet (FRA), King comments: “There are a lot of questions out there, but my horses are experienced and should be capable of going clear – as long as I ride them properly!”
The first rider to tackle the track will be Christopher Burton, who heads out of the startbox on Newsprint (32nd on 55.2) at 12.45pm CEST, for what should be a thrilling day of competition.
Results after Dressage
1 Clayton Fredericks/Bendigo (AUS) 43.7
1 Christopher Burton/Holstein Park Leilani (AUS) 43.7
3 William Fox-Pitt/Oslo (GBR) 44.2
4 Astier Nicolas/Jhakti du Janlie (FRA) 45.0
5 Lucy Wiegersma/Simon Porloe (GBR) 45.5
6 Ruth Edge/Nick of Thyme (GBR) 46.2
6 Andrew Nicholson/Mr Cruise Control (NZL) 46.2
8 Nicolas Touzaint/Hildago de L’Ile (FRA) 46.3
9 William Fox-Pitt/Lionheart (GBR) 46.7
10 Frank Ostholt/Mr Medicott (GER) 47.3
Watch the action live on FEI TV.
Follow the action at www.event-pau.fr