Image copyright Nicolas Hodys.
Elated after the semi-finals of the rugby World Cup, the English can also be delighted with the performance of their riders on the cross-country riders in the CCI 5*-L at the Pau 5-Star eventing competition, one of the six most demanding of its kind in the world. Already in first place after the dressage test in the equestrian triathlon, British rider Tom McEwen on his French mount Toledo de Kerser maintained his lead, with just 0.8 penalty points on the cross-country course for overshooting the authorized time. He rode home ahead of his compatriot Alexander Bragg on Zagreb, the only horse-rider pair to complete the course without a single mistake and within the authorized time. Australian rider Christopher Burton on Quality Purdey came in third with 2 penalty points. The highest-ranking French rider after two out of three tests, Olympic team champion Mathieu Lemoine, ranks ninth on Tzinga d’Auzay. It’s the young mare’s first CCI 5*-L competition, at the highest level in the international eventing competition classes defined by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).
Since 2015, victory has always gone to a French rider: Astier Nicolas (Piaf de B’Neville) in 2015, Maxime Livio (Qalao des mers) in 2016, Gwendolen Fer (Romantic Love) in 2017, and Thibault Fournier (Siniani de Lathus) last year.
Tom McEwen (GBR):
“The course rode exactly as I expected it to when I walked it yesterday: very technical at the start, with lots of turns. The next section was more fluid and I really enjoyed riding the course. For the show-jumping competition tomorrow, I wouldn’t want any other horse: Toledo is a great jumper and it’s up to me to make sure I don’t make any mistakes.
“You had to be concentrated from start to finish when riding the course, because there were potential incidents all the way along. There were some imposing obstacles and sizeable jumps to negotiate at several different points, and there was nowhere really to make up lost time.”
Alexander Bragg (GBR):
“Zagreb is a big horse but hasn’t really got that big a stride. I had to be firmly in control and negotiate the combination fences without slowing him down too much or changing pace. It was a very fluid ride, and I really enjoyed it, especially as it’s the first time here in Pau that I finished within the authorized time. He’s a great jumper too and in general he responds really well to the sunny French climate, the surface here and the crowds. So it’s going to be a nail-biting competition right up to the end.
“It was a perfect course, a course for riders who make decisive choices and totally assume them. There was no room for half-choices, and that’s a sign of an intelligently designed course, a fair course for both horses and riders, but which can cause incidents as we saw today.”
Christopher Burton (AUS):
“I’d like to congratulate course designer Pierre Michelet who did an incredible job today. The course was amazing to ride, because it was difficult to ride home while the clock was still green. My horse was great today too, and we’ll do our best tomorrow too. She’s a good mare, but we know that here in Pau, the courses can be extremely technical so we’re crossing our fingers that everything will go well on Sunday.
“When riders have walked the course, I think they come away thinking that everything is feasible and it doesn’t look that difficult, but in the end, there were incidents on almost all the fences, which is a sign of a well-designed course, and an incredibly intelligent course designer.”
Mathieu Lemoine (FRA):
“Tzinga was tired at the end of the course, but I’m really pleased with her performance today. It was a demanding 5-star cross-country course and it was the first time she has competed at this level. As it is her first 5-Star event, I don’t know how she’ll recover before the show-jumping competition tomorrow, and it’s not easy to make a clean round on a show-jumping course with her. Anything could happen, but I’m really delighted with the way she rode today.”
Pierre Michelet (course designer):
“I knew that the first part of the course was going to slow the horses down. Then in the second part, where the riders can gallop through the training centre, the combination fences also slowed the pace. The surface was very soft as it has rained a lot over the last few days. If the surface had been dry, perhaps it would have been easier for the riders to complete the course within the authorized time and we would have had a few more zero penalty rides. Some of the riders perhaps underestimated the course and there were more difficulties than they first thought, like the water in the middle of the track, that looks simple, but caused a few incidents, just as I thought it would.”
Pascal Sayous (Organiser of the Pau 5-Star eventing competition):
“Pau is historically a very English town, and they proved it today before the record crowds we had here today, probably the highest attendance rate we’ve ever had at the Pau 5-Star event. It’s a real honour to work with a course designer like Pierre Michelet and when I ask him to set the difficulty at a certain level, he sets it exactly where I want it.”
JULIETTE FEYTOUT PEREZ