World Eventing Championship team bronze medalist Clarke Johnstone has taken the lead in the CIC3* at the BNZ Kihikihi International Horse Trials after an action-packed cross-country phase in which many combinations were eliminated or retired.
The John Nicholson-designed course lived up its reputation, with just six of the 11 starters finishing.
Johnstone and his new horse Balmoral Sensation, who last month was crowned Eventer of the Year at the NRM Horse of the Year Show, rode a bold clear round with just a handful of time faults.
The 26-year-old said he was rapt with the big grey.
“Sensation was just fantastic out there. We took the option at the water because there was just too much risk for me to go straight through,” he said. “That’s where the time faults came from. The rest of the course was great – it was hard work … big and difficult, but it’s what we expect at Kihikihi.”
It was the toughest course Sensation had ever jumped, and Johnstone said it was a big step up for the horse that he teamed up with only two months ago.
Johnstone has made no secret of his desire to win the inaugural Bounce Trophy which has been donated by World Champ and Olympian Vaughn Jefferis in honour of his superstar horse.
They head into tomorrow’s showjumping phase with three rails in hand.
Johnstone has won the title twice before – in 2007 on Oakley Vision and 2011 on Orient Express.
Kelsey Rothery and The Felon flew round the course to rise from 12th to second, while Simon Gordon and Fletch.com moved from 14th to third. There is less than a rail between the two riders.
Overnight leader Matthew Grayling and NRM Lowenberg retired after two run-outs, as did Campbell Draper aboard Kahurangi Manu. Christen Hayde and Tandarra Sweet As also retired.
Joe Waldron aboard Springvale All Black and Angela Lloyd on Song were both eliminated for missing a compulsory passage. Lloyd was stopped on course, while Waldron, who was clear and under the time, continued through to the finish. He was bitterly disappointed with the ruling.
In the Waipa Home of Champions CIC2* Diane Gilder and Your Attorney held on to their overnight lead, coming home clear and inside time ahead of the in-form Samantha Felton and Ricker Ridge Escada. Gilder will head into tomorrow’s showjumping with a rail in hand.
“I am pretty happy all right,” said Gilder. “It was challenging out there and he was very strong. He’s fitter and stronger than ever at the moment.”
She admits she had “a life or two” out there, including a rather hairy moment at one of the water jumps.
“He is a very clever jumper and certainly got me out of trouble a couple of times out there. I am not sure how we made it back up the bank in the water!”
Gilder is hoping for a little luck in the showjumping. They were handily placed last year in the same class, but by her own admission, let the pressure get to her and ended up out of the money.
“We’ve done a lot of work on our showjumping this year, so hopefully it will go our way.”
Abigail Long, 17, and her 14-year-old warmblood/thoroughbred cross BMW Advokaat took the lead in the Horselands CIC1* field after the cross country phase.
The 48-strong field was given a good shake-up, with overnight leader Zephania Steele and Javari JS slipping to 27th after a stop and time faults.
Long and BMW Advokaat were one of seven combinations to go clear and inside the time.
“Our season has been pretty up and down, but I feel we are finally clicking,” she said. “It’s taken me a year and a half to gel with him.
“I just didn’t think there would be so much carnage out there today and we would be at the front,” she said.
Below sequence by Jane Thompson shows Gregory Smith and Lexington getting a dunking in the CNC 1*.
Results (after dressage and cross country phases):
BNZ CIC3*: Clarke Johnstone (Waikato) Balmoral Sensation 62.6 1, Kelsey Rothery (Cambridge) The Felon 76.6 2, Simon Gordon (Karaka) Fletch.com 79.6 3, Abby Lawrence (Te Puke) Pseudonym 101.2 4, Shelley Ross (Waitemata) Coleraine Coaltown 104.4 5, Bundy Philpott (Waikato) Britanica MVNZ 123.4 6.
Waipa Home of Champions CIC2*: Diane Gilder (Cambridge) Your Attorney 50.8 1, Samantha Felton (Cambridge) Ricker Ridge Escada 55.8 2, Chelsey Hawthorn (Cambridge) Pioneer Zuess 56.8 3, Sarah Young (Tokoroa) SS Galaxy 58.7 4, Chloe Phillips-Harris (Paihia) Cor Jet 64.8 5, Lauren Alexander (North Shore City) BMW Ripley 65.6 6.
Horselands CIC1*: Abigail Long (Levin) BMW Advokaat 52.5 1, Cherie Jaques (Otorohanga) Tobinator 53.8 2, Donna Smith (Te Kauwhata) Cluny 55.3 3, Megan Finlayson (Northland) Greensleeves 56.5 4, Sofie Boswell (Auckland) Skagit County 56.9 5, James Jackson (Te Akau) Leo Distinction 59.8 6.