Eventing dream team Andrew Nicholson and Avebury have put themselves in pole position to aim for a remarkable fourth successive CIC3* title at the St James’s Place Wealth Management Barbury International Horse Trials.
Fans’ favourite Avebury once again lit up the picturesque Wiltshire venue with a dressage performance that ensured a commanding lead heading into Saturday’s showjumping phase. New Zealander Nicholson guided the 15-year-old triple Barbury and Burghley champion to a dressage score of 33.9 penalties — almost one mark better than 12 months ago, when they secured a convincing Barbury triumph — and threw down the gauntlet.
A high-class field found itself, not for the first time at Barbury Horse Trials, left in Avebury’s wake, but there are a number of combinations good enough to pounce over the weekend if there are any slip-ups. Francis Whittington and his 2014 Blenheim three-star winner, Easy Target, lie second on 37.1 penalties, while Chinese Olympian Alex Hua Tian holds third spot aboard Don Geniro, a horse that is making its three-star debut.
Further down the leaderboard, Nicholson is fourth with his London 2012 Olympics ride Nereo, Mark Todd and Leonidas II are fifth, with Pippa Funnell and Redesigned holding sixth, Sarah Bullimore and Lilly Corinne in seventh and Louise Harwood and Whitson occupying eighth spot.
Talking of his dressage score, Nicholson said: “It’s only a starting number, but it is a good starting number. I don’t give him much warming-up, I trust him to know. He’s 15 now, and he knows the ropes.
“The main arena here is a little bit up the hill on a slope, and he doesn’t normally like to work any harder than he has to, and yet he has always gone in there and felt chirpy.
“He likes going anywhere, it’s just that he can get a bit bored very quickly. From the very first time he came here, he has not needed much work.
“It’s about being positive on the weekend. I like being competitive, and I have got a couple of young ones in the three-star as well, so it’s thinking of the future with them, and then hopefully trying to make a bit more history with Avebury.
“Mark (Phillips) hasn’t changed much on the cross-country, but it looks like it could be quite intense near the end of the course. It’s at a part of the course when the horses normally suddenly get tired, but that’s what it is all about.”
A busy second day’s action at Barbury also saw dressage concluded in three sections of the CIC2* competition, with several leading names in the sport making an expected impression.
But it was Britain’s Sophie How who made the most of a Friday afternoon start to nudge Todd out of top spot in Section B as she took the lead on Bojangles HRS. The 2012 European Junior team and individual gold medallist went past Todd with a score of 37.2, but the legendary Kiwi retained second, just ahead of Nicholson (Loughnatousa Joey) and Harry Meade (Vrolijk), who are tied third.
In Section C, New Zealander Tim Price and The Court Jester retained their lead from Thursday on 36.1 penalties, although Todd pushed them close after collecting 37.0 penalties on Amacuzzi, with Australian Christopher Burton and Santano II filling third place.
Section D, meanwhile, sees the top four combinations separated by just 0.3 penalties. Although British star William Fox-Pitt preserved his overnight lead with Randam De Mons on 39.2, second-placed Oliver Townend posted 39.4 with exciting prospect Dromgurrihy Blue, and Todd (Oloa) and Jesse Campbell (Cleveland) shared third on 39.5.
Image: Katy Vincent