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Oliver Townend Wins Express Eventing

The inaugural Express Eventing International Cup has been won by Oliver Townend riding Edward and Robert Nicholson's Flint Curtis. The £100,000 prize money to the winning rider was hard earned after a challenging competition involving Dressage to Music, followed by a combined show jumping and cross country phase with a pit stop between the two stages for riders to change their equipment. Lucy Wiegersma came second with William Fox-Pitt taking third place.
Although not as many tickets were sold as the organisers had hoped, the atmosphere in the Millenium Stadium was still enthusiastic and everyone was excited to see the day's action. This mood was enhanced by the initial Dressage stage being set to music. Riders had to compile their own interpretation of the required dressage movements not only so that the test was the correct length but also that they and the horse were in time with the music they'd chosen. The riders choice of music was varied, some choosing classical or indigenous music, while others chose more popular tunes by bands like ABBA and Survivor. Judges Arlene Phillips and Andrew Lloyd Webber commented on the way in which riders and horses interpreted the music, while dressage judges marked the horses movements and paces. The show jumping course proved difficult with many riders incurring penalties through knock downs. Several riders took the wrong course, resulting in them being eliminated before attempting the cross country phase. The pit stop changes proved troublesome for some of the riders as they struggled to change out of their showjumping jackets and into their body protectors and cross country colours. Times in the 'pits' varied from an astounding 30 seconds by Oliver Townend to a less impressive 1 minute by Eventing Legend Mark Todd. The cross country phase of the competition was particularly demanding on horse and rider, again remembering the course was an issue for several riders. There were difficult combinations which some riders struggled with, resulting in many being eliminated for 3 disobediences. Some riders were helped massively by their horses. William Fox-Pitt being one of them, my seat was in the perfect position to see how Ballincoola jumped the third part of the brush combination by his own free will. After an uncomfortable jump at 9b William wasn't in a position to guide his horse but Ballincoola chose to jump and William luckily stayed with him. With only 6 out of the 19 competitors completing the final phase, the event proved to be as tough as any top 3 Day Event. For anyone watching, it has to be said that the atmosphere throughout the jumping stages was electric, the whole crowd got behind every horse and huge cheers accompanied every rider as they completed any difficult section of the course. The top three riders and horses absolutely deserved their places, William Fox Pitt set the standard with a fabulous but lucky cross country round, Lucy Wiegersma rode a determined round with Shaabrak proving his Olympic potential by staying as straight and honest as possible at every jump. When Ollie Townend set off on his show jumping round though it was clear he meant business, he rode every jump with a precision and determination not shown by any other rider. His pit stop was controlled and efficient meaning he saved 15 seconds on the time allowed. As he set off on the cross country phase it was immediately obvious that the lead was in serious danger, he instantly cut corners to save every precious second he could. He galloped on every straight stretch of ground but still negotiated the difficult jumps with the respect and care needed to get over safely. Flint Curtis jumped with absolute perfection and took strides out at every slightly easier fence to fly over like a racehorse. His round was an amazing 40 seconds faster than second placed Lucy Wiegersma and his celebration after the last fence showed how he knew someone would have to do something spectacular to beat him.
After such a fantastic day and a fabulous competition, there was was the most devastating of finishes when Mary King's Call Again Cavalier fell at the second part of fence 12. As he struggled to his feet it was obvious to everyone that he was seriously injured and a respectful silence fell around the whole stadium. He received immediate veterinary attention and was led into the horse ambulance to be treated as quickly as possible. Tragically he is believed to have sustained a broken femur in the fall and had to be put to sleep.  Call Again Cavalier's wins were many and he partnered Mary King to some fantastic achievements culminating in a team bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to Mary and Call Again Cavalier's owners, Mr and Mrs Davies and Mrs Chin.

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