By Kate Green
LES ETOILES DE PAU (FEI) – Christopher Burton, Australia’s latest Eventing star, performed an outstanding Dressage test on Underdiscussion, to sweep into the lead at Les Etoiles de Pau, the first leg of the 2012/2013 HSBC FEI Classics™.
After a test that was full of impulsion and expression, Burton was awarded the only 10 of the day, by Ground Jury President Christian Landolt (SUI) for the halt, and heads a strong field with the good score of 34.8.
Burton has 1.0 penalties in hand over the equally exciting young New Zealand competitor Jonathan Paget on Clifton Promise. Both riders are now based in Britain and were pathfinders for their teams at the London Olympic Games, Paget finishing 10th and winning a team bronze medal on the same horse, and Burton finishing 16th overall on Holstein Park Leilani.
The 14-year-old Underdiscussion, by Lantham, was initially produced as a Dressage horse before Burton took over the ride. This is his first CCI4*, having won the CCI2* at Tattersalls (IRL) and CIC3* at Aachen (GER) this year. Most recently, they led the first phase and then finished in eventual 19th place at Blenheim CCI3* (GBR).
“I was angry with myself for going for it too much in the extended canter,” said Burton of the moment the striking black gelding bounded forward exuberantly. “But of course I’m thrilled with his performance. He’s a complex character and not that simple to train, but he’s been progressing nicely.”
Paget, who still works with his original trainer, Kevin McNab (AUS), plus Mark Todd (NZL) and British Dressage rider Andrew Gould, said he had hoped for a mark of 39, so he was pleased to do even better with 36.7. “It’s the best test I’ve ever done,” he said delightedly. “Clifton Promise is a full New Zealand Thoroughbred, so he’s not built to do dressage, but because he’s so athletic he’s developed the muscles to do the job.”
Michael Jung’s (GER) mount, Leopin FST, is not a natural Dressage horse either, but the reigning Olympic, World and European Champion does not throw away a single mark and his performance on the Luhmühlen CCI4* winner was the epitome of accuracy and calm.
Jung, fourth in the 2012 HSBC FEI Classics™, is paying his first visit to Pau. “Dressage is Leopin’s weakest phase so that was very good for him,” he said. “However, I think tomorrow (Cross Country) could be an even better day, as that is his strongest phase.”
The heavy rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived as the Dressage came to a close, but it takes more than a soaking to break Andrew Nicholson’s concentration, and the New Zealander, current leader of the HSBC Rankings, is now in fourth place on his Olympic bronze medallist Nereo.
Astier Nicolas (FRA) thrilled the home audience with an excellent performance on Jhakti du Janlie and is in close contention, in fifth place, just 0.1 of a penalty ahead of the last rider to go, Mary King (GBR). The experienced King, winner of the 2011 HSBC FEI Classics™, was also caught in the downpour but Imperial Cavalier has enough presence to shine in the worst weather and they are in sixth place.
Another Australian, Bill Levett, is seventh on Hippolyte, having re-routed the 17-year-old gelding to Pau after an early Cross Country run-out at Burghley.
“This is his best CCI4* test,” said Levett. “He’s been going well, so I was quietly confident. He’s a sensitive horse, so you have to be careful not to overwork him. He didn’t cope well at Burghley, but he’s had a good run in a national event since so we decided to bring him here.”
Karin Donckers (BEL) and Lamicell Charizard, three-time HSBC FEI Classics™ winner William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on the nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse Bay My Hero and Japanese Olympic rider Kenki Sato (Chippieh) complete an international top 10.
Course Designer Pierre Michelet (FRA) has set a fascinating Cross Country test for the 62 riders in the competition. He has reversed the direction of the track, which crosses the racecourse at Pau, and the questions come up thick and fast very early on.
Horses will have little time to get into their stride before they arrive at a big spread on top of a mound (fence 3) where they will have to be in complete control to achieve the turn to a narrow corner (fence 4) at the bottom of the slope.
The theme of spreads, turns and skinnies continues for much of the course and M Michelet has set quite a test at the first water complex (Le Premier Lac, fence 6) with a pair of carved ducks set on a turn, followed by a steep drop into the water, another turn to a bank and a skinny brush.
“It all worries me!” said Jonathan Paget, who is making his debut at the premier French event. “It’s a very intense course and you can’t dismiss a single fence. I’ve heard a lot about Pierre Michelet’s courses with his sharp angles and committed distances, which is how course design should be.”
Burton, 30, who has won international competitions at Saumur (FRA), Tattersalls (IRL), Aachen (GER) and Hartpury (GBR) this year, led the Dressage and Cross Country last year at Pau on Holstein Park Leilani, finishing in eventual eighth place.
“I love Pierre Michelet’s courses,” he said. “His distances are always nice. It should be a good test.”
Cross Country starts at 13.00 CEST tomorrow (27 October), with all the action live on FEI TV www.feitv.org
Results after Dressage
1 Christopher Burton/Underdiscussion (AUS) 34.8
2 Jonathan Paget/Clifton Promise (NZL) 36.7
3 Michael Jung/Leopin FST (GER) 38.3
4 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 39.0
5 Astier Nicolas/Jhakti du Janlie (FRA) 39.5
6 Mary King/Imperial Cavalier (GBR) 39.6
7 Bill Levett/Hippolyte (AUS) 41.3
8 Karin Donckers/Lamicell Charizard (BEL) 41.7
9 William Fox-Pitt/Bay My Hero (GBR) 41.7
10 Kenki Sato/Chippieh (JAP) 41.8
Full results on www.event-pau.fr
Follow all the action live on FEI TV (www.feitv.org)