Charles refuses to scotch rumour he will revert to jumping for Britain

SHOW jumper Peter Charles yesterday said he would “rule nothing in, or, nothing out” when asked of speculation he is about to change nationality.

The Hampshire-based rider is at the centre of rumour since the middle of last week that he is about to revert to competing under the British flag.

Liverpool-born Charles originally competed for Britain, but with his parents from Dublin, he switched to Ireland and became an integral part of the squad under chef d’equipe Tommy Wade, including helping Ireland win European team and individual gold medals.

Yesterday, he said he was waiting to see what plans, if any, would be put in place to put Ireland back at the top of international show jumping before making any decision on his future allegiance.

“I have owners who are anxious to see what direction the sport will take. They do not know and I cannot tell them, as I haven’t been told anything,” said Charles. “I personally know that a lot of riders want a lot of questions answered after this year. We want a summary of the year and what direction [team manager] Robert Splaine is taking us in. We need to know.”

Charles, 46, made his comments hours before the Equestrian Federation of Ireland Jumping Committee gathered for the first time since Ireland’s relegation to the second division.

The committee — chairman John Ledingham, team manager Robert Splaine and advisor Tommy Brennan — met with EFI secretary general Dan Butler. James Kernan was unable to attend for personal reasons.

Afterwards, an EFI spokesman said the committee would not make a statement until after a second meeting later in the month “to finalise plans for the direction of show jumping in 2007”.

Ultimately, they will have to address how to balance the task of gaining promotion and achieving qualification for the Beijing Olympics by being in the top three at the European Championships in Mannheim, Germany.

Whether their plans will be enough to assuage Charles remains to be seen.

Undoubtedly, he was an influential figure in Irish show jumping in the nineties and early years of this century. His individual European gold came at St Gallen in Switzerland in 1995 on La Ina, while his team gold came at Arnhem, the Netherlands, in 2001 with Corrada.

However, in the past few years, a lack of horsepower has seen him on the periphery. His only nations cup start this year came in Rome. It was one of Ireland’s better performances — the team finishing fourth — with Charles and Panthera having four faults in round one, but providing the discard of 16 in round two.

His top ride Pall Mall — a nine-year-old “world beater” says Charles — has been out since competing in Rome and Panthera is due to back in January having been operated on after picking up an injury in Gijon.

The question is: are the committee members and Charles of the same opinion as to the direction of Irish international show jumping?

* IRELAND’S top show jumpers were in a different league last weekend ... and it showed. The nations cup in Athens was the penultimate round of the second division — in which Ireland will compete next year — and it proved a stroll in the park for the Irish team of Conor Swail (Rivaal 4/4), Commandant Gerry Flynn (Mo Chroí 4/0), Capt Shane Carey (African Drum 4/0) and Cameron Hanley (SIEC Concept 8/-).

Their total of 16 faults was an embarrassing 24 faults better than runners-up Belgium and the win was one of six achieved by the quartet at the show, including Swail taking the grand prix on Rivaal ahead of Commandant Flynn on Mo Chroí.

However, it is difficult to gauge if last weekend was a reflection of what Ireland will face next year. Was it a true measure of Ireland’s potency in relation to the others?

Belgium are currently the best of the crop in the second division — with a 6.5 point lead — are odds on to replace Ireland in the Super League next year.

* ALL ponies in international classes are to be measured during competition from January 1, 2007, to ensure they do not exceed the maximum height of 148cms under an Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) proposal.

The radical change in regulations comes after no less than 10 of 14 ponies measured at this year’s European Championships were found to be above the specified height.

FEI secretary general Michael Stone yesterday said the problem was endemic and national federations throughout Europe were under huge pressure to do something about it.

“This proposal must be passed by the general assembly, but most federations are convinced it is the way forward and it will come into force in January. Owners of genuine-sized ponies are up in arms across Europe,” said Mr Stone.

“We undertook research at this year’s European Championships and of the 14 ponies measured, two would not allow the measurer go near them, two were under the height and 10 were over the height. Some were 10cms over the height.

“Ponies were checked on a random basis and, as it was done in the name of research, no action was taken, but it highlighted that the problem was huge and something needs to be done,” said the Dubliner.

Mr Stone said the rule change would mean the end of measuring certificates.

He rejected that a pony certified to be within the height limit and then found to be otherwise would leave the bodies involved in the process open to legal action.

However, in this litigious society, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an individual who spends a fortune on a pony only to find it is then a small horse and perhaps comparatively worthless would look at any means to recoup his/her money.

* BILLY TWOMEY made his mark at last weekend’s Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham. His best result came in the Leading Show Jumper of the Year competition in which he placed second with Anastasia III.

The Corkman was one of only four riders to produce three clear rounds, but on the night, he had to concede victory to Laura Kraut, the American proving her supremacy by steering Anthem home more than two seconds faster.

Cheshire-based Twomey also provided one of four clear rounds with Whinny Jackson to finish third place in the Speed Horse of the Year contest. He also teamed up with Sue Davies eight-year-old mare Wertherroschen to place fourth place in a 1.45m two-phase class.

On Saturday, Cian O’Connor continued to scale the heights with the 14-year-old grey gelding Casper, sharing victory in the puissance.

The Meath-based rider, Britain’s Robert Whitaker on Finbarr V and Ben Maher with Eperlan du Fouquet opted to divide up the prizemoney and not to go for a sixth round.

O’Connor and Casper won the puissance competition at this year’s Dublin Horse Show and in 2002.

* FRANCIS CONNORS has opened up an 11-point lead at the top of the Temple Spa Autumn Grand Prix League following his second win in a row last Sunday. The Waterford rider’s latest victory came at the Northern Indoor Championships in Derry, where he produced the only double clear on John Murphy’s Merlin’s Magic.

The €5,000 prizefund on offer attracted a field of just 13 runners and only Connors and Christian Coyle found the key to Alan Wade’s first-round track.

Four other riders were added to the mix for the second round, but Connor’s repeat clear saw him in the ascendancy as Coyle and Glenkeen Highlight slipped to third place with one fence down. He was relegated by Connors’s brother-in-law Peter Smyth, riding the former trotting mare Zara’s Pride, who claimed the runner-up prize when adding a faster jump-off clear to his first-round four.

Connors now has 23 points heading to Sunday’s round at the Kill Equestrian Centre. Mark MCauley’s fourth place last Sunday on Joyce’s Girl has made him Connor’s main rival on 12 points.

* IRELAND’S eventers gave a good account of themselves in the three-star contest at Boekelo, the Netherlands, last weekend, when placing fourth. Philippa Mains (Super Seal), Austin O’Connor (Pocket Rocket), Philippa Peters (Upward Trend) and Patricia Donegan (Fernhill Clover Mist) made up the team that finished on 299.70 penalties. Germany’s score of 184.40 saw them beat France by 0.40 penalties. Britain was third on 250.00.

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