No doubt, his response was tempered by the fact he had just returned from his first meeting with a cross-country track that on initial inspection is full-on Irish, full of personality and full of questions.
Asked if he was happy with a dressage performance that scored him 47.8 penalties with Horseware Lukeswell and saw him behind Briton Oliver Townend (Skyhills Cavalier, 47.6pens) and Aussie leader Tim Boland (GV Billy Elliot, 43pens), Watson said: “I’m satisfied with it. It’s not his best test; he did a 42 in Camphire, but his work this season has stepped up. Obviously, it’s great when you have it at home and produce it at an international, like we did at Camphire. A part of you wants to keep that going, but you have to be realistic. A few things went wrong today, which had us on the 47, but it’s fine and you can still see the promise. He’s still a young horse, he’s nine, and I said after Camphire that you look at Rio [Olympics] and you work backwards.”
The cross-country course is everything you would expect at Ballindenisk. It is demanding of courage, but also skill, with technical tests popping up to assess control on the rider’s part and sharpness from the mount. Watson conceded it was tougher than last year.
“It’s a good track, it’s very Irish, in that it’s big and bold with a lot of hedge crossings, where your horse is having to assess, is it a bank, is it a ditch. It will be a test for my horse, with a lot of questions for him, but all adding to the mileage and experience.”
“It’s really well built, which you always get here and they’re doing a lot of work on the ground. There is some interesting new design, which keeps it fresh. So hats off to the boys. I’m looking forward to riding it.”
Watson concurred that Townend was always a danger, but neither could Boland be discounted.
“He’s a very strong hand. There are only 18 in the class and he has three goes, so he’ll be tough to get by. He’s 0.2 ahead of me.
“I know Tim Boland has come here targeting a win. He’s on an experienced horse and he pulled out of Blenheim, because he felt his dressage was not quite good enough to win. So, he’s not playing for second place here. He want’s the win.”
Meanwhile, Britain holds the top three places in the long-format two-star competition, with Izzy Taylor (Call Me Maggie May, 41.5pens) heading Sharon Hunt (Loughnatousa Fabio, 42.8pens) and Rose Carnegie (Master Rory, 43.7pens). Italian Vittoria Panizzon (Monarch’s Exclusive, 43.9pens) is next, followed by Ireland’s Aoife Clark (Curraghkyle, 45.9pens).
Dressage continues today, with the short-format three-star the main course. Cross-country takes place tomorrow, followed by show jumping on Sunday.
* The Irish Sport Horse Ard Ginger Pop was yesterday one of 85 horses to jump clear in the first qualifier for five-year-olds at the World Breeding Federation Championships in Lanaken, Belgium.
The Luidam-sired chestnut mare out of a Cruising dam was ridden by Sweden’s Angelica Augustsson. Ard Ginger Pop was recently auctioned to Carl Hanley and Enda Carroll for €50,000
Waterford’s Tholm Keane was in 40th place in the contest for six-year-olds, jumping clear in a two-phase with Highly Efficient.
Best of the Irish in the class for seven-year-olds was Francis Connors, who lies 41st after a fault-free display with the Ard VDL-sired Erne Lady Goldilocks.
* The Federation of Irish Polo Clubs wants to correct the situation that sees no representative in Cork.
Federation chairman James Kennedy, from Waterford, said this week: “We would be delighted to act as buddy club to anybody in Cork who wanted to start a club.”
A club in Cork would need a ground measuring 200 x 300 yards, plus run-off safety areas, so Kennedy is hoping a hotel, or show grounds with suitable space would be willing to give the Cork club a home.
Kennedy’s initiative comes as the Irish polo team of Sebastian Dawnay, Max Hutchinson, Siobhan Herbst and Richard Fagan, under manager Charles Beresford, won silver medal at the European Championships in France, going down to England 6-3. Ireland had already beaten the English in the group stages.