A world class test in Cork for Shortt

EVENTING is a sport of opposites. It combines the finesse and cadence of dressage, the fervour and stamina of the cross-country gallop and the accuracy of show jumping.

Novel as it is, though, in common with other sports, the pleasure is often qualified by the level of pain preceding it.

Athens event rider Sue Shortt has tasted both. Fortunately, her ups far outweigh her downs. Her nadir, she admits, came when at one event a couple of years ago, she went crashing out with three horses.

This weekend, she lines out in the inaugural Irish Horse Board Land Rover World Cup qualifier at Ballindenisk and, not surprisingly, she is hoping not to revisit such a situation. Like all event riders, she plays down her chances in the three-star class, insisting that it is a step up in grade for her horse. She’s not coming for the scenery, though and, after a certain amount of teasing out, you get the impression she is not completely dismissing her chances. The Cork course, a few miles from Watergrasshill, demands nothing less than bold accurate jumping and the Kildare rider feels she has the vehicle in nine-year-old Bengazi.

“He is a very good jumping horse. He’s what you need for Ballindenisk. Strong mentally, it took a year to break him and I believe he was responsible for putting a few lads in hospital. He’s still a little nervous at times, but he doesn’t panic,” she said of the gelding who was placed in the Punchestown two-star competition last year and also at Weston Park, England.

“I’ve had him for about three years and he was a challenge. We had to spend some time at the lower levels until we convinced him he was not going to die at events.

“Now, he’s ready to move up, so, it’s great having the World Cup in Ballindenisk, especially since we have no Punchestown this year,” said Shortt, who produced a jumping clear in the cross-country at Athens Olympics where the Irish team finished a disappointing eighth by their own standards.

Like all eventers, Shortt is acutely aware of the potential for disappointment and, thus, plays down her chances. “Ballindenisk is more a progression rather than a probable win for us. It’s a stepping stone. He has great potential, but he’s not as established as some of the other horses.”

It is no surprise, a point conceded by Shortt, that Sydney-born rider Matt Ryan is the favourite this weekend. The Australian is a triple gold medallist and, while he has opted not to bring his main horse, Bonza Puzzle, he has, in Royal Dragoon, a mount that is up to standard. Ryan won the World Cup qualifier in Portugal last month and was placed 13th with Dragoon and he is aiming for World Cup success in the Swedish final next August. Also, winning in Cork is nothing new to the British-based Aussie, who took the top prize at the now-defunct Blarney Castle Horse Trials in 1996. He also lines out with two horses in the two-star class.

Another to watch is Zara Phillips, the high-profile young royal who is 10th in line to the throne of England. Queen Elizabeth’s grand-daughter’s eventing pedigree is top class: her mother Princess Anne competed at the highest level, while her father Captain Mark Phillips is an Olympic gold medallist.

While she has it all to do at Ballindenisk, she is recognised as a talented rider and cannot be dismissed. In the three-star she takes her place with Springleaze Macaroo.

In the two-star, she is, perhaps, aiming to get the inside track, riding two horses with experience of Ballindenisk: Ardfield Magic Star (bred by Eddie Freyne, Ballinhassig, and ridden by West Cork-based Swiss rider Heinz Wehrli) and Red Baron.

The nine-country three star class also boasts the likes of British rider Tiny Clapham, Swede Dag Albert and New Zealander Dan Jocelyn, who rides his Athens mount Silence.

Irish stalwarts Eric Smiley, Neilus O’Donoghue, Ann Hatton, Sarah Wardell and Trevor Smith will also be aiming to give the strong foreign contingent a run for their money, as, no doubt, will Wehrli.

Shortt says O’Donoghue could stage an upset and give the home crowd something to cheer about.

“Neilus’ horse Balladeer Alfred is one of our best ones, with plenty ability. He’s good in all phases and, if he gets it right on the day, there won’t be too many in front of him.”

Shortt also pointed to Wardell, an obvious choice, who rides the vastly-experienced Test Flight.

The Irish Horse Board Land Rover World Cup qualifier, sponsored by the Irish Examiner takes place on Saturday and Sunday, with the cross-country on day two. It is one of only 18 such events in the world and a major coup for the organisers, the Fell family.

With approximately 350 horses expected, they are pulling out all the stops to make their debut a sporting and entertainment success.

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