After eventing's COVID hit season, there's finally a 5* star contest - in France
But there’s plenty of excitement surrounding the first - and only - CCI5* competition of the year at Les Etoiles de Pau in France this week and Marlborough-based New Zealanders Jonelle and Tim Price are in a strong position to bring home prizes.The coronavirus pandemic has hit the international sport of eventing hard.
CCI5* is the highest level of competition in eventing and there are just six established CCI5* competitions held across the globe annually. This year COVID saw the cancellation of CCI5* competitions at Kentucky, Badminton, Luhmuhlen, Burghley and Adelaide. And a new one in Maryland, USA, was forced to postpone its inaugural running.
Team Price - who live in Marlborough and are based at Mildenhall - are New Zealand’s sole representatives at Pau. Between them Tim and Jonelle have won five CCI5* events.
World No.2 Tim has a trio of horses on the card in 17-year-old Burghley winner Ringwood Sky Boy, Wesko and Xavier Faer. Ringwood Sky Boy was Tim’s Rio Olympic Games horse, won Burghley in 2018 and has been with Tim his whole competitive career, which started in 2010.
Seventeen-year-old Wesko has also been in the Price stable for nigh on a decade and has won the CCI5* at Luhmuhlen, placed second at Kentucky and third in Pau. His trio is rounded out with 14-year-old Xavier Faer who has been on the podium at both Badminton and Kentucky.
After this disrupted year, Tim is looking forward to Pau: “The horses all feel great – they are in good form and are all very experienced and we're hoping we will be able to demonstrate that. It has been a bit of an odd year as we all know, so they haven’t had the normal preparation, but I am very happy to be on these more experienced horses.”
Jonelle will be on her little superstar Faerie Dianimo, the 15-year-old British-bred grey mare who she competed on at the Rio Olympic Games, won Luhmuhlen 5* in 2018, was second in 2015, and fourth at Pau in 2014. Jonelle will also compete on Grovine de Reve who is on debut at this level. The Irish-bred 12-year-old joined the stable last year and was second in the CCI4*-L at Cappoquin in Ireland.
Having stayed in France, Jonelle is very happy with their preparations for Pau: "Normally we would have been going back and forth but due to the travel restrictions we have just stayed down here this time.”
The team have been based at Lignieres since the week before last and currently have 12 horses with them who are competing across various events in the coming weeks. “It has worked out very well. It is the first time we have done it like this – excellent facilities so a good opportunity to spend time with these horses and do the final preparations. It has been smooth sailing and feeling lucky to be heading in with five healthy horses."
Last year, Tim was the best of the New Zealand contingent, finishing in sixth place aboard Ascona M with Tom McEwen (GBR) and Toledo de Kerser winning and Australians Chris Burton aboard Quality Purdey second and Shane Rose with Virgil third. This year Tom is back with his winning horse but Chris will be competing aboard Graf Liberty and Shane is not returning in 2020.
There are 62 combinations from 10 countries in the field including the current top 5 in the FEI world rankings – Oliver Townend (GBR), Tim Price, Chris Burton (AUS), Piggy March (GBR) and Tom McEwen (GBR). Also competing are current World Champion Rosalind Canter (GBR), the talented Sandra Auffarth (GER) and Frenchman Maxime Livio who will be hoping to make the most of his home country advantage.
The competition starts with dressage on Thursday afternoon (October 22) and Friday morning. The cross country is on Saturday with the final horse inspection on Sunday morning and the showjumping in the afternoon. There is a prize pool of €125,000 for the 5* with the winner taking home €40,000.
The Team Price horses are:
Faerie Dianimo – owned by Trisha Rickards and Jacky Green
Grovine de Reve – owned by Therese Miller, Jo Preston Hunt, Philip Hunt and Jonelle Price
Ringwood Sky Boy – owned by Varenna Allen and Tim Price
Wesko – owned by The Windrush Equestrian Foundation and Tim Price
Xavier Faer – owned by Trisha Rickards, Nigella Hall and Tim Price.