NEW Zealander Andrew Nicholson and double Burghley champion Avebury cruised to a title treble in the St James’ Place Barbury International Horse Trials after destroying a high-class field today.
The former world number one, based in Marlborough, took an advantage of 7.8 penalties into the CIC three star cross-country phase, and that lead never came under threat.
Nicholson could afford 4.8 time faults and still win by almost nine penalties from British combination Francis Whittington and Easy Target, with Highworth-based Australian Paul Tapner third aboard Yogi Bear VIII.
British stars Pippa Funnell (Second Supreme) and Tina Cook (De Novo News) were fourth and fifth, respectively, with Cook again illustrating the rich promise of her new four-star ride that has taken over from the retired and much-decorated Miners Frolic.
Just two combinations jumped clear inside the optimum time of six minutes 44 seconds - third-placed Tapner and Beanie Sturgis with Lebowski - while there were 17 eliminations and retirements.
Wiltshire-based Nicholson, 52, is now set to aim Avebury at a hat-trick of Burghley crowns in early September following a dominant display that saw them lead from day one in pursuit of a £5,000 top prize.
“It’s good to win just one (Barbury title), but to win three at what is my local event is great,” he said.
All five of Great Britain’s current team members for next month’s World Equestrian Games - Funnell, Cook, Zara Phillips, William Fox-Pitt and Oliver Townend - were in action across various classes at Barbury, with Cook’s performance the highlight.
One rider will be added to the group following Izzy Taylor’s withdrawal last week on Allercombe Ellie, and team boss Yogi Breisner has delivered an upbeat assessment as Britain build towards defending the world title won in Kentucky four years ago.
The top six countries in Normandy from August 28-31 will also secure Rio Olympic Games qualification.
“It is not the only chance for qualification for Rio, but in terms of preparation, the sooner you know you have qualified the more you can start moving the pieces around to hopefully give you the best possible chance at the Games,” Breisner said.
“One thing is for sure, these guys are really up for it. I can tell you. I have never seen a more focussed bunch of people.
“When you sit down to select, you select the six best combinations that you think is going to give you the best chance.
“The number one aim is to get Olympic qualification, and that means finishing in the top six in the team competition, but you want to win as well and win medals.
“Germany (reigning Olympic champions) has a very strong team. If you compare it with football, at the moment the Germans would have Messi, Ronaldo and whoever else. They probably have two or three horses of the best four or five in the world.
“Normally, when we go into a championship, you would say there would be four or five nations competing for the medals, but I think this year there are 10 nations that would all have a chance of getting a team medal.
“So I think the sport has widened out, and I think this would be as strong a competition as I have ever seen coming into it, much stronger than London (2012) was and much stronger than the last World Equestrian Games was.”