Sarah Carless reports..
Clarke Johnstone collected the biggest win of his career with victory in the CCI**** at the Mitsubishi Motors Australian International 3 Day Event.
The New Zealander led from the first phase with the 13-year-old Balmoral Sensation to take the title by 3.7 penalties.
The World Equestrian Games hopeful, who was the best placed New Zealander rider at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio said of his win: “I feel so very lucky to be here. It is something I have strived for my whole life since I started riding – to win a 4* – and to be finally here is the best feeling ever.”
Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation were the standout performers on a wet and windy dressage day, producing a score of 45.9 to take the lead.
“He is an amazing horse and I am very lucky to be riding him. He had a slight issue earlier on, but we worked through this and overall, I thought the test went very well. Taking everything into consideration, I am very happy to be in the lead at this early stage.”
Australian Sonja Johnson and Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison took second after the dressage on a score of 45.9, with fellow Australian Megan Jones riding Kirby Park Impress scoring 49.6.
Cross country day saw Johnstone maintain his lead adding 8.8 time faults to his dressage score to finish the day on 54.7.
“It was right up there. A real 4*. It was hard,” he said afterwards. Talking about Balmoral Sensation he added: “He is always pretty wild before the cross-country. I could hardly control him at the first warm up but once he gets out of the start box he is completely focussed. He doesn’t notice anything at all except what is in front of him. It rode very difficult, but Ritchie was his usual perfect self and answered all of the questions really well. He was more tired than I would have expected but he recovered really well.”
The biggest turnarounds from the dressage phase were Stuart Tinney riding War Hawk and Andrew Cooper riding Tasman Park Ovation, who were in respectively 15th and 16th place, but after fabulous cross-country rounds, they finished the second day in fourth and fifth place.
There was however controversy surrounding Tinney who had 50 penalties removed. He had been deemed to have missed the flags but footage later showed the horses front shoulders had gone through the flags and the penalties were removed by the ground jury.
There was also controversy surrounding Megan Jones and Kirby Park Impress. The 50 penalties awarded to the pair were originally upheld. However, on Sunday morning, along with Hazel Shannon, they approached the ground jury asking them to re-consider their decision. The ground jury took a while to deliberate and finally decided that Jones’ penalties would be removed whilst the penalties would stay for Shannon. This meant Jones was promoted to second place going into the show jumping – just 3.7 penalties behind the leader.
It was a mixed day for Sonja Johnson. She finished the day in third with Misty Isle Valentino (60.7) but her long-‐term partner, Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison, who had been in second place after the dressage, sustained an injury on the cross-‐country course.
The course was not without its challenges and Fence 8 caused a majority of the problems. Out of 20 starters, 14 completed.
All the pressure was on Johnstone as he went into the show jumping. Former winner Megan Jones and Kirby Park Impress produced a cool clear ahead of him, and he had no room for error.
On his victory, Johnstone commented: “I have said this before, he is an amazing horse and I am very lucky to be riding him. He has been focused all weekend. I always knew he was a great jumper and I am proud of what we have achieved over the last three days. I would like to thank the event organisers for putting on a wonderful event in the beautiful Adelaide Parklands and I hope to come back next year to defend my title.”
Australian Jones finished as the only other person to jump clear in the final phase, having not been out of the top three all week.
Tinney and War Hawk came from fourth after the cross country, and despite knocking down two rails still managed to finish on the podium in third, after Johnson and Misty Isle Valentino knocked three rails to finish fifth.