British eventers Oliver Townend and Tina Cook (pictured) got their seasons off to a good start last week at the Goresbridge Go For Gold International Horse Trials at Ballindenisk, Ireland (25-27 February).

Oliver won the CCI*** on Tamara-Jane Davis’s Arctic Mouse, a 10-year-old son on Touchdown.

“I thought it would do him good to go to Ballindenisk,” said Oliver at a British Equestrian Federation press day two weeks before the event.

“He’s an outsider for the Olympics, but he’s got a trainable brain and doesn’t seem to have a weak phase. He’s cobby, but he’s a fantastic tryer who loves his job.”

Oliver led the dressage on 41.2 and was never headed, adding just 2.4 cross-country time-faults.

Tina Cook took third place – the Brits were split by Ireland’s Elizabeth Power (September Bliss) – and in the process gained an Olympic qualification for her 2009 European champion Miners Frolic.

It will be a huge relief for Tina to have got her qualification in the bag in good time and proved the initial fitness of her top horse, who missed nearly all of last year with illness.

Rodney Powell was also fifth in this class for Britain, on Zinzan II.

Olympic qualifications

The focus this weekend was on Olympic qualification, with riders grappling for last-minute points at Ballindenisk as well as Montelibretti, Italy, and Vladikavkaz, Russia.

Although the allocation of the final 20 individual places – seven to riders from specific regions and 13 simply on rankings position – will not be announced by the FEI until the 1 March deadline, internet speculation on who has secured the spots is rife.

Ireland is confident of having two places courtesy of Camilla Speirs – who won the CIC*** at Ballindenisk on the diminutive Portersize Just A Jiff – and Mark Kyle, who boosted his ranking this weekend with sixth in the CCI*** on his family’s home-bred Step In Time.

Michael Ryan may have secured a third slot for Ireland, but this remains unconfirmed until the FEI announcement. If not, he will be high up the reserve rankings if any country cannot take up its spaces, while his compatriots Jayne Doherty and Geoff Curran will also be on this list. With three spaces, Ireland could field an Olympic team (three to five riders, three scores to count) rather than just individual riders.

Australia looks to have been most successful nation in the rankings race and should be able to field a full five-person team at the Games courtesy of rankings-winner Clayton Fredericks and four down under-based riders: Stuart Tinney, Emma Scott, Shane Rose and Nat Blundell.

British-based Italian Vittoria Panizzon’s third (Borough Pennyz) and fifth (Rock Model) at Montelibretti catapulted her up the rankings, giving Italy a likely two spots. The other was secured by Stefano Brecciaroli, who was ninth at Montelibretti on the former Andrew Nicholson ride Oplitas – who was registered into Italian ownership in time for the 31 December Olympic cut-off.

The other nations likely to have at least one rider at the Games through the rankings, according to a report on American website www.eventingnation.com, are: Jamaica, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Belarus, South Africa, Thailand, Austria and Russia.

If this is correct, British-based Chinese eventer Alex Hua Tia – who missed out on picking up points in Montelibretti by just one place – is among those who have failed to make the cut.