Nicolas Touzaint, the youngest member of the French team, gave a dressage lesson to his seniors – including Bettina Hoy, second at this stage, and Pippa Funnell, fourth – and has taken a slender lead in the individual standings after the first phase of the IFG European Three-Day Event Championships in Punchestown, Ireland.
Nicolas and third-placed Susanna Bordone, 22, are the two youngest riders at Punchestown, while 40-year-old Bettina Hoy, anchorwoman of the fourth-placed German team on her Badminton horse Ringwood Cockatoo, has an international career spanning 21 years. She was quick to congratulate the young French rider, declaring herself relieved not to be in the lead.
Nicolas put up a beautiful fluid display on the impressive iron grey Selle Francais Galan de Savagere to propel the French team to second place, 10.2 penalties behind Great Britain.
Galan de Savagere was invincible at one- and two-star level – he won eight international events in succession, including Punchestown’s two-star last year – but his three-star debut at Boekelo last autumn ended on the deck. A more cautious approach at Saumur in May secured qualification for Punchestown.
Tommy Brennan’s cross-country track places the emphasis on endurance and courage and is in a completely different style to that which the French – and other continental nations – will be used.
Nicholas, nephew of team trainer Thierry Touzaint, clearly has reservations. “Of course I am pleased with my mark, but dressage is only only one thing and this is our first championships,” he said. “It is a big test, horses will need to be confident with water jumps and the time will be influential.”
Pippa Funnell’s mastery in the dressage arena was evident when she conjured an accurate and active test from Nick and Barbara Walkinshaw’s home-bred Walk On Star, who is relatively inexperienced at this level.
“I didn’t think I’d get close to Susanna,” she said. “Walk On Star’s back legs are a long way from his front end and you have to work hard to get them under. He isn’t the flashiest mover, but his ears are always pricked and he has a great attitude.”
Of the pressure she faces as reigning champion, Pippa said: “This is nothing after Burghley! I want to do well for the team, but I don’t feel pressurised for myself, as my horse is less experienced.”
Horses with four-star experience will have the advantage tomorrow. Among those at the top end are Mary King’s King Solomon, ninth, William Fox-Pitt’s Moon Man, equal 10th, Leslie Law’s Shear L’Eau, 12th and Tina Cook, who showed a massive improvement on Captain Christy to lie 15th on 45. Jeanette Brakewell is in 25th on Over To You.
Two other experienced horses who are certainly in the running are Heidi Antikatzides’s Michaelmas, only just out of the medals at three championships, and Linda Algotsson’s Stand By Me, European silver medallist in 1999.
Frustratingly for the home side, their two best scores, from Sasha Harrison and England-based Jonty Evans, were earned by individuals and the team is languishing in seventh, more than 25 penalties off the pace.
Teams: 1, Great Britain, 119.6; 2, France, 129.4; 3, Italy, 133.2; 4, Germany, 137.4; 5, Belgium, 139; 6, Sweden, 140.8; 7, Ireland, 165.2; 8, Austria, 176.8.
Individuals: 1, Nicolas Touzaint/Galan de Savagere* (FRA) 29.8; 2, Bettina Hoy/Ringwood Cockatoo* (GER) 32; 3, Susanna Bordone/Ava (ITA) 33.8; 4, Pippa Funnell/Walk On Star (GBR) 34.8; 5, Karin Donckers/Gormley* (BEL) 35.6; 6, Heidi Antikatzides/Michaelmas (GRE) 36.2; 7, Linda Algotsson/Stand By Me* (SWE) 37.6; 8, Sasha Harrison/All Love Du Fenaud (IRL) 39.8; 9, Mary King/King Solomon (GBR) 40.6; 10, Jonty Evans/Cregwarrior (IRL) and William Fox-Pitt/Moon Man* (IRL), 43.2; 12, Leslie Law/Shear L’Eau* (GBR) 44.4.