The flying Finn Piia Pantsu, a favourite for gold in the forthcoming European Championships, has taken a commanding 9.4pen lead after the first day of dressage at the World Cup Final in Sweden, the neighbouring country she has adapted as home.
Piia produced an animated and elegant test on the subtle Swedish warmblood Ypaja Karuso, the horse with whom she finished a close second behind Pippa Funnell at Badminton 2003, and admitted it was her first good test this year.
“I have been very lazy about dressage”, confessed Piia, who is based near Malmo at Sweden’s National Stud. “After the horse’s accident on the way to Athens last year, I was so depressed and didn’t know if I wanted continue in the sport. But I’ve just done two days dressage training – for the first time this year – with Susan Gelan (the Swedish former Olympic dressage rider) and she has put me right.”
The combination also holds the world bronze medal from 2002 – Finland’s first in eventing – but were preventing from competing at the Olympics due to the horse suffering a freak loading accident at the airport when he reversed into a spike which pierced his hindquarters.
The first two annual runnings of the World Cup final, the culmination of 18 qualifiers in 12 countries, took place in Pau, France, and both were won by Sweden’s Linda Algotsson, who will defend her title this afternoon as last to go on Fair Dobbin.
Thirteen countries are represented in Malmo, and though Britain’s squad is probably one of the least strong, two members have made a promising start. Beanie Hughes, a wild card entry, is lying second on Duel in the 37-strong field on 49pen and Julie Tew is fifth on Sir Roselier on 50.7pen.
Beanie finished 18th in the qualifiers at Chatsworth and Burnham Market and jumped to the chance of a wild card entry. “I was originally meant to be riding at Hartpury this weekend so at first I turned the invitation down,” she explained. “But then I thought ‘Hang on: Hartpury or the World Cup Final? No contest!’ I am lucky that the owner of my Hartpury horse, Caroline Brooks, was so understanding.”
A new face on the British squad – though not for long as she’s about to take up Spanish nationality – Miranda Carey has spent 10 days travelling from her home near Malaga, southern Spain, where she runs at rehabilitation centre for horses. Miranda, for whom this is a real first taste for the big time, is ninth (53.3pen) on the Belgian bred mare Rinte Van D. She earned her place at Malmo by finishing fourth in the Portuguese qualifier in February.
William Fox Pitt completes the British squad on Judith Skinner’s Barbury Castle winner Ballincoola and does his dressage test later this afternoon. Other big guns include the crack Australian trio comprising Andrew Hoy, (Mr Pracatan), Phillip Dutton, (Nova Top) and viniculture student Olivia Bunn who has come all the way from Wagga Wagga Australia with her top horse GV Top of the Line.
None of the riders were able to venture an opinion on Per Magnusson’s cross-country course which runs next to the sea – and a nudist beach – because it has not yet been finished. As the competition takes place in a public park the course can only be assembled at the last minute.