TWELVE months ago, Peter Fell and the team at Ballindenisk were preparing for a pandemic-restricted international fixture, but as the country and indeed the eventing fraternity return to normality, next week’s showcase will welcome overseas visitors with open arms. Even the complexities of post Brexit travel has not deterred a healthy British contingent, as well as large number of riders from Hong Kong, and some from Japan, Italy, France, New Zealand and America.

“About a third of our entries are from overseas which is fantastic,” declared a buoyant Fell. “Pre-Brexit it would have been 50% but it’s great to see we are getting back there. The true international feel that our visitors give us is irreplaceable.”

Fell is also delighted with the entries as a whole, as well as the preparations out on track. “We’re well ahead of ourselves, which even gives us time to do the extras,” he reported. “We have had the perfect preparation, and the ground is fabulous.”

This April fixture is always an early indicator of form, and an important one for those charged with future selections. For acting senior team manager Dag Albert it will give him a timely opportunity to view the riders in an international setting and against international competition.

So, looking at the start lists, there is a wide array of talent on display.

The feature NutriScience CCI4*-L fields 15 entries, among which are the Japanese duo of Kazuma Tomoto and the Irish-bred Brookpark Vikenti. One of the most experienced combinations in the field, the locally bred son of Master Imp has competed at five-star level and as a former visitor to Ballindenisk, was runner-up in the CCI4*S three years ago. Ireland has just two representatives, both of whom could make an impact. First up, and with similar mileage at the top level is Jo Breheny’s LEB Lias Jewel, who, with Cathal Daniels on board, was placed ninth in the five-star showcase at Luhmuhlen last year. The other likely to have an influence is Padraig McCarthy, who stepped up to this level with MGH Tokyo Phil at Boekelo last autumn.

Looking at the remainder, the British-based JP Sheffield could go well with OBOS Kiltar, as could Italian rider Giovanni Ugolotti who is double-handed with four-star campaigners Swirly Temptress and Duke of Champions. From New Zealand, Caroline Powell rides the Irish-bred Greenacres Special Cavalier, and this one could easily be a dark horse.

With 23 entries, the long format three-star looks intriguing and extremely open. It’s a hard one to call, but of the home side, Ian Cassells launches a strong four-pronged attack, among which is his recent advanced winner Master Point. Clare Abbott is another who holds good credentials with Mr Mighty and DHI No Fear, while from overseas, Gordon Murphy has competitive current form with BGS Star Attraction,

The similarly supported CCI4*-S has another large field, consisting of predominately Irish runners. Camilla Speirs makes her international comeback since giving birth to baby Tilly, while fellow Olympian Michael Ryan looks to hold a powerful hand with the experienced TR Kaygraf, Barnahown Cornhill and the younger Claragh Mountain. Never to be excluded, Cathal Daniels looks primed to score with Shannondale Mari, and from the comparative outsiders, Michael O’Toole could spring a surprise with First Obama.

Ian Cassells and Master Point (pictured at the opening Eventing Ireland fixture of the 2022 season at Blackstairs) are set to challenge in the NutriScience CCI3*-L at Ballindenisk International \ Louise O'Brien Photography

Super competitive

The remaining classes, both long and short format, also appear super competitive, as does the CCI2*S for ponies. The latter will be a big test for some of the younger contenders, many of whom will be tasting an international atmosphere for the first time.

Having built a fairly beefy track last year, specifically at the request of the Irish selectors, four- and three-star designer Peter Fell has toned down the severity this time around. He has included a few new combinations however, while the first water, which didn’t jump as well as planned last time, has been revamped and the troublesome step is no longer.

“We are consciously trying to revert back to the more natural style of building and by including more natural features,” explained Fell. “It’s a galloping track, but to try to steady them a bit I have added a few combinations to get the balance right and to make the time more influential.”

The two-star tracks will be designed by Dereck Hamilton, and the CCI1* Intro by Ray Doyle.

Fell is also delighted to report that the catering facilities will be back up and running, and will be sited both inside and out. The viewing from the Orangery will be enhanced this year and, in order to raise the atmosphere and make it more user friendly, the show jumping action will now take place on the opposite side of the arena than usual, reversing it from the warm-up.

While the timetable is due to be published soon, all classes will conclude on Sunday. The short formats show jumping on Saturday before they cross the country the following day, and vice versa for the long format classes.

Michael Ryan with Claragh Mountain (pictured here winning the NutriScience CCI4*S at Ballindenisk International September 2021) are among the entries for the NutriScience CCI4*-S at Ballindenisk \ Equus Pix Photography