THE hard-working team at Hillcrest certainly drew the short straw in terms of weather last Sunday, as rain and hail of biblical proportions fell unrelentingly throughout the day. This was the first fixture of the season at the popular Co Limerick venue, so it was tough on connections who not only had attracted a full entry, but who upgrade at every running.

“It was crazy stuff and not ideal,” commented organiser Rodney O’Donnell the following morning. “It started raining the evening before and never stopped. We were lucky in the fact that most of the fences had originally been built with all-weather take off and landings, and while these have since grassed over, the base was there and they held up well. Others we took out where necessary, which left the very wet patches mainly between the fences.”

After a discussion with the competitors, it was decided that all the classes would show jump on the sand arena. This did add to the length of the day, but it worked well and, in that regard special mention is due to the call up steward and amateur show jumper Katie Frazer, who was singled out by the riders for her diplomacy and efficiency on what was undoubtedly a difficult day.

While some classes were beset by weather related withdrawals, the vast majority of those who did run remarked that the horses galloped through the ground quite easily, and that the mud was not holding.

The next fixture is due to take place in a month’s time, and O’Donnell will be hard at work putting the ground back, and re-roping the track where possible.

EI 115 classes

Racking up an incredible eighth victory of the current campaign, and leading from the get go, Amanda Goldsbury comfortably landed the EI 115 (O). Riding Nichole Roden’s Blackstairs winner Fernhill Inspector, and adding just 0.4 to her opening score, Goldsbury completed a distance ahead of last year’s young rider squad members Heather O’Connor and HSH Has It All. The class cut up notably after dressage, with just five of the original 11 starters opting to run across country.

A more competitive 12 runners went to post in the following restricted division, and once again the first phase winner remained ahead of the pack. This honour fell to British-born Harriet Dinnis who, teaming up with the former Go For Gold purchase Ardeo Castleconnor, added time penalties to an otherwise foot-perfect performance.

“This is only his second run at the level,” she said of Tom Fleming-bred son of Sligo Candy Boy (dam by Cavalier Royale). “It took him a little while to get used to the mud in the dressage arena, and I purposely didn’t go too fast across country. In fact, I was on my way home when the message came through that I had won.”

Dinnis, who is based with Melanie Wrynn in Co Wicklow, is in her final year of accountancy, and is aiming to run in a CCI3* before the season’s end. The addition of show jumping faults denied any promotion chances for second-placed Patrick Whelan (Piltown OBOS) and also for Christine O’Donnell, who filled third with BGK Valentine.

EI 110 classes

Having been busy organising his own event at Crecora the previous week, Dominic Furnell swopped hats to win the EI 110 (O) aboard his own Bellcross Guy. The son of Loughehoe Guy was making his first run of the current campaign, and after producing one of just three double clear rounds, retained his early advantage to narrowly head the consistent Clodie Coen aboard Union Fortunus.

Despite a number of withdrawals, 31 riders took on the cross-country in the restricted sector and it was tight at the top. Flatwork leaders Meabh Bolger and the much admired MBF Back to Back picked up a rare cross-country penalty, while other well placed combinations added penalties in the show jumping.

In the end two riders shared the winning score with the nod finally going to young Co Galway rider Conor Leahy. Kicking off his best season to date, Leahy rode his own Urneypark Shutterfly, an eight-year-old he has produced through the ranks. Further from the optimum time but also double clear, Christopher Whyte piloted the Rosemary Ponsonby-bred Ladycraft into second.