AT the time of writing, and with fingers crossed, the Eventing Ireland season will finally get underway at Tyrella and Crecora this weekend. It has been a difficult spring for everyone, so it is good to report that it is all systems go for next week’s opening international fixture at Ballindenisk.

Kicking off on Thursday, the popular event has attracted riders from 12 countries, with the individual deputation from Great Britain numbering well over 20 alone. Other nations represented include Australia, Canada, China, France, Japan, Italy, Hong Kong, Morocco and New Zealand, while adding to this competitive mix is a powerful contingent from Ireland.

Olympians Alex Hua Tian, Bill Levett, Yoshiaki Oiwa, Kazumo Tomoto and Giovanni Ugolotti are all travelling with a quantity of horses, as are top Irish internationals Padraig McCarthy, Joseph Murphy, Steven Smith and Sam Watson.


Despite the inclement weather, Peter Fell has reported that the ground is drying by the hour. “The weather has obviously taken its toll, but we are a well-oiled machine at this stage, so we’re managing away and forecast is good,” he said. “It’s been tough for everyone in eventing, but then think of the farmers with no fodder for their animals – this is a reality. The weather is what it is, it’s what we have to deal with and it’s tough out there. We have added more hard standing for the lorry parking and have adjusted the cross-country tracks slightly to suit.”

In the circumstances, and with so many cancelled events, Fell is delighted with the entry uptake. The introduction of the new arena some four years ago, has been a godsend, and has undoubtedly led to the number of riders travelling from abroad. “Very happy indeed with the entries, and there are still a few looking for qualifications, so we may yet have some more,” he added.

Out on track, there will be a few weather-enforced changes to the route and, while the first water will not be in use, there will be plenty to challenge. “With both the long and short formats acting as Olympic qualifiers, the FEI are putting pressure on everyone to ensure that the courses are up to level,” Fell explains. “The ground dictates at this time of year too, but there is certainly enough out there.”

Fred Scala on his own Everon Vivendi was 16th in the prestigious Grantham Cup CCI4* at the Thoresby Park Spring International. The pair will be hoping for a good run at Ballindenisk Spring International \ Equus Pix


Moving on to the competition proper, there are generously sponsored long and short format classes at four-, three- and two-star level, as well as the Jod Z-supported CCIP2-S pony class and the Johnson and Perrott CCI*Intro. The feature CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S classes run under the banner of NutriScience, while Only Fitness gives its name to both three-star classes. Always supportive, SemaLease supports the CCI2*-L and Kiernans Garden Centre the two-star short.

The two four-star classes are obviously the highlight of the weekend and, as usual, the short format has attracted more entries than the long. As the feature class however, the NutriScience CCI4*-L will be a highly competitive affair and, with a field of 14 runners, looks very open.

A trio of Irish riders, Fred Scala, Lexi Kilfeather and Robbie Kearns, all hold entries and, as the most experienced combination of the three, Scala and Everon Vivendi will be hoping for a good run. The pair enjoyed a successful start to the season at Thoresby Park recently and, consistent in both jumping phases, will be hoping for a good test on the first day.

The main opposition is likely to come from the strong Japanese contingent, and especially from Kazumo Tomoto, who teams up with By Design JRA. Winner of the same class 12 months ago, under former rider Wills Oakden, the Zangersheide-bred 11-year-old could be one to watch.

Compatriots Ryozo Kitajima and Yoshiaki Oiwa have racked up recent four-star placings with Corona Extreme JRA and the former Pippa Funnell Burghley winner, MGH Grafton Street and could also be there or thereabouts.

Joseph Murphy, pictured on Barrichello, winner of the EI120 at Ballindenisk (2) last July, has three runners entered for Ballindenisk Spring International \ Equus Pix

High-class field

Sporting a start list of over 40 horses, the NutriScience CCI4*-S boasts a high-class and another very open field. Batting for the home side, the Irish senior riders are out in force, with Joseph Murphy leading the field with three runners. Among these are Calmaro and five-star campaigner Barrichello and, although the former ran in Kronenberg last month, the latter will be having his first outing of the current campaign. Sam Watson is another yet to compete this year and, mounted on his five-star horse SAS Talisman and the younger Ballybolger Rocketman, will be keen to make an impact.

Certainly, those who travelled to Kronenberg last month will have an advantage and one who shone there is Padraig McCarthy, whose 10-year-old Pomp N Circumstance landed a very smart fourth place in the CCI4*-L.

Having also enjoyed good spins in Germany, Sarah Ennis and Felicity Ward have entered their previous championship horses, Grantstown Jackson and Regal Bounty, while Ennis has an added chance with the exciting Lady Action M.

Probably, however, the favourite will be the Australian pairing of Bill Levett and the former Sarah Ennis ride Sligo Candy Cane. Winners of the recent CCI4*-L feature in Montelibretti, they look the pick on paper, but in this high-class field, they have plenty to beat.

With both Olympic qualifications and team selections on the horizon, Ballindenisk promises to be a thrilling opener to Ireland’s international season.