Hillcrest \ Sally Parkyn

HAVING enjoyed a full, if at times testing, spring season Rodney O’Donnell and his team at Hillcrest staged their third and final Eventing Ireland fixture of the current campaign. Since its inception back in 2019, the Co Limerick venue has developed hugely, and is now a popular and well-established addition to the calendar.

Due to varying external influences, Sunday’s entry not was quite as full as previous events but despite that there was plenty of competition in the 14 classes on offer.

Never one to sit back on his laurels, O’Donnell is constantly upgrading his courses and in the space of just a few weeks, had made several changes to the tracks. While they ran in the same direction, there was a new combination at the sunken road, and further tweaks elsewhere.

Drawing positive feedback from riders, the dressage was moved back to its original siting on the cross-country side of the farm. This is unlikely to become its regular home however, as O’Donnell is hoping to build something more permanent before next season.

EI 115 classes

Riders tend to return to Hillcrest with frequency, and despite the long journey from Co Wexford, one who holds a good record at the venue is Patrick Whelan.

Travelling with four horses, Whelan picked up four individual placings, the best which was a smart one/two in the EI 115 (O). Much to his delight, this honour fell to the veteran Footfall who now, at 18 years old has been with Whelan since his days in the Killinick Pony Club. As Whelan admits, the grey came with a certain reputation, but working together, the pair have progressed through the ranks, representing Ireland in the young rider’s European championships in 2017. His last win was four years ago, so Whelan was especially pleased, commenting: “It was a bit special because I have had him so long, and he’s probably not got long left in competition. However, he may go to Kilguilkey for the CCI4-S next weekend and while we take every day as it comes, he has never felt better and makes the time very easily.”

Indeed, the pair was the only combination of the four starters to return home without penalties, promoting them from an opening third place. Whelan also filled second of the quartet of runners with the chesnut Denis Finch Hatton, leaving the slightly slower dressage leaders Clodie Coen and Union Fortunas in third.

A far more competitive 12 riders went to post in the restricted division, and smoothly stepping up to the level for the first time, the top spot went to Alison Holden aboard Lates Eddie. Having impressed flatwork judge Joan Ahern to earn the only sub 30 mark (27.3), Holden added just 5.2 for time. This was a good result for the Co Waterford veterinary surgeon who, enjoying a great season, has patiently produced this son of My O My since buying him from Tom Fitzgerald as a three-year-old.

Chasing all the way, fellow vet Robbie Collins delivered a storming round in the country to record the only clear within the time but, hampered by four penalties over the coloured poles, he settled for second with Dunrath Navigator. The consistent pairing of Ruth Burke and SRS Mini Vendi filled third. Two picked up cross-country jumping penalties, while Emma Newsam (Kilcooley Michael) will be kicking herself for missing a fence.

EI 110 classes

Despite only having only themselves to beat, Aoife Goodwin-Boers and Sherwater could do no more than to record a smart double clear round in the EI 110 (O).

In line with Alison Holden and Lates Eddie, another duo to score at their first attempt at a higher level were Sian Coleman and Kilroe Frolic. Winners of the CCI1* Intro at Millstreet earlier in the month, they moved seamlessly into the tougher ranks, much to the delight of owner Maurice Coleman, who missed seeing the performance as he was on judging duties at Athlone show. The Sean Barron-bred son of Cavalier Land has now won four of his seven starts this season, and may now head for one of the Kilguilkey internationals. Leading from the front, and completing on her first phase mark of 25.5, Coleman headed Corentin Gautier (Chillout) as well as Peter Dillon with Thistletown Old Rock Chloe. The first three all protected their dressage marks, while just one of the 23 starters was penalised in the country.