THE O’Donnell family staged the third and final affiliated event of the current campaign at their popular Hillcrest venue last Sunday. Once again, the fixture attracted a healthy entry from all corners of the country, with riders from the north and from the furthest south all winning classes.

They travel because they know they will find good, imaginative courses over prepared ground, and indeed over the past few years, organiser Rodney O’Donnell has upgraded the facility in all areas – efforts that come at not an inconsiderable personal expense. While these improvements are appreciated by the riders, O’Donnell is less than optimistic about the future.

Speaking frankly, he stated: “The margins of running these events get tighter all the time. There is so much work involved and so many expenses. The costs have really spiralled and people need to realise this. There are so many levies taken out, and everyone who comes on the day, including the vet and the farrier, all have to be paid. It gets increasingly harder to attract the volunteers, despite giving them free entries (which of course is another cost in itself) and at the moment I’m seriously considering giving up staging these fixtures. It’s a matter of facing up to reality, and I know a lot of other venues are in the same boat. Competitors can’t be asked to pay more – they pay enough as it is, and perhaps sponsorship, especially in the form of prize money, maybe the only way forward.”

These are strong words, and while they are disappointing to read, it is hoped that some resolution may be found to enable popular, well run events like Hillcrest to continue.

EI115 classes

Such is the appeal of the venue, Janie Cairns made her third visit from her yard in Newtownards, and was well rewarded when she landed an emphatic win in the open sector. Teaming up with her own Premier Charlie, Cairns shared the lead on the flat, and after adding just 1.6 penalties from the country and producing one of only two show jumping clears, she completed almost five marks in front of Casey Webb (Cecil Bready).

Cairns has owned the versatile Premier Charlie for four years, having earlier produced him for original owner Sharon Kelly. “We do a lot of show jumping and while he’s very brave across the country, it can take a while to get him settled for the dressage,” commented Cairns of the 10-year-old. “It’s always worth coming here, because you get good galloping tracks, good combinations and fences that don’t overwhelm them.” The Dominic Rice- (Premier Sport Horses) bred son of Touchdown is out of the point-to-point mare Councellor Cath (Oscar) and having racked up a consistent record at the level, will aim for the CCI4*-S at Ballindenisk in the autumn.

Just a little off the pace on the flat, Casey Webb produced a foot-perfect performance to fill second with June Burgess’ experienced campaigner Cecil Bready, from Laura Birley riding Bob Cotton Bandit. Just five ran.

En route for Jardy in France just 24 hours later, Sian Coleman and Maurice Coleman’s Kilroe Frolic gave themselves a pleasing last minute warm-up when winning the restricted division from the front. The Co Cork-based duo picked up a clear lead on the flat (26.8) and although they tipped a rail in the influential show jumping phase, they were slick and fast in the country. Coleman has taken a team of three horses to the French international – her first trip abroad since giving birth to baby Fred in May.

“It’s all taken a lot of organising at home to make things as stress free as possible,” she said.

“All the horses have had an easy time while I was off, and have been taken easily since, but it’s all coming together now. Frolic is a proper horse, and it’s a lovely feeling to be able to ride every mark in the dressage and nice to be rewarded with the marks. It was a fabulous track here today and ideal to have a good blow before he runs in the CCI2*-S this weekend.”

In second spot from flag fall, Blathnaid Boyd enjoyed a great spin with OBOS Mr Hullabaloo, while Joseph Murphy and Dstud Flirtation, who jumped one of only a handful of clear show jumping rounds, completed in third.