AS Millstreet celebrates 10 years of eventing, the Duggan family are preparing to host one of their biggest fixtures to date. Breaking records, next week’s showcase has attracted riders from 16 nations, while an unprecedented number of five teams will line up to contest the Irish edition of the FEI Nations Cup series. Staged as the third of eight legs, it is a real coup that the competition has drawn squads from Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand and the USA, as well as from the home nation.

While holding centre stage, the Nations Cup CCIO4*-S will, of course, run in tandem with the usual full range of classes, both long and short format.

The entry lists read like a who’s who of the sport, and it is especially pleasing to see recent Badminton victor Caroline Powell among them. Well mounted with a string of horses, the Kiwi Olympian will be joined by several compatriots, including Tim and Jonelle Price, Clarke Johnstone and Samatha Lissington. Millstreet will also extend a warm welcome to nine American riders, among whom are the on-form Caroline Pamukcu, Jenny Caras, Alyssa Phillips and recent Badminton runner, Cosby Green.

As usual, the British have entered in their droves. Emily King spearheads a contingent of over 30 riders and, while the overseas challenge is impressive, the home side is more than up to the task.

Speaking last week, Thomas Duggan commented: “We are thrilled with the level of interest and look forward to welcoming everyone next week. As it has been for everyone, the spring has been a difficult one, but we are hoping the weather will soon dry up again.”

Although the deadline has passed for Olympic team qualification, the squads from Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, the USA and Ireland will be out to make an impression. The two antipodean nations look particularly strong, with possibly Australia appearing to have the edge. Looking at the home side, team coach Dag Albert will have a sizeable and interesting Nations Cup pool to select from. Several of the senior squad riders hold entries and, while riding plans are likely to change, Joseph Murphy, Ian Cassells, Robbie Kearns and Jenni Kuehnle could be among the front-runners. Alternatively, Albert has depth at his disposal, and may well opt to experiment with some less experienced combinations.

Lending an added element to the competition individually, several riders are still seeking to cement their own Paris qualifications, and will feature among the 66 runners due to take part. It is hard to pick a favourite for the top honours, but of those with recent international form, New Zealander Clarke Johnstone stands out as one to watch, as does his compatriot Jonelle Price, the American ace Caroline Pamukcu and, from Ireland, Joseph Murphy with Calmaro.

As usual, top designer Mike Etherington-Smith will be at the helm for the three and four-star classes, while our own Paul Brady is responsible for the two and one-star sectors. Staying true to his underlying philosophy that a course is a jigsaw and that every piece needs to fit together, the imitable Etherington-Smith has made a number of changes to the tracks. The course will run in the reverse direction from 12 months ago, but the route and degree of difficulty will be largely the same.

“While it will be a true four-star, I’m very mindful that for some riders this will be a prep run for Paris and that they will be looking for a positive run,” he explained. “We have come up with plenty of new ideas and lines, but at the same time, we will be using the usual Millstreet features. This year – and for the first time - the ringfort will be jumped in the opposite direction and we will have different fences at the Lime Kiln.”

Wide selection

The broad selection of classes on offer has been a strong appeal and, as a result, all nine international classes are well supported. One of particular interest to eventing aficionados is the Coral Cove CCIYH2*-S for six and seven-year-olds. Giving valuable pointers towards Le Lion d’Angers selection, there are 30 entrants to date.

This year, the four and five-year-old horses will be catered for in the form of Ireland’s sole Burghley Young Event Horse qualifier. Places in the final at Burghley in September are coveted and, with international judges in charge of the proceedings, the competition will be strong.

Aside from the CICO4*-S, the remaining full quota of classes include a CCI3*, CCI2* in long and short formats, as well as a CCIP2*-L for ponies. In addition, there will be short format class at Intro level.