By Diana Dobson 

The nation’s best showjumpers are Hawke’s Bay bound this week for the opening round of the Bayleys Real Estate New Zealand League of the FEI World Cup Series.

It’s the highest-ranked series run in New Zealand, and always attracts the cream of the crop with the overall winner having the opportunity to represent the country at the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Paris next year.

It’s always a hotly-contested series, with plenty of interest in the opening round as some combinations step up for their first shot at the big league.

Australia based Katie Laurie has crossed the Tasman for the opener, being held at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Show in Hastings.

The six-time winner – and New Zealand’s best-performed at a World Cup Final with her sixth equal placing – has two entered for Friday.

She lines up her well performed 12-year-old mare Breeze, as well as Carissa McCall’s New Zealand-bred warmblood Esteban MVNZ.

“I was coming back (to visit) and it seemed a good idea to do a show as well,” said Laurie. “Mum, Dad and Tash (Brooks) have been keeping Breeze in work but I won’t be pushing her if she isn’t fit enough. I will just see how she jumps on the first day of the show.”

She is expecting Esteban, who she is riding while McCall recovers from injury, to be fit and ready to go. The 10-year-old has had five World Cup starts, with his best effort a second at Taupo with McCall.

It is the first time in seven months Laurie has been back to New Zealand.

“I am happy to be back but I do love it in Australia, it really feels like home.”

She’s looking forward to some good jumping at Hawke’s Bay.

Also in the mix on Friday are former series winner and World Cup finalist Maurice Beatson (Dannevirke) who has Mandalay Cove and Schimmel Warrior entered. Beatson usually has several horses in the series and is almost always inside the top 10, and often on the podium.

The homebred Mandalay Cove had three World Cup starts last season, while Schimmel Warrior made his début in 2011 and has been solid ever since.

Rio eventing Olympian Clarke Johnstone (Matangi) makes his first foray into World Cups with Quainton Labyrinth. Johnstone was New Zealand’s best placed individual at Rio with his sixth place and he’s made no secret of his desire to chase similar honours in showjumping.

Lily Tootill (Karaka) and Ulysses NZPH, the current holders of the Olympic Cup, will be looking to back up their excellent début season of 2016-2017 that saw them notch a win, two fifths and a six in their five starts.

Young gun Emily Hayward (Te Awamutu) and AP Ninja are back after two starts last year, that saw them place fourth and eighth, as is Samantha Morrison (Tauranga) with Biarritz who holds the honour of winning his first-ever World Cup start in Hawke’s Bay in the 2015-2016 series. The chestnut is very consistent and rarely out of the top 10 from his 12 starts.

There are a number of first-timers lining up – Geordie Bull (Taupo) aboard Forest Hill . Lucy Olphert (Tauranga) on Eve Saint Laurent, Melody Matheson (Hastings) and Graffiti MH, Robert Steele (Dannevirke) on LT Holst Bernadette and Brooke Edgecombe (Waipukurau) aboard LT Holst Andrea.

Olphert heads to Hawke’s Bay on a high after a win in the grand prix at the Poverty Bay A&P Show. Bull’s Forest Hill may be on début at this level, by the rider has done the miles before – albeit decades ago.

Steele is no stranger to World Cup level either – he’s won the series final and was constantly in the money with the lovely Gospel.

Matheson’s Graffiti MH is new to the World Cup but the rider has had one previous start in 2014, as is the case with Edgecombe.

Daniel Blundell (Auckland) and his former eventer Lavello did a couple of rounds last season, while Rose Alfeld (Leeston) and My Super Nova had their first start in October 2015 at the season-opener in Hastings.

Mathew Dickey (Taranaki) and Quango did five rounds last season and placed third in the final. Tess Clark (Gisborne) and Sinatra II had their first taste of World Cups last season too and managed a fourth at Taupo. Lucy Fell (Longburn) and her 19-year-old former racehorse Tinapai did their first World Cup in 2010 and have two wins to their credit. They are often in the top 10.

Samantha Peters (Whangarei) and Zabambi did their first World Cup together last season, but the rider has previously competed at this level aboard Likeable NZPH back in 2009.

The New Zealand league has seven qualifiers – Hawke’s Bay (October 20), Waikato (November 7-12), Hawera (November 17-19), Feilding (December 1-2), Taupo (December 14-17), Dannevirke (January 5-7) and the final at Waitemata (January 9-14).

Just the four best rounds will count for each rider. Combinations with no penalties in the first round of two selected FEI World Cup events, can gain their qualifier for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.

The Bayleys Real Estate Hawke’s Bay Championship World Cup Qualifier is set to start at around 3pm on Friday, with South Islander Roger Laplanche tasked with designing the course.

The event will be livestreamed thanks to JX Live. You can watch the action via this link. 

WHAT: The Bayleys Real Estate Hawke’s Bay Championship World Cup Qualifier

WHERE: Hawke’s Bay A&P Show, Hastings

WHEN: October 20, 2017