Clarke Johnstone and Aces High showed their class and experience by putting in a faultless round and claiming the lead in the CCI4*L cross country at the Puhinui horse trials. “It was a very, very good round after number 7. He was pretty flighty to begin with – strong winds and the flags – he took a bit of an exception to that but after fence 7 I gave him a slap on the shoulder and told him to pull his head in! After that he was completely focused.”

When asked whether it was now Aces High or his Rio mount Balmoral Sensation (Ritchie)  who was top of his leaderboard Clarke said “Ritchie’s my number 1 guy! (but)  Aces is catching him up. I’ve had my two best dressage scores ever with Aces so that has to be taken into consideration, and he’s probably faster but on the big occasions there’s no substitute for experience and Ritchie’s got heaps of that – he’s travelled the world, he travels well, he ‘s still my number 1 pick but Aces is probably breathing down his neck.” Balmoral Sensation was not competing this weekend after a showing his fitness for Olympic selection through the spring events.

Overnight leader Amanda “Muzi” Pottinger held a narrow lead over Johnstone after the first day’s dressage with Just Kidding but had an early run out at a narrow (“skinny”)  fence and elected to retire. Monica Oakley and the relatively inexperienced Artist, having only their second 4* start, and the first over the longer format, “He stepped up for his first long format – I’m really proud of him!” And in third place Taranaki dairy farmer Matthew Grayling continued his good form in the dressage by also jumping clear inside the time to move up to 3rd from fifth. Only 5 of the 16 starters went inside the time over the Tich Massey course which most riders considered fairly challenging.

The three star class leaderboard changed with overnight leader Jonathan Paget incurring 4.8 time faults and dropping to 3rd. A fast clear round from Clevedon’s Angela Lloyd and Lyrical saw them rise from 5th to 1st  and Abigail Long from Levin, also clear inside the time, shot up from 11th to 2nd. The New Zealand Young Rider title being competed for in this 3* class is now lead by Rosa Millar and DSE Mister.

The top 3 places in the 2* class remained unchanged with Vicky Browne-Cole and Comanche II in the lead from Clarke Johnstone and Watermill Hadley, and Mosgiel’s Ella Morshuis  and World Famous. Ella also retained her lead in the New Zealand Junior Rider Three Day Championship competition. One show jumping rail in tomorrow’s final test lies between the top 5 placings so it could be a storming finish to a tough competition.

Front Image: Clarke Johnstone & Aces High, by Ian Fowler

Body Images: Jane Thompson