Equestrianism: Smith rates television package as `farce'

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The Independent Online
THE INTERNATIONAL Equestrian Federation's new made-for-television show jumping package, which has introduced a pre-qualifying contest the day before all Western European World Cup qualifiers, was given an emphatic thumbs down at Millstreet in County Cork last weekend.

The riders dislike it - Robert Smith described the package as "a complete farce" - and the shows don't want it. "The imposition is terrible," Noel C Duggan, who organises the Millstreet show with his son, Thomas, said.

Katie Monaghan Prudent, of the United States, felt that the formula made for two unsatisfactory competitions. The pre-qualifier is dull, because nearly every rider is more concerned with getting though to the next round rather than winning. The World Cup contest is limited to 20 riders and, according to Monaghan Prudent, "is over before anyone's had a chance to buy some popcorn". Whether this makes for great television, which was the intention behind the changes, must be debatable. It can only be short- sighted to overlook what is best for the paying public who, after all, are the ones who create the atmosphere.

"We had the package rammed down our throats and were conned into taking it," Peter Charles, Ireland's former European champion, said at the weekend. "In hindsight it's not a good system. In future we ought to get all the show organisers and the riders together and then tell the federation what we're going to do."

Spectators are likely to feel short-changed if their national heroes are missing from the Saturday contest, which can all too easily happen if their horse makes a single error in the pre- qualifier. That point was proved by Robert Smith at Millstreet. The Briton was one of the few who actually tried to win the Friday class, which is judged on time in the first round. Having finished three seconds faster than the winner, Smith failed to qualify when Senator For the Best tapped a brick out of the wall.

Michael Whitaker's stable jockey, the 22-year-old Irishman Billy Twomey, had even more reason to feel aggrieved. Among the early starters in a field of 58, Twomey jumped a polished clear round on Huntingtown only to be pushed out of the top 20 places by a margin of 0.03sec.

This was doubly frustrating for Whitaker, who had wanted to jump at Millstreet but was prevented from doing so because of an agreed boycott from the top 25 riders on the world rankings. Whitaker arrived at the Irish show to support Twomey, only to find that he was also out of the Saturday contest.

The boycott was made as a protest to the federation, who had agreed (according to John Whitaker and a statement put out by the International Jumping Riders' Club) to adequate compensation being made in the form of increased prizemoney for riders having to jump an additional World Cup course. The boycott was applied to shows at Millstreet, Oslo and Helsinki where the prizemoney was deemed insufficient. Nobody, however, seems to know where the extra money should come from.

Noel Duggan said that running last weekend's show will have cost his family some pounds 50,000. The costs include a franchise fee of pounds 12,500 to the federation and around pounds 75,000 to fly 40 horses from Europe. "If the horses had to make two boat trips to get to Ireland, nobody would come," Duggan said.