Oliver Townend ran away with the plum prize of £100,000 when he won yesterday's inaugural Express Eventing International Cup on Flint Curtis, defeating Lucy Wiegersma on Shaabrak by an astonishing 42 seconds. William Fox-Pitt filled third place on Ballincoola.
However, instead of the anticipated climax, there was a sad finale when Mary King's Olympic mount Call Again Cavalier left the arena by horse ambulance.
Lying second after the dressage (and therefore second last to go in the combined show jumping and cross-country phase) Call Again Cavalier fell at a double of corners towards the end of the cross-country course. He was taken away for inspection, accompanied by the senior vet.
With show jumping and cross-country fences spread across the Millennium Stadium, the courses proved unusually confusing for the riders and only six of the 19 starters reached the end of their journeys. The remainder – among them the dressage leaders, Germany's Bettina Hoy and Springwood Cockatoo – were eliminated as a result of taking the wrong course, for falling or for three refusals.
Organiser Stuart Buntine, who had created the new competition, agreed that the fall-out rate was disappointing. "Riders aren't used to fences coming up so quickly," he said.
Even Townend, who stormed round on Flint Curtis, momentarily lost his way. "I was galloping at fence four backward," he said with a wry grin. Having gone faster than he had ever gone before, he was naturally hoping to retain his lead and collect the enticing prize."God knows I could do with the money," he said.
Wiegersma, who has also been runner-up at Badminton this year – "I'm good at coming second," she said – felt that the experience of riding dressage to music in the first phase had been particularly rewarding.
Like Townend and Wiegersma, Fox-Pitt also had praise for the organisers who had erected the cross-country course overnight after Saturday's international rugby. Fox-Pitt had a couple of hairy moments but praised his horse: "Ballincoola proved that he's a great, old pro by jumping those fences, but I definitely didn't deserve to win."
Express Eventing International Cup (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff): 1 Flint Curtis (O Townend, GB) 4min 25.01sec; 2 Shaabrak (L Wiegersma, GB) 5:07.99; 3 Ballincoola (W Fox-Pitt, GB) 5:10.72; 4 Ben Along Time(C Fredericks, Aus) 5;20.02; 5 Rock Model (V Panizzon, It) 5:37.08; 6 Lenamore (C Powell, NZ) 6:47.25.