BARBURY king Andrew Nicholson reckons his long-term companion Avebury deserves to lap up the praise after the pair mercilessly marched to a third straight trials title last weekend.
Nicholson had won the top CIC three-star prize with his trusty grey gelding two years in a row and last weekend, the New Zealand ace sealed a stunning hat-trick of titles as he finished top of the pile, cushioned by a dominant lead of 8.6 penalties.
A sublime dressage score of 34.8 – Clark Montgomery was the only other rider to go below 40 – and a clear showjumping round meant that the 52-year-old carried a lead of 7.8 into Sunday’s cross country phase, with Nicholson able to comfortably concede 4.8 time faults as he cruised to victory.
But the Marlborough-based star was keen to focus on the achievements of Avebury, who will have the opportunity to pull off another set of three consecutive wins at September’s Burghley Horse Trials.
“It was very good. Winning three times in a row is great but there wasn’t a lot of time to celebrate because we’ve been straight back to work,” Nicholson told the Gazette & Herald.
“Avebury did really well. He did a good dressage and showjumped very well, and then it was just a case of getting through the cross country.
“You still have to make sure that you complete the phases properly but the fact that we won very easily is really pleasing. It’s nice to do it at a local event on a horse called Avebury, with Avebury itself not too far away.
“He’s like an athlete and to consistently perform at top international level is a big achievement. Burghley is the next big one for him and it would be amazing to make it three-in-a-row with him there.
“Next week, I’ll be off to Aachen with Nereo – my other top horse.”
Francis Whittington on another grey, Easy Target, was 8.6 penalties behind in second spot, rising from eighth place after showjumping with one of the fastest rounds of the afternoon (1.6).
“I had an amazing ride,” said Whittington.
“The ground was good and the course was fun to ride. I now know I made the right decision at Badminton (to pull up) because he feels so well and happy.”
Nicholson’s Badgerstown-based countryman Sir Mark Todd, promoted to second place after the withdrawal of American combination Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen, went steadily on his New Zealand team horse Leonidas II to take ninth.
Highworth-based Aus-tralian rider Paul Tapner was one of only two riders to achieve the optimum cross-country time of six minutes 44 seconds – the other being Dauntsey rider Beanie Sturgis on Lebowski (17th) – and finished third on Yogi Bear Vlll.
“You have to go out of the start box meaning business here,” said Tapner.
“Yogi is exceptionally brave and quick and is something of a CIC specialist.”
Pippa Funnell, the 2011 winner, was fourth on Second Supreme ahead of her British teammate Kristina Gifford, fifth with a confidence-boosting round on her World Equestrian Games horse De Novo News.
Louise Harwood was sixth on Whitson, ahead of 18-year-old Emily King, who has only upgraded to three-star level this season.
King rode beautifully to finish seventh on Brookleigh and won the Horse Trials Support Group prize of £500 as the best British U25 rider.
The last 26 riders went cross country in reverse order, Dani Evans, lying 10th on Smart Time, Lucy Wiegersma (Mr Chunky, seventh) and Chris King (Billy Bounce, sixth) all having run-outs.
FOR MORE SPORTS NEWS, REPORTS & PICTURES SEE THURSDAY'S GAZETTE & HERALD AND FOLLOW US ON TWITTER @gazsport