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Other Sports - 25. August 2011.

Day 1-HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships in Luhmühlen

by Kate Green

German riders gave an exhibition of Dressage-riding to fill six of the top eight individual places and take a commanding lead in the team competition at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships in Luhmühlen, to the evident delight of their home crowd.

Sandra Auffarth (GER), 25, who sprang to prominence when finishing second in the HSBC FEI Classics™ at Luhmühlen CCI4* in June, was the big sensation on a hot sunny afternoon today, producing another exquisite picture of harmony and suppleness with the nine-year-old Opgun Louvo.

She earned a perfect 10 for her entry and halt from Ground Jury member Anne Mette-Binder (DEN) and finally wound up with the excellent score of 35.4 penalties.

“It’s the best mark I’ve had at this level,” said a delighted Auffarth, who has been riding the chestnut gelding by Shogun ll since he was six.

“At one point in the walk, I thought ‘oh no, don’t be nervous’, but he concentrated very well and was relaxed so I could ride him like I do in training. He has a very good character – he is like a pony at home.”

Auffarth added: “It was quite a surprise to be picked for the team, but perhaps in another way it wasn’t so unexpected, because we’ve had a good season as a combination.”

Auffarth holds a 0.6 penalty lead over Swedish team member Sara Algotsson-Ostholt, whose husband Frank, riding as an individual for Germany, will perform his test on Little Paint tomorrow. Keeping it in the family, Frank’s brother Andreas is currently in sixth place as an individual on Franco Jeas.

Algotsson-Ostholt’s performance, a personal best, on the home-bred Wega, was a timely boost to Swedish fortunes. The team is currently third, just behind defending champions Great Britain, but suffered a setback earlier this week when the strong combination of Niklas Lindback and Mister Pooh had to withdraw due to the horse suffering a minor setback.

Great Britain are on the trail of a record ninth successive team gold medal, but the campaign got off to a slightly shaky start when the normally very reliable trailblazer Nicola Wilson (GBR) forgot to rein-back after halting on Opposition Buzz. She was mortified afterwards, and described it as a “blonde moment”.

Next to go for Britain, Piggy French (GBR), the European silver medallist in 2009, recovered ground with a pleasing test on Jakata, her Badminton (GBR) runner-up, but said that her mark “could have been five penalties better”.

As Ground Jury President Nick Burton (GBR) commented, the standard of Dressage has already been very high.“There have been some major highlights and well-executed movements,” he said – but competition should hot up seriously tomorrow.

Germany’s remaining team riders, Ingrid Klimke and World Champion Michael Jung are yet to come, plus Britons Mary King and William Fox-Pitt, Ireland’s anchorman Sam Watson, Belgian stalwart Karin Donckers, plus the talented Italians Susanna Bordone and Stefano Brecciaroli.

German pathfinder Andreas Dibowski, who is currently seventh on the mare FRH Fantasia, makes no secret of his team’s ambitions. “We want to beat the Brits!” he said.

“But if we are to do that, then all four of us must be able to say on Sunday that we have produced our best possible performances. Aachen (the recent CIC3* when two German riders refused across country) was a good experience for us and shows that anything can happen.

”The familiar site at Luhmühlen has had a major facelift, thanks to major local investment, with smart new buildings and an all-weather arena. Technical Delegate Tom Ryckwaert (BEL) said: “The riders have said nothing but good things.”

Eleven nations are fielding teams for this historic 30th running of the European Championships, but the question is: can Germany at last win team gold on home ground? Whatever happens, it is certainly shaping up to be one of the most thrilling championships yet.

HSBC FEI European Eventing Championships, Individual standings after first day of Dressage:
1 Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER*) 35.4 penalties

2 Sara Algotsson-Ostholt/Wega (SWE*) 36.0
3 Dirk Schrade/King Artus (GER) 36.7
4 Piggy French/Jakata (GBR*) 40.4
5 Julia Mestern/FRH Schorsch (GER) 40.6
6 Andreas Ostholt/Franco Jeas (GER) 42.5
7 Andreas Dibowski/FRH Fantasia (GER*) 43.8
8 Julia Krajewski/After the Battle (GER) 44.4
9 Virginie Caulier/Nepal de Sudre (BEL*) 49.6
10 Marco Biasia/Tatchou (ITA*) 49.8
(* denotes team member)

Team standings
1 Germany, 79.2; 2, Great Britain, 93.1; 3, Sweden, 97.7; 4, Belgium, 101.9; 5, Italy, 106.2; 6, Switzerland, 107.8; 7, France, 108.7; 8, Netherlands, 109.8; 9, Ireland, 111.4; 10, Spain, 135.4
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