World Cup on the line

Liam Durkin

SOME of the best horses and riders in show jumping will converge on Sale Showgrounds for the Federation Equestrian International World Cup qualifier.

Saturday’s event will be the highlight of the Elms World Cup Show, which runs from today and across the weekend.

Riders will take their horses over a number of hurdles, as they jump, turn and gallop to complete various courses in the most efficient manner.

An estimated 400 horses will take part in the show, setting a new benchmark for an equestrian event held at Sale Showgrounds.

The World Cup qualifier will also feature a high calibre of riders, including all four current Australian champions from the senior, young rider, junior and children’s classes.

As well as this, homegrown talent will be on display. Sale and District Showjumping Club has 33 nominations for the World Cup qualifier, the most it has ever had.

Club president Gavin Chester said this year’s event was significant on a number of fronts.

“Last year was our first time back for a few years and that went pretty well, it sort of increased a bit, but this year it’s actually doubled, it’s really big numbers,” he said.

“The World Cup final is every year, and basically how it works is now we have 10 qualifying events within Australia, so they’re held in all different states, and after the 10 qualifiers, the one best competitor gets to represent Australia at the final.”

Riders from across the country will make the trip to Sale, and some have even been practicing at Chester’s training facility in Stratford in the lead-up.

Chester said riders who came to Sale enjoyed the experience.

“It’s one of the events that all the competitors look forward to,” he said.

“Sale is recognised as one of the big show jumping venues in Australia, it’s always been quite a famous one.

“The club has spent a lot of money on equipment, all our jumps, the way we do it, and the actual showground with the trees around, everything is in our favour.”

Speaking of money, there will be $140,000 worth of prize money on offer to the winners at Sale, which will also set a new record.

“We’ll have horses at the show that are worth $4 or $5 million each,” Chester said.

“On the world market, that’s just the sort of money they’re worth and people are happy to spend whatever they need to get the best horses they can.”

Chester has competed in equestrian at Olympic level, and experienced a somewhat surreal turn of events to eventually make it onto the biggest stage.

“Getting to the Olympics a lot of things need to line up, you to have a good horse at the right time and it needs to be sound and healthy and performing well as you do as a rider,” he said.

“I was pretty lucky, I got to go to the Sydney Olympics (2000)” he said.

“I actually first got picked for Moscow in 1980 when I was 20 but we didn’t get to go because the government wouldn’t let us (because of the boycott following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). So it took 20 years for me to get the opportunity to go again.”

Olympic equestrian events are unique in a way, as the athletes’ path to entry depends mostly on the quality of horse they have at their disposal.

“That’s why horses are so expensive, because there are families if they’ve got to pay $5 million for their daughter to go to the Olympics, they’ll do it,” Chester said.

“You know at any given time if you’ve got the right horse and a lot of times throughout the years riders have been capable they just haven’t had the right horse, so it’s quite brutal in that regard.”

To add to the prestige of the Sale World Cup, there will be Olympic qualifying events taking place.

“To get picked in an Olympic team you first have to get a certificate of capability and that’s done on a certain course with certain requirements,” Chester said.

“Our one at Sale is an Olympic qualifier, but you have to do it twice to make sure you can’t fluke your way through.

“You have to get a score of zero (scored by not knocking over any hurdles) and then do another one to get your certificate. And you have to get that before your own country is even allowed to pick you.”

With excellent weather forecast for the next few days, Chester encouraged people to head down to the Sale Showgrounds to check out the action.

“They are great days, it is world class and there will be millions and millions of dollars worth of horses there,” he said.

Entry to the Sale Showgrounds for the duration of the event will be free, with the World Cup qualifier taking place tomorrow from 4pm.