As the days grow shorter and temperatures drop on our side of the world, we turn to our friends down under (… where women glow and men plunder …) and the final CCI4* of 2017. A field of 21 will line up for the 20th running of the CCI4* at Adelaide’s Australian International Three-Day Event. Twelve of them have won an international in 2017 but there are a few stand-out contenders and we expect our winner to be among them.
We have never seen a back-to-back winner in the CCI4* at Adelaide, and 2016 victors Hazel Shannon and WillingaPark Clifford come forward with a strong shout to deliver the historic double for Australia.
Just two combinations have finished on sub-50 scores this decade in the CCI4* at Adelaide – Shane Rose with CP Qualified in 2015 on 49.3 and Chris Burton with TS Jamaimo in 2013 on 49.7. With Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation, the highest placed Kiwi combination from Rio, coming forward for their first CCI since the Olympics, we are set to see the record finishing score challenged.
While we have not seen Clarke and ‘The Snowman’ return to their 2014-2015 dressage form, when they delivered four consecutive sub-40 dressage tests at international level, their current average of 43.7 is still the best in the Adelaide field. We last saw Clarke and Balmoral Sensation at Adelaide in 2015, when they added 4.0 cross country time penalties to their dressage score to finish third on 54.1.
Since Rio they have had a quiet but successful 2017 season, winning the Kihikihi CIC2* in the spring and Takapau CIC3* in their final prep run. Show jumping has determined seven of the last nine winners of Adelaide, and Balmoral Sensation’s CCI show jumping record is spectacular. Aside from the second round in Rio, he has never had a rail down in 10 CCI completions, a streak stretching back to 2011 with Donna Edwards-Smith, who produced him from a young horse. If it comes down to coloured poles again, like it did at Pau, this is the horse to back.
But Clarke and Balmoral Sensation will have to fend off a strong attack from defending champions Hazel Shannon and WillingaPark Clifford. We have an intriguing form line taking shape if we compare Clifford’s 2016 and 2017 seasons. In 2016 Hazel and Clifford won three consecutive internationals to cap their season – Tamworth CIC3*, Goulburn CIC3* and Adelaide CCI4*. They have also won Tamworth and Goulburn in 2017. Is history posted to repeat itself at Adelaide?
Hazel and Clifford’s dressage scores have consistently dropped in their last four international runs, setting a career personal best dressage and finishing score of 45.1 last month at Tamworth. They have a rider fall on their record in their most recent CCI appearance at Melbourne earlier in the year, but with an 80% clear cross country jumping rate over the last 12 months, we expect them to deliver on Mike Etherington-Smith’s course.
The show jumping is where things get tricky for Clifford. While he jumped clear at Adelaide last year to win the CCI4*, that is the only clear CCI show jumping round on his record in nine completions over the three-day format. He is sitting on a 60% clear show jumping rate over the last 12 months. The final phase will be a pressure-cooker for the defending winners.
Clifford and Balmoral Sensation both won their final prep runs leading up to Adelaide, as did Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison with Sonja Johnson.
At 17-years-old Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison will make his fifth start in the CCI4*. With three top-10 finishes in his past performances at Adelaide, plus wining his most recent run at Capel CIC3*, he is absolutely one to watch.
Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison is one of five horses in the field with a sub-50 average in dressage, and he should be well positioned after the first phase to climb the leaderboard on cross country. A true speed horse with an average of 1.6 time penalties, Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison is the fastest in the field. Since 2008 we have seen the optimum time at Adelaide caught 18 times, and Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison accounts for two of those.
Ricker Ridge Pico Boo is one to watch in his CCI4* debut with Samantha Felton, coming off a win in the Takapau CIC2*. His dressage average of 45.4 is ranked third in the field, behind Balmoral Sensation (43.7) and Trevalgar II (45.4) with Katie Taliana. While cross country time penalties may prove to be a factor, Ricker Ridge Pico Boo is one of the highest rated show jumpers in the field with a 100% clear rate in 2017 from four runs.
This an Adelaide that is worth tuning in to. There is a big head-to-head battle between Clarke Johnstone and Hazel Shannon with lots of others hoping to spoil the party.
If you want to tell your friends how it will play out, expect Balmoral Sensation to lead the dressage with Trevalgar II also shining. When it comes to the big day, you can expect plenty of time penalties, but Sonja Johnson will be the star of the show. Her rides Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison and Misty Isle Valentino will be two of the fastest cross country rounds of the day.
The show jumping will bring the curtain down on the four-star season. Look to Balmoral Sensation, Ricker Ridge Pico Boo, War Hawk with Stuart Tinney, and Tasman Park Ovation with Andrew Cooper to deliver clear show jumping rounds.
If you want to start your writeup now, start thinking of ‘Snowman’ headlines.