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Horse Of The Year

By Diana Dobson

Expect a battle royale when the Aussies take on the Kiwis in the 2011 Horse of the Year test match on Friday night. Our trans Tasman cousins have put together a pretty strong team to bag bragging rights for the coming year.

Heading the team is George Sanna, who has ridden at two Olympics, three World Cup finals and one World Equestrian Games for Australia. While his recent years have been focused more on coaching, Sanna is a member of the 2011 national elite squad. He'll be bringing CP Aprilla, who is owned by himself and Charles Blinkworth. Brook Dobbin and the 11-year-old grey gelding Advisor are the next members of the team. This combination won the Australian World Cup league, despite the horse having its first World Cup start at the Sydney Royal in 2010, and also won the Golden Grand perpetual trophy for the most successful horse.

Dobbin is no stranger to success though, his horse Shine was the Victorian Jumping Horse of the Year for three consecutive years. Cathy Graham is the third member of the team. Her horse Divinci's Pride was fourth in the Golden Grand Award and she placed third overall in the Australian World Cup league. Graham, Dobbin and the last member of the team Julia Hargreaves are members of the 2011 national A squad. Hargreaves will bring the imported Indoctro gelding Vedor Z, who was the world champion six year old before he headed to Australia.

Hargreaves, who is also an accomplished dressage rider, has won both the New South Wales and National Showjumping Young Rider of the Year awards. She finished 11th in the Australian World Cup league. Stephen Lamb is the chef d'equipe. New Zealand's team for the test was not available before we went to print.

Horse of the Year Show director Kevin Hansen says the Australian team will be extremely tough to beat – even with the home ground advantage. The test is part of the $50,000 Silver Fern Stakes which was won by Australian Billy Raymont last year. He will be back to defend his title, despite not making the Australian team, and has found a bit of a purple patch of form since arriving in New Zealand. And he isn't the only Aussie lining up to pocket the prize money – there are a raft of other top combinations heading across the Tasman to compete at the show including Brett Warren aboard Cumo Z and Cheezy Z, Anthony Thomas aboard the Kiwi bred Levitation NZPH among others yet to be confirmed.

“The good news is that the Australians are committed to future tests at the Horse of the Year Show which can only be good news for riders on both sides.” Hansen is hopeful to extend it even further so that the best combinations from each country meet for two test in New Zealand and two in Australia But for this year, he expects the top Australian combinations to pose serious threats in the main classes of the show – the Bomac Norwood Gold Cup, the Century 21 Lady Rider of the year, the Silver Fern Stakes and the Bell Tea Olympic Cup. “Those are our big trophies and our riders are definitely going to have to pull something out of the bag to beat these guys.”

The showjumpers aren't the only lot hosting internationals at the show this year – the mounted games crew are hosting the Southern Hemisphere Championships – between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia – at the show. New Zealand won the inaugural champs last year in South Africa and they're pretty sure that with the home ground advantage, they'll be sitters to successfully defend their title.