Todd on laundry duty as NZ team settle in with ring of confidence

By David Leggat

Mark Todd is preparing for his eighth Games. Photo / Warren Buckland
Mark Todd is preparing for his eighth Games. Photo / Warren Buckland

He might stand among the greatest of eventing riders, and a key cog in New Zealand's ambitions to make the podium at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Rio, but Mark Todd does the chores along with everyone else.

"Mark did my washing today - Sir Mark, I should say - so that's not bad going is it?" Olympic debutant teammate Clarke Johnstone quipped yesterday.

Todd, 60, and preparing for his eighth Games campaign, which starts early tomorrow, responded that his role is to look after "the children".

So spirits are high among the New Zealand team preparing to at least match their bronze in the team event at London four years ago.

They like the set-up for their horses at the Deodoro Arena too.

"They've settled in very well. The stables are fantastic," Todd added.

"It's been very easy for them to settle back into a routine because the environment they're in is first class, the arenas they're working in are good, so couldn't be happier."

Todd, of course, is an old hand at this. His first Games appearance was in 1984 in Los Angeles. He won gold aboard Charisma in the individual event, then repeated it four years later in Seoul.

Todd's place in the New Zealand Olympic pantheon is beyond question.

He has been part of outstanding and average New Zealand teams, and pointed out there had been some teams in which the stronger riders were balanced by those not quite of the same standard.

This time, however, he has given a thumbs up to the quality within the Kiwi quartet, also including well-performed Jock Paget and Jonelle Price.

"We're a very even lot, all have horses who have performed well at four-star level and all have been in good form for the last six months. That's the strength we have," Todd said.

Todd had a choice between two top quality mounts for Rio and has opted for 12-year-old gelding Leonidas II.

Price, who also had to split two strong contenders, opted for 11-year-old Faerie Dianimo, on whom she has a string of solid results, while Paget will be aboard 16-year-old Clifton Lush and Johnstone will ride Balmoral Sensation, on which he placed third at the Adelaide four-star event late last year and fifth at the Badminton four star event this year, in a timely nudge to the Olympic selectors.

Paget is chuffed to be back in the big time, and has put his doping dramas of three years ago well behind him. He was rubbed out of victory at the Burghley trial in 2013 when his horse, Clifton Promise, failed a doping test. Paget got his name cleared after a lengthy battle and is now out to put his best foot forward.

"I had to become resilient because there were a lot of things being thrown around.

"I learned a lot, I had to do things I'd never done before. I had to use my brain in a way I hadn't done before, which was good for me."

The heat may be a factor in the opening dressage phase, but Paget said he would prefer a late start.

"Temperature-wise an early start would be best, but you prepare your horse around it.

"Normally the higher marks come out towards the end of the day and if it's hot I just won't work my horse too much and save him for the ring."

Barring some unforeseen setback, New Zealand will be expected to be among the serious contenders in Rio.

Germany, spearheaded by world No1 Michael Jung, will be favourites, while Britain, who have quality performers in William Fox-Pitt and Pippa Funnell leading their challenge, France and Australia should also be fancied.

The heat may be a factor in the dressage part of the equestrian test which begins early tomorrow and Paget said he would prefer a late start.

"Temperature-wise an early start would be best, but you prepare your horse around it.

"Normally the higher marks come out towards the end of the day and if it's hot I just won't work my horse too much and save him for the ring."

The cross-country phase is not expected to be as challenging as the likes of Burghley or Badminton.

"If you want to be competitive it will probably be quite a difficult course but if you want to play it safe to make sure you get home, or you and your horse aren't up to it, then there'll probably be alternatives for them," Paget added.

Podium prospects

• New Zealand won team bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. Mark Todd, Jock Paget and Jonelle Price were in that quintet and back up in Rio. Andrew Nicholson and Caroline Powell were the other team members.

• The format has changed from London. This time it will be teams of four, not five, with the top three scores to count. Olympic debutant Clarke Johnstone rounds out the team.

• Germany will start favourites, led by the world's best rider, Michael Jung, but New Zealand are fancied to be among the podium challengers.

- NZ Herald

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