Hawke's Bay riders Melody Matheson and Maurice Beatson are among the favourites in the first round of New Zealand's premier showjumping series which begins in Hastings tomorrow.
The New Zealand World Cup League is part of an international series that culminates at the Longines Jumping FEI World Cup Final in Goteborg, Sweden, in April where the best from each league around the globe go head-to-head.
Tomorrow's class at the Hawke's Bay Royal A & P Show is the first of six being held around New Zealand, with riders counting just their best four scores. It's a solid field lining up to be challenged by the Roger Laplanche-designed course including Olympians, former series winners, New Zealand World Cup representatives, Olympic Cup victors and more.
Hastings' Matheson and Graffiti MH who won two World Cup rounds last year spearhead the 18-strong field. Matheson wil be looking for better than her third place in the last series.
"Graffiti is looking good and definitely ready for the World Cup start after her [winning] performance at Foxton last weekend," Matheson said.
"I am pretty happy with how she is going and confident we can pull off a good result."
Dannevirke's Beatson and Mandalay Cove have been jumping World Cup classes since December, 2016 and have twice been on the podium. The former Olympian has previously won the series and also represented New Zealand at the world final.
"We'll be hoping for a good one. Mandalay Cove is starting to get a bit more experience now," Beatson said.
Former Olympic Cup winners Lily Tootill of Karaka aboard Ulysses NZPH and Tokoroa's Claudia Hay aboard Euro Sport Centavos both have previous form that makes them dangerous although it will be Centavos' first World Cup start. Tootill and Ulysses NZPH won a grand prix start at the weekend and come into the World Cup in high spirits.
Te Awamutu's Emily Hayward and AP Ninja have nine World Cup starts to their credit, finishing all but one in the top nine and three on the podium.
Also on the card are Karaka's William Willis on Dollar Roll MS, West Melton's Harry Feast on Double J Bouncer, Tauranga's Lucy Olphert on Eve Saint Laurent, Waipukurau's Brooke Edgecombe on LT Holst Andrea, Auckland's Daniel Blundell aboard Lavello and Dannevirke's Logan Massie aboard Intellect.
First-time combinations in the opener are Gisborne's Fraser Tombleson and his home-bred mare Mea I, Oliver Croucher of Cambridge and Waitangi Wi Fi, Lucinda Askin of Ashburton and Portofino, Jasmine Sketchley of Whangarei and her stallion Bravado Ego Z, Elmo Jackson of Auckland aboard Fairview Animation who has been previously well campaigned at World Cup level in Australia, Helen McNaught of Taupo aboard her new mare Kiwi Bird and Aucklander Daniel Blundell on Athena NZPH.
Cantabrian Steffi Whittaker is on her World Cup debut aboard the stallion Eros K who has previously competed at this level with another rider, but not since 2016. Whittaker has only recently turned 18 making her eligible to start in the event.
"I am very excited, but we'll just see how it goes," she said.
Missing from the 2018-2019 series is last season's winner Rose Alfeld of Leeston whose horse My Super Nova has been out for most of the year after an injury in March and she has no plans to rush him back before he is ready.
Following Hastings, the New Zealand series will continue at the Egmont A&P Show (November 16-18), Feilding (November 30-December 1), Taupo's Christmas Classic (December 13-16), and the Central and Southern Hawke's Bay Showjumping Show (January 4-6), with the grand finale at the Waitemata World Cup Festival in Auckland (January 10-14).