JUST days after wrapping up their major show jumping festival, the Duggan family at Millstreet are opening their gates once again, and this time it is international eventing that takes centre stage.

The entries, which have swelled in the closing days, feature a host of overseas riders including British Olympian Gemma Stevens (née Tattersall) and recent Ballindenisk and Kilguilkey winner Kirsty Chabert. The latter pair are just two of 25 British riders on the entry list, while other names to catch the eye are Australian internationals Bill Levett and Sammi Birch. Now resident in Co Kilkenny, Gillian Beale King will ably represent the United States, while Andre Parro will fly the flag for Brazil.

Despite this notable overseas challenge, the home side fields a very competitive squad with many highly fancied combinations. With the varying autumn championships on the horizon, riders will be out to impress especially the Worlds’-listed riders Cathal Daniels and Sam Watson. Others with Le Lion d’Angers in their sights will be keen to have good runs in the CCI2* six-year-old class, which is just one of the nine event sectors on offer.

Due to the pandemic next week’s fixture will be the first August event for three years, which leads to the question whether it may also be the last. Despite the entries exceeding those of 2019, Thomas Duggan has already revealed that from next year, there will only be one international horse trials at the venue annually. It may be a difficult choice, but it does seem that the early June date appears the most favourable. “The date will depend on the outcome of this August event,” commented Duggan back in June. “We will see how things go.” Whatever is decided, next week’s fixture is set to be a good one, and with Mike Etherington-Smith’s at the helm of the highly acclaimed cross-country course, the action will be mighty. The track itself is due to run in the opposite direction from the route used in the spring, and as a result will have a totally new look. The feature Irish bank, loved by some but not be others, will make a return while there are also several new fences and combinations.

Open fields

The varying classes are probably as open as they have ever been, especially the CCI4*-L. As has been the recent trend, the entry of seven is modest, and any of the septet could be in with a shout. From the home side, Alison Holden (O My Balladeer), Sian Coleman (Hush A Bye Baby) and Michael Ryan (TR Kaygraaf) all have a live chance, while opposing them are four riders from overseas. Australian Bill Levett teams up with the slightly inconsistent RNH Tom Tom, while British riders Aaron Miller (KEC Deakon), Ali Wilkes (Social Butterfly) and Georgia Bartlett (Spano de Nazca) are all experienced at four-star level.

The better supported three-star long is equally open, with Gillian Beale King holding a strong hand with Ballyvillane OBOS. Never to be discounted, Ian Cassells appears a likely candidate with Shannondale Carmen, whose credentials are boosted by a seventh placing in the equivalent class at Kilguilkey just three weeks ago. Other combinations to catch the eye are Nicola Ennis with Out of Print, as well as Australian Sammi Birch (Jutopia) who was well placed at Aston Le Walls last week.

Moving on to the popular short format classes, the CCI4*-L has a healthy entry of just under 40. British Olympian Gemma Stevens could make an impact here with both her recent Hickstead eventing Derby winner Flash Cooley as well as the very experienced Jalapeno III. The latter was placed fourth at Blenheim last September, and could be the favourite. Stevens faces interesting opposition however, as Kirsty Chabert, who has been enjoying a glut of wins on Irish soil this season, travels with Kilguilkey victor Classic VI as well as her Ballindenisk-winning ride Opposition Aphrodite. Bill Levett will also be strong here with the smart Irish-bred Sligo Candy Cane, as will the Worlds’-listed Irish riders Cathal Daniels (Rioghan Rua and Shannondale Mari) and Sam Watson (SAP Talisman).

While the four- and three-star classes head the nine classes on offer, attention will also be focussed on the CCI2*YH for six-year-olds. Delivering a final opportunity to impress for Le Lion d’Angers selection, the showcase features most of the Irish fancied partnerships as well as those from overseas. Not to be outdone, the younger horses are also catered for in the popular Millstreet Eventing Discovery championships. Divided into sectors for four- and five-year-olds, the classes are both well filled. (See www.theirishfield.ie for full list of class entries).