THE Tokyo Oympics will not open until next July but rider Hazel Shannon is beginning to loom large as a candidate for Australia's equestrian team.
Last week she broke new ground to seal a three-peat in the Adelaide Three-Day, Australia's premier eventing competition, riding Willinga Park Clifford after equally exciting victories in 2017 and 2018.
Their triumph has hoisted the pairing to a lofty spot as the fifth horse and rider in the world to win the same eventing competition on three occasions and the first from the Southern Hemisphere to do so.
"It's all pretty surreal," Ms Shannon said.
"Ten years ago I could never dream of competing, let alone winning the Adelaide Three-Day, three times in the past four years. I don't think it's sunk in yet."
While she had only the highest compliments for her horse, Ms Shannon said she was very grateful to Terry and Ginette Snow, Willinga Park, who bought Clifford when the horse was seemingly set for a life elsewhere.
"Buying Clifford was absolutely the right thing to do," Mr Snow said.
"Hazel is dedicated and hardworking and has shown that she has the making of an Olympian. Pair that with the soundness, tenacity and reliability of this Australian-bred thoroughbred and they are the making of an Olympic combination.
"This is a great next step for Hazel and Clifford's Tokyo dream. We believe she should be on the team representing Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics."
In Adelaide, Ms Shannon and Clifford scored 69.29% in dressage, which converted to 30.70 penalty points. Coupled with a clear and under-time cross country round on a testing 5-star course and a competent showjumping round gave them a 7.2 penalty win over runner-up Stuart Tinney. an Olympian.
Horse and rider will fine tune their Olympic quest with trainer Heath Ryan plotting a path to the Sydney International Three Day event in April 2020 after which the team for Tokyo will be chosen.