As the trade stands threatened to blow away and rain clouds blanketed Blenheim Palace, Pippa Funnell and Ensign stormed round the cross-country course in one of the most stylish rounds of the day. The pair, who finished ninth here last year, completed clear with just 4.8 time penalties, and will enter show jumping arena tomorrow on a score of just 45.2 pen.
It was a toss up, according to Funnell, whether she would run Ensign at Blenheim or Burghley. But his performance on the cross-country course today has proven he is a true four-star horse in the making – according to Funnell he has matured a lot since last year. Ensign was originally bought by Funnell and her mother to have fun on before selling but has turned out to be a clever jumper and straightforward dressage ride.
WEG team members Daisy Dick and William Fox-Pitt also proved their cross-country prowess. Whilst 17 of the 59 starters failed to make it round the course Dick and Fox-Pitt both jumped clear rounds – Dick and Springbok IV clocked up just 2.4 time pen to move into second place and William Fox-Pitt finished just behind on a score of 49.7 pen with Parkmore Ed as well as in 19th place with British Intermediate Champion Macchiato. “Macchiato has a bright future ahead of him,” William Fox-Pitt said afterwards, “And Parkmore Ed only came back from his owner in July and I’m very lucky to have him here.” Birthday Night, the third member of the Fox-Pitt Blenheim triumvirate, who lay in sixth place after the dressage, had an unlucky cross-country round. “He just slipped right round on his back end at the corners in the main arena and had a run out,” Fox-Pitt explained, “which was very expensive and unfortunate.”
Daisy Dick was extremely enthusiastic about her cross-country round. “Springbok IV was so up for it,” Dick said, “He was neat and careful and I am very proud of him.” After his performance today Dick is considering a Badminton run for him next year.
Over the last year Dick has been enjoying a blue vein of form on both Springalong and Springbok IV, her “little brown horses” but having returned with a silver medal from the World Equestrian Games, she is having to adjust to her position as one of Britain’s elite riders. “If I make a horlicks now people will notice,” she said, “I can’t go and hide behind a tree.”
Jeanette Brakewell remains in fourth position with Equinox Sidewinder on a score of 52.5 pen and leapt from 36th equal to seventh place on Running On Empty. But by far the most impressive leader board leap of the day was by Francis Whittington and Sir Percival III who have moved from 29th place after the dressage to fifth at the start of the show jumping. The pair were the only competitors to complete the cross-country within the optimum time of 10 min 42 sec (they finished in 10.17 sec), with Whittington dubbed “Schumacher’s brother”.
“I was glancing at my watch and knew I was in the time but when I came to the end of the course I didn’t want to take him out of his stride,” Whittington said afterwards, “If you can save yourself a second at each fence, you’ve already gained 30 seconds.” Whittington will be competing at Burghley next weekend aboard Oshkosh and admits that his Blenheim run has been “a good set up”.
For many others, the cross-country course proved a little more difficult. Joss Gray, Richard Waygood and Sarah Cohen had no choice but to retire and Louise Skelton, Pip Peters and Nick Gauntlett were eliminated. Jo May, who held second position after the dressage phase was relegated to 14th place after clocking up 18.8 time penalties with Faerie Vision and Kristina Cook and First Flight moved from 18th place to 44th after earning 20 jumping penalties and 19.6 time faults.
Meanwhile young bloods Daniel Sibley (19) and Simon Lucey (18) showed plenty of potential, both jumping clear to hold 32nd and 34th place respectively overnight. “It was a big enough track,” Sibley told HHO, “But I was quietly confident. He [Orbit Dancer] show jumped well at the beginning of the season and the ground is good so I hope tomorrow will be ok.” Sibley, who lives in Devon, has 11 rides at present and will be competing at Gatcombe 2 and Weston Park before the end of the season.
Pippa Funnell Ensign 45.2
Daisy Dick Springbok IV 48.4
William Fox-Pitt Parkmore Ed 49.7
Jeanette Brakewell Equinox Sidewinder 52.5
Francis Whittington Sir Percival III 56.3
Rodney Powell Major Sweep 56.4
Jeanette Brakewell Running On Empty 58.1
Louisa Brassey Bruce Rock 58.4
Neil Spratt (NZ) Hacka 58.5
Hannah Bate Valdemar 58.6