The British Festival of Eventing at Gatcombe this weekend had been widely expected to produce some new faces in the frame, as the absence of several Athens- bound top riders meant that some of Britain’s exciting young riders were given a serious chance to shine.

And shine they did. Both the Intermediate and Open Championships saw thrilling finales in the cross country phases this afternoon, with a host of new and young faces taking the honours.

Cumbrian youngster Ruth Friend was crowned British Open Champion in magnificent style. She had started her campaign in a very efficient manner yesterday, leading both the Intermediate and Open Championships by significant margins after the dressage, and although matters didn’t go quite according to plan in the Intermediate, good fortune held fast in the Open, and she was able to capitalise on her head start, never relinquishing her lead.

The World Class Start and Potential rider won the Intermediate Championships here two years ago with this horse, and although she claims that she has “been making her way quietly up the grades” with Two Thyme, they have an impressive record of finishing in the money.

“I started with him as a novice,” she says. “This is our biggest win, although we’ve been placed on several occasions. I’m hoping we’ll be heading to Burghley, and then we’ll see…”

Last to go, Ruth eased British eventing fans’ pain, knocking Australian rider Sammi McLeod from the top spot. The New South Wales rider, who is the Athens second reserve, has had considerable success with Enchanted II, finishing 16th at Badminton this year, and has bounced back from her disappointment at not being part of the Australian Olympic team.

“I picked up this ride just twelve months ago, and since then we’ve been third at the Adelaide four star and we had a good result at Badminton. We’ll be heading to Burghley before heading back to Australia,” says the 27-year-old.

In the Intermediate, meanwhile, there were two relatively unknown names gracing the top spots. Cheshire-based rider Laura Fortune added a mere 2.4 cross-country time penalties to her dressage score of 36.0 to take the title.

Laura had thought that Hallo Again was too “flashy” for her but her mother insisted she buy him when the horse was just four years old. Since then, she has produced him slowly.

“He had in fact qualified for the open today, but I thought that since he’s only nine, I’d run in the intermediate,” says Laura.

“He’s a very special horse, and I really haven’t wanted to rush him, but today he felt ready to really go for it. He absolutely wasn’t phased by anything!”

Oliver Smith, a mere 20 years old, spends his mornings riding for a racing yard, which put him in good stead to produce a gutsy round this afternoon, and although less than one penalty split the next four places, he squeezed into second with The Magic Moment.

Oliver has been long-listed for the Young Rider Europeans at the end of September with two horses, of which The Magic Moment is one. They face final trials at Henbury Hall in two weeks time, but today’s performance will certainly have made an impression on the selectors.

British Open Championships, final results:
1. Two Thyme (Ruth Friend) 28.8
2. Enchanted II (Sammi McLeod AUS) 36.5
3. Comanche (James Robinson) 40.0
4. Shaabrak (Lucy Wiegersma) 40.8
5. Internet (Kate Hewlett NZL) 43.0
6. Osh Kosh (Francis Whittington) 44.7

British Intermediate Championships, final result:
1. Hallo Again (Laura Fortune) 38.4
2. The Magic Moment (Oliver Smith) 41.1
3. Ilroad (Rodney Powell) 41.4
4. Highland Loch II (Nicola Tweddle) 41.5
5. Slight of Hand (Matt Ryan) 41.9
6. Ferndale Ballyheen (Jo Chipperfield) 44.0

  • Hitherto, only two horse and rider combinations have succeeded in finishing within the Open Championship cross country time – William Fox-Pitt and Stunning and Irish rider Pip Peter. But today, Francis Whittington, who has enjoyed such success here this weekend, sped round on Osh Kosh and added his name to that list.