Cross-country day at any 4-star event is always a cauldron of emotion. Riders, grooms, owners and even members of the press keenly feel the anticipation as we prepare for the part of eventing we all love the most.
As we prepare for H&H Live service in the press office, we wondered what sort of competition the day would bring, particular after course-designer Mark Phillips rang the changes with this year’s track. I am happy to report the result was sport of the highest order, some drama and no serious injuries.
Walking the course earlier in the week, I saw numerous places where an easy 20pen could be collected. In particular I couldn’t get my head around the Rolex Combination at fence 18 (pictured top), yet almost all of the riders who took on the direct route made it look easy. The exception to this was Astier Nicolas, who unfortunately came to grief with Quickly Du Buguet.
Discovery Valley proved influential in both directions as expected, but I certainly didn’t expect the Olympic planet fence to catch out as many riders as it did. Our hearts were in our mouths as we watched poor Tom McEwan try desperately to claw his way back on after Dry Old Party caught a leg on the fence. This seemed particularly cruel following his elimination from the Europeans last week. The eventing gods are not smiling on Tom at the moment.
Other riders to be caught out by this fence included Pascal Leroy, who was taken to hospital as a precaution after Minos De Petra left his front legs and dramatically tipped him off, and Jonelle Richards (The Deputy) and Marcelo Tosi (Eleda All Black) who both caught a leg but stayed upright.
My heart went out to Piggy French, who came off Westwood Mariner when he dropped his legs in the ditch jumping through Discovery Valley for the 2nd time. She is another the event gods do not seem to be favouring currently. Louise Lyons suffered a similar fate after Watership Down dropped his hind legs in the ditch, pitching Louise forward. As a result he stopped at the angled brush, and when re-presented had clearly lost his mojo and Louise sensibly decided to walk home.
But if the above suggests today wasn’t a positive day for the sport, nothing could be further from the truth. Andrew Nicholson produced another masterclass of cross-country riding – this time with 3 horses – and Jock Paget demonstrated his typical stylish dash that saw him win Badminton and Gatcombe. William Fox-Pitt had a great round on Parklane Hawk (my choice in the Rolex press office competition to win a hamper), and it was great to see Pippa Funnell on excellent form with the fragile Redesigned.
But for me the highlight of the day was watching the irrepressible Opposition Buzz going across country. I’m not sure if other people also experience this, but I can’t watch this horse without a wide grin spreading across my face. He clearly enjoys the job SO much and he absolutely ate up the course today with his trademark panache. If I was lucky enough to be able to take one of the horses here home, there is no doubt which one I would choose.