Behind the scenes at Gatcombe

  • Everyone has an occasional stroke of luck. I had mine at Gatcombe this weekend. My purse must have fallen out of my bag (or I put it down somewhere – worrying, as it was found on the cross-country course). Either way, when I went to buy an ice cream it wasn’t there and after a mad scurry round the secretary and the police tent, it appeared no one else had seen it either.

    I resolved to cancel my credit cards and ask for a new purse for Christmas. But as I typed out the news of William Fox-Pitt’s Novice Championship victory on Navigator, I was informed someone had found it. Breathing a sigh of relief that a ladybird had walked over my keyboard (it did, I promise!), I collected the errant purse and continued to bash out the legendary William Fox-Pitt’s latest success story.

    A win and second place in the British Novice Championships – not bad for a day’s work. But what is the UK’s leading rider doing pot-hunting at novice level you might ask? The question was certainly plaguing me as I wrote up the story – until I met the Bart’s Ladies.

    Navigator is owned by Jane Walter and three friends who have clubbed together to become the Bart’s Ladies. Mrs Earle, Mrs Blanshard and Lady Talbot – Bart’s Ladies (Bart is Navigator’s stable name) – were ecstatic that their seven-year old horse was Novice Champion. They had got up at 4:30am to drive to Gatcombe and spent a fretful day watching their Australian bred youngster. And after his victory they cannot help but harbour a small hope he will one day run at Badminton or even the 2012 Olympics.

    Miracles do happen. I know this because when I later telephoned the person who had handed in my purse (she had left her number with the secretary), I had an interesting conversation with their housekeeper. “I’m afraid Lynn is not here,” she said, “Her horse has just won the Novice Championships at Gatcombe…” I couldn’t believe it. “Yes, she owns Navigator,” the woman continued, “It is funny – the last time I house sat for someone their horse won the 1000 Guineas.”

    So Lynn Earle had her stroke of luck that day as well.

    The Bart’s Ladies put my mind at rest surrounding a professional rider’s victory in the Novice Championship. William Fox-Pitt is a masterful horseman but the Novice Championship is as much about the horses and owners as it is about riders. The Festival of British Eventing is meant to be a showcase of eventing at all levels – and first-time owners such as the Bart’s Ladies and first time champions like Navigator are why Britain holds its position at the pinnacle of the sport.

    And if you were worried that I never got my ice cream in the Park Bowl on Saturday afternoon, fear not. My father gave me £10 last week and I’d slipped it into my camera case.

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