Members of the British European Eventing team are safely installed at Blenheim Palace ready for the FEI European Eventing Championships first horse inspections this afternoon.
Team mates Leslie Law, William Fox-Pitt, Jeanette Brakewell and Zara Phillips will be aiming to add another gold medal to the 18 Britain has won since the competition began in 1953.
The dressage phase will start at 9:30am tomorrow morning and continue throughout Friday, giving competitors plenty of time to walk to cross-country course. The 5,900m track has been designed by Olympic course designer Mike Etherington-Smith and includes 14 new fences and some new earthworks.
“The course is, I feel, the biggest, and most difficult seen at Blenheim and the intensity is greater” he explained. “There are less ‘let up’ fences and riders will have to think a little more as they are going round and make more decisions based on how their horses are going”.
If recent form is anything to go by, Britain’s squad is more than ready for the challenge. William Fox-Pitt is on flying form, having won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials last week and dominated the BE Premier League all season. Fox-Pitt will be partnering the trustworthy Tamarillo, on whom he was runner-up at Badminton this year.
Young talent Zara Phillips has a lot to live up to. Not only will she be wearing her senior flag for the first time, but she will be performing in the shadow of her mother Princess Anne, who was European Champion in 1971. Phillips finished second in Luhmuhlen earlier this year with her European ride, Cantor Index’s Toytown.
Following Coup de Coeur’s withdrawal from the Europeans due to injury, Olympic gold medallist Leslie Law will be partnering the 13yo Shear L’Eau on whom he won Olympic Gold and finished fourth in the British Open Championships at Gatcombe. “I am extremely lucky to be able to replace Coup de Coeur with the horse I won a gold medal on,” said Law.
Jeanette Brakewell is an extremely solid team member, having won seven consecutive Championships medals. She will be partnering Over To You. The pair finished sixth in the British Open Championships proving they are ready to conquer another European Championship.
There are plenty of overseas contenders threatening Britain’s chances of championship victory with 18 nations competing. According to the bookmakers, Germany poses the biggest danger. Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo have enjoyed wins at Luhmuhlen, Chatsworth and Fontainebleau this season and Ingrid Klimke (Sleep Late) and Frank Osthold (Air Jordan) are useful strings to the German bow, having joined Hoy in the top three at Chatsworth. The addition of Hinrich Romeike (Marius Voigt-Logistik) who was highest place German rider at Athens, only strengthens the German side.
The French and Swedes got off to a good European start, proving there is no end to their talent with a win in the inter-nation singing and dancing competition held at Blenheim last night. The French are fielding a good team this year with defending European Champion Nicholas Touziant partnering his Saumur runner-up Hildago De L’Ile. They will be joined by Olympic team combination Arnaud Boiteau and Expo Du Moulin who are usually very consistent and Jean-Lou Bigot with his striking half-trotter Derby de Longueval.
Sweden is sure to offer formidable opposition with Dag Albert (Whos Blitz) and Viktoria Carlerback (Bally’s Geronimo) both finishing in the top 20 places at the Malmo World Equestrian Final. Linda Algotsson (My Fair Lady) is a dual World Cup winner and Magnus Gallerdal (Keymaster) made a promising Badminton debut in May and was the best of the Swedes in Athens.
The Italian team is dominated by talented under-25 girls; triple Italian champion Susanna Bordone (Carerra), Burgie winner Vittoria Panizzon (Rock Model) and Lisa Deghe (Narciso 2) are likely to give the older riders a run for their money. They will be joined at Blenheim by Luisa Palli (Axial I) or Alberto Giugni (The Nightflight).
“The course is incredibly well built with lots of questions, mistakes will be easy,” said Panizzon after walking the course.
A formidable line-up of individuals will also be vying for championship success. Britain’s Polly Jackson and the 15.2hh Two for Joy will make their squad debut at Blenheim, as will Matthew Wright (Park Pilot) who finished second at Blenheim last year. Piia Pantsu, the only Finn on the eventing circuit, will be tackling Blenheim on the back of a third placing at Malmo.
Spectators will be able to watch all the excitement on the Horse & Hound sponsored big screen in the trade stand area. There will be a huge number of demonstrations and displays to watch throughout the course of the weekend as well as more than 180 trade stands and food tents. As usual the place to be seen will be at the Horse & Hound stand (no. 81) where a Frank Baines dressage saddles, a Jeffries Bridle, £500 of Harry Hall gear and a huge range of other prizes will be up for grabs.