The Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park this weekend is destined to be an exciting competition with 11 members of Britain’s 12-strong senior squad competing in the British Open Championship. With only a month to go until the European Championships at Blenheim, the squad members will be determined to prove they are on top form.
Of the squad members only Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt, who make up half of Britain’s European Championship team are the only two to have won the coveted British Open title. However, their team mates Leslie Law and Jeanette Brakewell admit the Gatcombe title is an accolade they would dearly love to win. Last year the quartet were all forced to miss Gatcombe due to the Athens Olympics.
Reigning Olympic Champion Leslie Law has entered his three best horses Shear H20, Shear L’Eau and Coup de Coeur and Jeanette Brakewell will be riding Over to You.
Pippa Funnell will be competing team horse Primmore’s Pride as well as Ensign, a runner-up at Boekelo last year, and Fox-Pitt has entered Moon Man, winner of the title in 2000 and Ballincoola, on whom he won last month’s debut Barbury Castle CIC.
Other former British Open Champions include Mary King (Call Again Cavalier) who has won the national title a record four-times, Australia’s triple Olympic gold medallist Andrew Hoy (Master Monarch), New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson (Henry Tankerville and Lord Killinghurst), and the defending Champion Ruth Edge (neé Friend) who will be partnering Muschamp Impala.
Plenty of young talent will be on show with Zara Phillips hoping for success in each of the three championships — open, intermediate and novice — and Italian riders Susanna Bordone (Ava, The Pink Panther II) and Vittoria Panizzon (Rock Model) making their British Open debuts.
Some major technical changes have been made to the cross-country course with a new look water complex and a variety of other new fences aimed at providing riders with a different challenge. With Gatcombe Park’s fantastic old terrain and fine weather forecast for the weekend, the going should be almost perfect.
“The nature of the cross-country course at Gatcombe Park and the event’s status always produces a wonderful competition, but, this year, with all the very best horses and riders available to compete, I think it will be truly vintage,” said course-designer Captain Mark Phillips.
A fantastic first prize secured from prestigious holiday company Venture Ski will ensure the competition is hotter than ever. In addition to the £5,000 first prize, the 2005 British Open Champion will receive a luxury winter holiday for four in the beautiful village of Sainte Foy, in the heart of the fantastic Isere Valley ski area in the French Alps. The prize includes chauffeured airport transfers, free ski pass and equipment hire and luxury accommodation including sauna, hot-tub and 10-metre swimming pool.
A programme of entertainment will take place in the main arena throughout the weekend including the Shetland Grand National and a parade of racehorses, led by Hedgehunter. Fabulous shopping and exciting cross-country action in Gatcombe’s spectacular viewing bowl will ensure that the Festival is an exciting occasion.
Advanced Classes, sponsored by Cantor Index and the British Novice Championship, sponsored by Martin Collins and the Event Horse Owners Association, are on Saturday. The British Intermediate Championship sponsored by Dodson & Horrell and the showpiece class, the British Open Championship take place on Sunday.
The Box Office, which offers discounts on advance tickets is still open but tickets will be available on the gate. Children aged 12 and under are free. To book contact (tel: 0870 609 8013) or visit: www.gatcombe-horse.co.uk