William Fox-Pitt and Ballincoola took home the £5,000 first prize at the debut Maybach Barbury Horse Trials on Sunday, finishing narrowly ahead of Ireland’s newly-wed Sasha Stewart on All Love du Fenaud. Australia’s Andrew Hoy finished third on Mr Pracatan.
“Today Ballincoola relaxed and it was one of the best rides he’s ever given me, ” said Fox-Pitt. “It was his first run since withdrawing at Badminton with a fibrillating heart so I was very much listening to him and how he was going. I had Bettina and Andrew placed above me at the start of the cross country, so it never crossed my mind that we’d win.”
World Class Potential squad member Nick Gauntlett took fourth place and £1500 while Rodney Powell, who also won a prize for the highest place retrained racehorse, finished fifth.
There were just 5.3pen separating the top six riders, with Andrew Nicholson and Lord Killinghurst — the leader after dressage and show jumping — slipping back into sixth place after a stop and time penalties early on at fence 5, The Turning Love Seats.
Set on treeless, rolling downs, Mark Phillip’s expertly designed cross-country course included two water jumps — one complete with dolphin — and a picnic table with impressive carved owls. Designed with the spectator in mind, all fences were visible from the main pavilion.
Before the event Andrew Hoy said: “We, as riders, will have to be riding at our very best as just about all the cross country fences can be viewed from the main arena and the general public will see our every mistake.”
With competitors running in reverse order of merit, the competition made for good spectator sport and Phillips’ course stood up to the test, catching out a few of the top riders as they attempted tight lines and sharp turns.
The leader board changed dramatically within the last half an hour with Pippa Funnell falling at the Dew Pond and Bettina Hoy being unseated at the Earthline Quarry, a replica of Stonehenge with an intriguing combination of narrow upright, bounce, drop and wall.
“We believe in the reverse order format,’ said Phillips, “but whether or not we run it that way again will be a question for British Eventing.”
The most demanding obstacles were well spread out and the course made excellent use of the undulating terrain. Phillips was relieved that his course proved challenging but safe for the horses: “When you build a course for the first time on a new site you always take a deep breath”, he said.
Barbury had a record number of spectators for a new event with crowds lining the banks of the landscaped main arena. Both Phillips and Chairman Nigel Bunter have great ambitions for Barbury and are hoping to develop it into something even bigger next year.
“Assuming the FEI grants it, Barbury will become a World Cup qualifier next year,” said Bunter. “We thought mainly about competitors this year, over the next two years we will think more about spectators” he added.
“Barbury is probably the best horse trials site in the world,” said Phillips, “If eventing has a future, it is at Barbury.”