13 horses that hit the headlines in 2013

From Hallmark to Cella, Estimate to a certain Valegro, who were the horses that thrilled us in 2013?

1. Big Star
The Widdowsons’ stallion, who was pivotal to the gold medal-winning effort of the British Olympic team, has continued his form this year, landing the grand prix in Rome and the first leg of the Rolex Grand Slam in Aachen. He was just pipped to the London GCT title by Ben Maher’s Cella, his teammate on the winning Nations Cup team in Dublin. He jumped nearly 20 clear rounds on the trot at five-star level during one particular run of form.Unfortunately for his rider Nick Skelton, Big Star sustained a splint injury during the autumn, which prevented him from bidding for the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam and a potential $1million (£620,000) bonus. The 10-year-old is due to return to competition in Florida at the start of 2014 and hopes are high that he will be fit and on form for the World Equestrian Games next year.

2. Estimate
The Queen’s filly landed the Gold Cup at Ascot — the first time in the race’s 207-year history that it had been won by a reigning monarch. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained four-year-old won just one other race, the Group Three Sagaro Stakes, this season, but it was the emotional reaction of The Queen to the Gold Cup win that caught the nation’s hearts.

4. Sprinter Sacre
Nicky Henderson’s brilliant two-miler is already rated the best steeplechaser in the modern era. He stepped up from the novice ranks in the 2012-13 season and proved every bit as fantastic as he had promised. The Champion Chase winner is now unbeaten in 10 races over fences. This season, he became the first horse since Istabraq in 1999 to score at all three major spring jumping festivals, Punchestown, Cheltenham and Aintree. He captured the heart of Lucinda Green, who rode him for our occasional series Lucinda Rides (7 November). Ominously for his rivals, he proved as outstanding when trying 2½ miles for the first time on his final run in April as he is at the shorter distance. And he’s still only seven.

5. Woodlander Farouche
The captivating double world young horse champion is showing she has what it takes to make it on the bigger stage. The Hanoverian chestnut mare, by Furst Heinrich, posted a record score of 79.05% to win the advanced medium open sash at the British Dressage National Championships. Farouche is already passing on her outstanding genes. Lynne Crowden, who bred her, has two of Farouche’s embryo transfer foals, including the impressive licensed stallion Woodlander Wild Child.

6. Chilli Morning
Christopher and Lisa Stone’s outstanding stallion won individual eventing bronze at the European Championships in Malmö, ridden by William Fox-Pitt. Earlier this year, he looked primed to set a record as the first stallion to win a CCI4* when starting cross-country in the lead at Rolex Kentucky, but blotted his copybook by refusing at the water. Since then he has redeemed himself, winning at Bramham and Gatcombe, before proving best of the Brits at the Europeans, to finish the year as the third-highest points earner.

7. Clifton Promise
The dark horse who won Badminton is now under a massive cloud after testing positive for the banned sedative reserpine having also won Burghley. The 15-year-old New Zealand thoroughbred first proved he was a force to be reckoned with last year, finishing in the top 10 at three CCI4*s, including the Olympics. But he was still the underdog at Badminton, in the shadow of horses ridden by Nicholson, Jung and Fox-Pitt — a status he’s unlikely to enjoy ever again. Now the future of one of the most talked about horses of 2013 is in doubt. Rider Jock Paget faces a tribunal next year and it is unclear when we will next see Clifton Promise in action.

8. Mr Cruise Control
Which of Andrew Nicholson’s astonishing string of horses to choose? Out of his four-star winners this season, Quimbo (Rolex), Mr Cruise Control (Luhmühlen) and potentially Avebury at Burghley (depending on the outcome of the Clifton Promise tribunal), the Luhmühlen winner gets the nod, on the grounds that he also topped the list as British Eventing’s highest points earner. The grey by Cruising also won Chatsworth CIC3* and finished fifth at Pau CCI4*. Andrew’s embarras de richesses goes on — he rode two others in the top six, Nereo and Calico Joe. (Possibly four, depending upon the Burghley tribunal result).

9. Hallmark IX
The maxi cob registered his fifth successive win at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), and was voted supreme horse by Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin. This triumph crowned a brilliant season for Tom and Heather Clay’s “Brandy”; he also claimed supremes at North of England and the British Show Horse Association National Championships, ridden by Simon Reynolds.

10. Caritiar Z
Phillip Miller’s grey gelding won the Hickstead Derby with the sole clear round of the competition, leaving William Funnell and Dorada to share the runner-up spot (with Trevor Breen) for the second year in a row. Phillip has been riding the 13-year-old since he was three, winning the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) six-year-old final in 2006. Phillip paid tribute to the horse “for getting me where I am”, even though he was “rudely behaved” until being gelded at eight.

11. Cella
Few horses could have topped Tripple X III’s achievements last year for Ben Maher, but the grey mare Cella has proved outstanding, lifting Ben to the world number one showjumping ranking since he started riding her a year ago. Jane Clark’s 11-year-old led Britain to team European gold and secured individual silver — having held the lead until the penultimate round. That silver was a disappointment is some measure of Cella’s brilliance. She also won the $450,000 (£280,000) London leg of the Global Champions Tour (GCT) and was on the British Nations Cup team who triumphed in Dublin.

12. Synod Lady Lillian
This year’s Cuddy supreme in-hand was youngstock champion at the Royal Welsh 14 years ago. The Welsh section C had not been shown again until this summer, but looked every bit the champion before the judges at HOYS this year, despite now being 15 years old. She returned to the Royal Welsh for the first time since her youngstock title to stand supreme Welsh and overall in-hand supreme. She has now retired from the showring. Lady Lillian was bred by Cerdin and Doreen Jones of Synod Stud, and was bought at Brightwells cob sales in 2010 by Gareth Williams, whose daughter Katie handled her in the ring.

13. Valegro
“Blueberry” has franked his Olympic form with double gold at the dressage European Championships, setting his second world record in the process. Ridden as always by Charlotte Dujardin, he scored 17 perfect 10s. The 11-year-old Negro gelding was on the market earlier in the year, but was back out competing for the FEI Nations Cup with Charlotte in June. He completed the year by collecting yet another world record, this time for the freestyle (previously held by Totilas), with a score of 93.975% at Olympia.

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This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (5 December 2013)