Tokyo Olympic gold medallists, reigning world champion and an eventing legend: hear from the sport’s elite who rocketed into Blenheim Horse Trials CCI4*-L top 10 on Friday

  • Two Tokyo Olympic gold medallists, reigning world champion Ros Canter and four-time Blenheim Horse Trials CCI4*-L winner eventing legend Pippa Funnell rocketed into the top 10 on the second day of dressage (17 September).

    Yasmin Ingham and Banzai Du Loir remained untouchable in pole position following their spectacular performance between the white boards on the opening day, earning them a score of 25.2. Piggy March and Brookfield Quality held their provisional runner-up position from Thursday, and Piggy also holds seventh place with Sportsfield Top Notch (27.9) following an elegant test today.

    Five new combinations danced into the top 10 on Friday. Ros and Lordships Graffalo were the highest placed of these, slotting into third on 26.7.

    “He was a little bit uptight out here when he heard the clapping and started sneezing, which he’s never done,” said Ros, adding the Michele Saul’s nine-year-old gelding felt the atmosphere more so than he has ever done before.

    “We had one skip to canter out of the first halt, but then he really settled down and knuckled down to the work so I’m over the moon with him. It’s a great experience for [younger horses], it’s what they need to deal with and I’m pleased he got to experience a Friday afternoon atmosphere. I think a lot of the horse, so hopefully it stands him in good stead for the future.”

    She added: “So far he’s coped with everything we’ve thrown at him, but he’s very still relatively young for this level. Every run is a learning run for him and every run we come across fences he hasn’t tackled before. So we go out tomorrow very much with the idea of hoping to be competitive and to be on the minute markers, but very happy to change plans if that’s what’s best for the horse”

    Pippa, who holds fourth place overnight with SHE Eventing AB’s 11-year-old Jaguar Mail son Maybach on a score of 27.2, added a competitive position after dressage helps her mindset in the build-up for the cross-country.

    “It’s good to have something to go for and to keep my hunger up, because it’s not so easy going out to ride a track like this if you’re so far down the order,” said Pippa, who won the feature class here in 1993, 1995, 2003 and 2004.

    “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that the Jockey Club are involved. This year, it’s all new to them and I think it’s a great team and really exciting for the sport, particularly if we can bring some of the racing crowd this way as well. I think it has to be a positive thing when you link up equestrian sport, different disciplines, so that’s really exciting.

    “But winning again… listen, I’ll go out and have a good ride and if they go well, they go well.”

    Pippa said the return of crowds is fantastic (“I couldn’t help but notice them cheering as we jumped each fence across country at Bicton”), and added a dose of perspective when asked whether coming back after the pandemic was “hard”.

    “I personally didn’t find it that hard,” she said. “I just kept on thinking how lucky we were throughout the pandemic – we’ve heard these awful stories, and it was desperate for people living into the middle of cities and towns, so all the way through that time I just felt incredibly grateful. Believe it or not, I absolutely loved being at home, working on the horses.”

    Blenheim Horse Trials dressage: ‘It’s a three day event and he’s within a rail of the leader’

    Oliver Townend was last to go this afternoon aboard the second of his two new rides, Swallow Springs, scoring 28.5 to sit ninth and in touch of the leaders.

    Blenheim Horse Trials dressage: Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs in the CCI4*-L dressage at Blenheim Horse Trials

    Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs in the CCI4*-L dressage at Blenheim Horse Trials.

    The 13-year-old Chillout son’s longtime rider Andrew Nicholson – whose results with the horse include third at Burghley, fifth at Badminton and a brace of Barbury CCi4*-S wins – was on hand to watch Oliver and the Irish Sport Horse gelding.

    Oliver said he had ridden the horse twice at home and once in competition – an open intermediate section at Somerford in August, which he won – before coming to Blenheim.

    “He’s very, very new,” he said, adding the horse is based with Andrew. “He’s not been to a big occasion for a long time so very happy to be on him and very grateful to Andrew Nicholson and the owners Paul and Diana Ridgeon for putting me up on him.

    “I didn’t know what to expect [today], but I’m happy enough. It’s a three day event and he’s within a rail of the leader. This is hopefully about qualification and not about Blenheim this year with him, but we shall see.”

    Asked whether he is riding the horse with the aim of qualification for major fixtures next year, Oliver added: “I don’t know; I’ve not been told really why I’m riding him and it’s not my job to ask these questions. If you get offered a top horse by Andrew Nicholson, then you get on it and keep your mouth shut and keep riding.

    “We shall see. I don’t know what the situation is, but I’m very privileged to be riding the horse for Andrew and for the owners Paul and Diana Ridgeon.”

    Oliver’s Tokyo Olympic gold medal-winning team-mate Tom McEwen, who also took home individual silver from the Games, and the eye-catching grey Bob Chaplin complete the top 10 on a score of 28.5. This is the same score as Oliver and Swallow Springs, who crept ahead on collectives.

    “It puts him in a very good position, it’s a heck of a lot better than we have been performing as a pair,” said Tom. “There were some vast improvements in there, a lot to improve on – he is a magnificent horse – this should be quite an influential phase for him, he should be right up there, which he is after the session, so there’s much look forward to.”

    Tom added Chris Bartle has been a major key behind their improvements today.

    “Every horse is different, so it’s basically been about adapting my riding to him rather than trying to go in a set style or flow,” he said. “It’s been about trying to work him out as a person and for me just keeping a little bit more uphill, straight, while giving him flexion and just really preparing him for parts of the test.”

    Fred and Penny Barker’s 10-year-old gelding (Cashell x Silver Jasper) won silver as a six-year-old at the Young Horse World Championships in Le Lion under previous rider Paul Tapner. He joined Tom’s string around three years ago and the pair’s record together includes a string of international placings and a CCI3*-S victory at Little Downham in May.

    “We’ve had really good fun together and now we are at our second four long,” Tom added. “We – I – got superly caught out at Bicton CCI4*-L at the two hedges coming out the water. I was probably the only one all day to go left handed at the second, and he didn’t quite realise what was in front of him. Hindsight is a blessed thing. But he grew in confidence around the rest of it and hopped around, so he’s full of confidence still from that and hopefully he’s really come on from it.”

    View the full Blenheim Horse Trials CCI4*-L dressage results

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