Riders give thumbs up to new team at Blenheim: ‘it’s exciting for the sport’

  • Early plans for Blenheim Horse Trials’ future fixtures are in the pipeline, following the first year with The Jockey Club at the helm.

    The organisation signed a five-year deal at the end of 2020 to run the Oxfordshire event, which comprises the CCI4*-L feature class and the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S championship.

    Ideas on how to strengthen the long-format cross-country course, where 18 finished inside the time – 17 jumping clear, one with 11 penalties for activating a frangible device – have already been mooted by designer David Evans.

    “I always knew the water was going to be weaker than normal [owing to no dew pond this year], but on the whole I was pretty happy with the sport and how people rode,” said Mr Evans, adding he has plans for another water complex in 2022.

    The 2021 CCI4*-L course had a 68.2% clear rate, with 60 of the 88 starters making it home on clean jumping sheets.

    “I think once we get the water right, it will give a bigger feel,” Mr Evans said, adding that opting for the best ground on the south lawn also changed his intended plan for the arrowhead question at 9ab.

    “But on the whole I’ve been pleased, the faults were all over the place,” he said.

    “I think we got the ground so good that it ran a little bit faster, so we had maybe a few more than we should have within the time. If we’d had rain [on CCI4*-L cross-country day], with the competition being over six hours and [around] 6,000 metres, it would have been a totally different story. There are a few places where the ground is a little bit deeper than the rest – that’s what we’ve got to take in mind as well.”

    ‘Excited for the future’

    Riders voiced strong support for The Jockey Club’s new involvement in eventing and the opportunities that brings for the sport.

    “It’s very exciting to have The Jockey Club on board and I think all of us eventers are really excited for the future, what it might hold and how the sport hopefully will progress in a more professional way,” said Izzy Taylor.

    Oliver Townend echoed Izzy’s enthusiasm, adding he hoped Blenheim would serve enough of a spectacle from both the public and business point of view that The Jockey Club will be inspired to “take over some more big events”.

    Nicola Wilson and Pippa Funnell were among the others to share that excitement.

    “Fair play to them – 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 sort of racing crowd this way as well,” said Pippa. “I think it has to be a positive thing when you link up different horse disciplines, so that’s really exciting.”

    There were some teething issues, with the lengthy delays on roads in the surrounding area owing to heavy visitor traffic on Saturday headlining these.

    “While we were blessed with a huge crowd of more than 20,000 spectators here on Saturday enjoying the sunshine, the brilliant cross-country action and the spectacular surroundings of Blenheim Palace, we are aware of some issues, particularly around traffic flow, which we will address for next year,” said event director Ian Renton, regional managing director for the Jockey Club’s west region.

    Mr Renton thanked his team, Blenheim owner the Duke of Marlborough and all involved for an “amazing four days of absolutely top-class horse sport”.

    “We have learnt so much from this first event; it is a fantastic occasion and one which we hope we can improve and add to in the future,” he added.

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