If the Magic Millions British open championship today (Sunday, 4 August) lacked in numbers — only 15 went forward to the cross-country — it lacked nothing in drama.
With two fallers — Francis Whittington and Sam Griffiths — and four other riders picking up jumping faults, it was New Zealand’s queen of speed Jonelle Price who claimed the honours on her former Badminton winner Classic Moet, owned by Trisha Rickards.
“Gatcombe is her cup of tea, and you only enter the open if you’re giving it a crack,” said Jonelle. “I did kick myself for the rail we had down showjumping — she jumped a beautiful round — but I obviously wanted a cut at it.”
Second to her after a super round and very smart dressage score was Ben Hobday on his own and Jane Chambers’ super elegant Shadow Man II.
“I told people he was world class, and now they’ll believe me,” said Ben, pleasantly surprised to find that besides being £8000 richer than yesterday, he is also the new British national champion. This lovely rangy chestnut ate up the ground: “That final loop really zaps them, but he kept running.”
Third after another spirited round was Nicholas Lucey on Proud Courage: “This is my best placing yet,” said Nick. “To come in the top three in the open championship is a big thing. It always seems to go best when I’m really going for the time.”
Owner-riders rule Corinthian Cup
The TopSpec Challenge for the Corinthian Cup — a true restricted class in which real amateur riders have a chance to shine in front of Gatcombe’s crowds — was dominated by owner riders. All three of them Pony Club members, appropriately enough given the Club’s 90th birthday celebrations held at Gatcombe this weekend.
Winner Saskia Davies came sixth in this class last year on her 14-year-old Singing Usk. She capitalised on careful course walking to plan the best lines by flying round nine seconds inside the time. Meanwhile the two riders lying in front of her both picked up refusals at the water.
“I try to do as little as possible competition wise to keep him fresh, and he’s always so consistent,” said Saskia, a keen member of the Ledbury Hunt branch of the Pony Club. She has three horses and works part-time for an events company.
Anna Stillwell rose five places to finish runner-up on her own six-year-old Rhode Island 19, despite a heart-in-mouth giant leap out of the final water — “That was just him being green and six.” Anna is a working pupil with Vicky Tuffs, and this is only her first season of novice eventing.
Third was 16-year-old Sophie Byford on her mother Karen’s Handsome, whom she’s produced from a four-year-old herself. They’ve had a light season of preparation for this class while Sophie studied for her GCSEs.
“He’s been by no means easy, but they’ve grown together,” said Karen.
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Appropriately, given her racing pedigree and love of the thoroughbred, Tina Cook won the RoR/NTF championship, which curiously involves a final round of showjumping the day after cross-country. Having secured her victory over Jodie Amos and Highland Patriot, in customary fashion, Tina then regaled reporters with impressive knowledge of winner David Cricket’s pedigree.
“He’s got an incredibly famous, tough mother in [eminent steeplechaser] Lady Cricket and is by Shirocco, who’s very fashionable at the moment,” she explained.
After a brief racing career with Alan King he joined Tina and now belongs to a team of Tina’s most loyal long-term owners in Jane Lawson, Jim Chromiak, Bridget Biddlecombe and Sarah Pelham. Sarah also owned Tina’s most famous ex-racehorse, Miners Frolic, and still has him retired at home aged 22.
“I’ve never had a more laid back ex-racehorse and he absolutely loves his new job,” added Tina. “He’s only seven, and I hope he’s done enough to go to Le Lion.”
Full report from the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe in next week’s H&H (dated 8 August).