A mix of youth and experience led to two British podium finishes in the Mars Maryland 5 Star results today.
William Fox-Pitt claimed second on Grafennacht. At 54, William was the second oldest jockey in the competition – topped only by 60-year-old Phillip Dutton – and has the most five-star wins of any event rider, at 14.
This result, on Amanda Gould’s 11-year-old mare, marks the Dorset-based competitor’s first podium finish at five-star since his second Badminton Horse Trials win in 2015.
That autumn he suffered a serious head injury in a fall at Le Lion d’Angers. He returned to fitness to ride Chilli Morning at the Rio Olympics the following year, but has never quite recaptured the form and formidable string of five-star horses he had in his glory years.
Grafennacht is currently William’s only top-level campaigner, following the death of Oratorio in March and with Little Fire out of action this year, and he has made no secret of the fact it is talented horses like her and competing at five-star which keep him in the game. The pair put in a super performance this week, with a competitive 26.1 dressage score, one of the fastest cross-country rounds and just one showjump down.
“She’s a great horse, she loves the sport, she finds it quite easy, she always says yes, she always has a go – I think anyone could ride her. I’m the lucky one to have her and she keeps me going,” said William.
Asked about his future in the sport, William said: “I’m coming to my senses quietly. I’ve not got many horses now – she’s my only five-star horse and then I’ve just got two six six-year-olds so there is more time in my life now, which is quite nice, but I’ve got to decide could she give me a bit more fun and do I do her well enough?
“I think as an older rider you’re worried about looking like an idiot. Normally you’re out there on cross-country doing your best and you attack, nowadays I’m thinking, ‘I hope I don’t look like an old man today’ because everyone will think, ‘Oh for God’s sake just give up.’ It’s getting close, but she’s keeping me in the game, she’s a lot of fun.
“Yesterday morning I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ but by yesterday evening I was thinking, ‘That’s what I’m doing.’ As we all know eventing is a drug and it’s a good one. I’m enjoying her and goodness knows, I probably need to come to my senses but I’m not sure I’d enjoy watching anyone else ride her yet.”
Oliver Townend claimed third in the Maryland 5 Star results on Paul Ridgeon’s Cooley Rosalent. She was the youngest horse in the competition, just nine years old, and this was already her second five-star.
Luhmuhlen Horse Trials in June was very much an experience building competition for her, with 20 jumping penalties across country and an uncompetitive dressage score of 37.4.
Here, she improved on that first-phase mark by 14.3 penalties and was fast across country (and Oliver said could have been faster). She had two down on the final day but hopefully that will improve with practice and strength – she already looks considerably stronger than last year.
“I felt she really came up a level at Blenheim where she won the eight- and nine-year-olds and I think she’s learnt an incredible amount this week,” said Oliver.
“I honestly don’t believe she came out of fourth gear yesterday in the cros-country. She’s fresh, she’s a little bit mad fresh actually, she’s very happy with herself. H0pefully she’ll learn from the experience and we’ll see an even higher level of performance next time.”
Oliver has not been short of a ride at the top level for a long time, but it has not been clear who his next team horse might be, with Tokyo hero Ballaghmor Class now in the twilight of his career. The answer could be another grey, a plucky mare who showed her mettle in Maryland this week.
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