British first-timer and former winner share overnight lead after opening day of dressage at Pau Horse Trials

  • A British 22-year-old CCI5* first-timer produced a spectacular top-level debut to share the overnight lead with dual winner William Fox-Pitt on the opening day of Pau Horse Trials dressage (28 October).

    Ailsa Wates and the eye-catching grey Woodlands Persuasion (“Perry”), owned by Pip Wates and Equine Aqua Training, were the last of the 12 combinations to go on Thursday afternoon. The pair dazzled the judges to earn a score of 27.4 and take provisional joint-first place – even with a minor sat-nav blank by the jockey in the canter work.

    “I’m just really proud of Perry and so grateful that he could be so good today, of all the days to be good!” she told H&H, adding it is “a big surprise” to be in the lead.

    “I did always know Perry can do a brilliant test, but I think it’s his best FEI score maybe ever – definitely this year. He is such a beautiful horse, he’s so brilliant. He really enjoys competitions and he knew this was important.”

    Ailsa added everything was going smoothly until she did one of her changes a little early, which threw her off track.

    “I was busy thinking about that and completely forgot where I was going,” she said, adding the split-second mind freeze“felt like forever”.

    “I stopped and thought, ‘I actually have no idea where I am. I don’t know why I’m by A and I don’t know where to go!’ I had to go through the test quickly in my mind.

    “So that was silly, poor Perry. But I’m pleased it didn’t make his mark too low because he really tried 110% and I don’t want to let him down.”

    Ailsa, who is in her first year in the senior ranks, and the 16-year-old Cevin Z gelding were trending around the 24 mark for their early trot movements and also showed some lovely uphill canter work to earn their place at the top of the leaderboard.

    The result is all the more special given the journey the combination have been on together.

    The now 16-year-old gelding has been with the family since he was four. He was first ridden by Ailsa’s mum, Pip, before her daughter took over the reins.

    “She leant him to me and in that first year together, we went to the junior Europeans. Luckily I got to keep them ever since, so I’m very grateful to her,” she said. “He’s done everything for me. He lives for competitions, absolutely loves his job and is super intelligent.”

    A serious leg injury around four years ago put a question mark over the horse’s future top-level eventing career. He had a full year off and has been carefully brought back to full fitness with the help of a water treadmill, stepping up to contest his first four-stars in 2019 and is now making his five-star debut.

    “Now he’s here and it’s just brilliant to be able to start my first five-star with him, because he is my horse of a lifetime,” she added. “It’s such a privilege to do it on him.”

    The combination are on the same score as William and the first of his two rides, Oratorio. The 12-year-old gelding, owned by the Oratorio Syndicate, is by Oslo, who William rode to victory in the 2011 event.

    The pair floated through the trot work, setting the tone for their quality test which earned them a strong smattering of eights throughout. The extended canter was a real highlight, punching off the ground along the long side of Pau’s sunbaked arena. There was one expensive mistake in the second flying change, dropping the marks from sevens and eights to fours and fives. But even with that blip, the overall calibre of the rest of their test propelled them into pole position.

    “That’s a good start,” William told H&H. “He’s going by well on the flat these days and he did a very nice test, so I was very pleased with him.

    “It’s all obviously very tight [in terms of scores]. It seems to be at every three-day now. So the dressage will hopefully not count for very much, we’ve got to jump the jumps and stay on that score – that’s the challenge.”

    William told H&H earlier in the week that the horse had undergone extensive veterinary investigations as well as a holiday after he bled at Bicton. He was given the go-ahead to build up to Pau and has been training well at home, with a vet in attendance for his final gallop ahead of the French event.

    “I’ll obviously be hoping that Bicton was just some sort of a glitch,” William added today. “We didn’t find anything seriously wrong with him, but there was obviously something that was causing him trouble. So we’re hoping that’s gone and is all behind us now.”

    Oliver Townend and the 13-year-old gelding Ridire Dorcha, owned by Sophie Adams, were the first combination into the arena and set the bar high with a classy test. The pair held their lead until William’s test and now hold provisional third overnight on a score of 27.8.

    Their performance marked Oliver’s 70th five-star start since 2008, edging closer to the record 74 held by Andrew Nicholson.

    The Irish-bred gelding, by Limmerick, was produced to four-star by Oliver and bought by Sophie in 2019. He has been campaigned by his Australian owner/rider in recent seasons, with Oliver taking up the reins on the gelding in competition again in September this year.

    Pau Horse Trials dressage: Brits on song

    It has been a strong start for the Brits, who hold the top five places after day one. Five-star first-timers Bubby Upton and her young rider Europeans individual silver and team gold medal-winning partner Cola, owned by her mother Rachel, complete the top four at this stage on a score of 28.5.

    Izzy Taylor and her first ride, Sarah Van Vegchel’s 10-year-old bay mare Ringwood Madras, hold fifth on 31.2. Ireland’s Joseph Murphy and the grey Carpalano son, Calmaro, are the highest-placed non-British combination in provisional sixth (31.5).

    Two riders from the home side were in action this afternoon. Florian Ganneval (Blue Bird De Beaufour) and Cyrielle Lefevre (Armanjo Serosah) both made their five-star debuts and hold seventh and eighth places respectively, on scores of 33.4 and 33.5.

    The remaining 34 contenders will contest their dressage tests tomorrow (Friday, 29 October).

    View the full results from the opening day of Pau Horse trials dressage

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