‘I’d ride Master Craftsman at Burghley…’: top riders select their fantasy eventing competition set-ups *H&H Plus*

  • Take six top riders and ask what their fantasy competition would be – their horse, the venue, their team-mates and who joins them on the podium. Pippa Roome delves into the world of imaginary eventing

    William Fox-Pitt, winner of 14 five-stars and 20 world, Olympic and European medals

    “I’m limited in what horses I can ride because of my height, but I remember admiring a horse called Mins Lincoln with Lucinda Green. He was fourth at Bramham 1988 but never made it to the top – I don’t think he stayed sound.

    “So the horse I’d like to ride would be Master Craftsman. Ginny Elliot taught him to do everything well and he had a very athletic demeanour; he could really gallop, jump and move. He was a gear up on the likes of Priceless and Night Cap – they were beautifully trained, but he started off a much smarter individual.

    “People often choose horses like Murphy Himself, but I like horses that chip in and are clever. I’d have gone green riding the super-bold Murphy!

    “I’d like to ride Master Craftsman at Burghley – he was European champion there in 1989. At Badminton you might not have noticed what a special horse he was, whereas on that terrain, he’d have shown his class. Mike Tucker designed Burghley in 1997 and 2001 and I’d like to ride round one of his courses.

    “My fantasy team is a big one – you need some reserves, horses always go lame! I’m lucky enough to have ridden on teams with the likes of Ian Stark and Ginny. And of course I had great years with Leslie Law – we shared many a room at my early Olympics – and Jeanette Brakewell. Amazing cross-country riding from Jeanette and later Nicola Wilson paved the way for all of us.

    “If I must narrow it down, I have to be allowed a team of five, like the old Olympic format. So I’ll go for Pippa Funnell on Primmore’s Pride, Tina Cook on Miners Frolic, Zara Phillips on Toytown and Piggy March on Brookfield Inocent.

    “The podium would all be British. We’d win team gold then, but from a personal point of view I’d have Pippa and Piggy behind me because I’d need to prove to myself I could actually beat them when they put in good performances, not because they’d fallen off or their horse had gone lame. They’d perform well – but not well enough!”

    Sam Watson, world team silver medallist and co-founder of data analytics company EquiRatings

    “Galan De Sauvagère was my first crush and so remains first choice as my ride. He was a record-breaking double European champion with Nicolas Touzaint and his finishing scores translate to sub-20s these days. But more importantly, he was just a beautiful and striking athlete.

    “I’d like to ride round Fontainebleau, where I did my first senior championship in 2009. Pierre Michelet would make it tricky, the course is twisty and feels fast to ride, plus you have the French crowds for some wild atmosphere. The galloping tracks don’t play to my strengths so I prefer what others might describe as feeling like they’re in a tumble dryer.

    “For my team, I’d bring the 2018 Irish World Equestrian Games team – Padraig McCarthy, Cathal Daniels and Sarah Ennis. I’m not just choosing them because of that one result – they’re all superb mentally and skilful, but we have a lot of fun behind the scenes, too.

    “The podium is easy. Germany and Great Britain both underperform because it’s not serious enough. The USA get themselves in a complete state of confusion as they’ve misinterpreted the ‘fantasy’ bit. It’s a championship, so France could go either way, but fortunately for us they were more London than Rio and crashed spectacularly. The Aussies were leading going into showjumping but collectively kicked a lot showjumps and dropped to bronze.

    “Mark Todd helps the Prices to a silver medal; Jonelle got very emotional in the press conference – it’s fantasy, we know that would never actually happen! We win, obviously.

    “Toddy gets individual silver – he made the effort to come back after I forced him into his second retirement when beating him at Camphire! Ballaghmor Class takes bronze. A top-class horse and this dispels any nonsense about Oliver Townend not being a championship rider.”

    Fantasy Eventing

    Pippa Funnell, Rolex Grand Slam winner

    “I’d like to ride Michael Jung’s La Biosthetique-Sam FBW because he looks so well trained. I’d love to sit on him and say, ‘Gosh, isn’t this easy’ – but it probably wouldn’t be! I wouldn’t want the pressure, really.

    “I’d ride him at any Olympic Games or Badminton or Burghley. I’m not fussy. I’d ride him round a BE100 just to be able to sit on him!

    “I’d like to have Michael as a team-mate but he can’t ride Sam. Maybe he could ride one of mine? If he makes them go like Sam, I’m not bothered which one he rides.

    “I’d also pick my old mates Tina Cook and William Fox-Pitt. William could ride Primmore’s Pride or Supreme Rock – I always said when he had Tamarillo, ‘Why am I riding the big ones and you’re riding the little ones?’ Let’s put Tina on something that’s won loads… Priceless. We’d put the world to rights.

    “I’d have Michael and Mark Todd behind me on the podium. It would be nice to beat the only two double Olympic individual gold medallists since World War II. And I’ll be on Sam, so he’ll then have won three individual Olympic golds if we make it an Olympics.”

    Ian Stark, three-time Badminton winner and 1991 European champion

    “I always wanted to ride Cornishman V – he just had such star quality. And the fact he won European and world individual golds with Mary Low [née Gordon-Watson] and Olympic team gold with Richard Meade proves he could cope with different riders.

    “I won Bramham four times, so I’ll say a World Championships there. Frank Weldon can be course-designer – he was a confident, arrogant gentleman who I took to and my hero in more ways than just as a designer.

    “I would have The Queen on my team, riding her home-bred Columbus, who won Badminton with Mark Phillips. She’s such an incredible horsewoman, knowledgeable in every aspect of horses, and I think she’d probably be very competitive.

    “I’d also have three-time Badminton winner Sheila Willcox. When I was about 18, I applied for a job with Sheila advertised in H&H and I didn’t get it. Sheila was probably a control freak, in the same way many of us competing at top level are, and had strong opinions – I might not have got on with her as an employee, but she was an exceptional competitor. I’d put her on Karen Dixon’s Get Smart.

    “Then we’d have another gentleman to even it up: Richard Meade. Richard and I were both in the running for Los Angeles in 1984 and we were having a drink before a fundraising ball when ‘Tiddles’ [Richard’s wife] said to Richard, ‘If Ian’s a rising star, that makes you the setting sun.’ ºRichard was not terribly amused and when his son Harry got on his first team, I wrote to Tiddles and I said, ‘I’m the setting sun and Harry’s the rising star.’

    “I’d love to put Richard on Lorna Clarke’s coloured horse Popadom, who won Burghley. He’d have to ride in a different way but he was brilliant on other people’s horses.

    “The Queen would finish second – it would be the only time I’d be ahead of the Queen. Richard and Sheila would be on equal scores for third, with time the decider between Get Smart the thoroughbred, and Popadom the coloured horse. You work it out!”

    Tom McEwen, world gold medallist and winner of Pau five-star in 2019

    “I absolutely love Tina Cook’s current championship horse, Billy The Red. He’s light on his feet and well balanced and Tina produces all her horses incredibly.

    “I’d love to have a go on him round Burghley. I haven’t had that many chances to ride there and he has so much scope and balance that he’d eat it up. The last Burghley in 2019 was quite chaotic on cross-country day but I’d happily ride him there any year.

    “For my team, I’d like the group of riders we had at Mark Todd’s property, Badgerstown, one year, though I’d put them on their top horses of all time – Mark Todd on Charisma, Ludwig Svennerstål on Shamwari 4 and Clarke Johnstone on Balmoral Sensation. We probably wouldn’t win anything but we’d have a lot of fun.

    “I’d have Lucinda Green and Andrew Nicholson behind me on the podium, two phenomenal riders. We went on holidays with Lucinda and her children Lissa and Freddie as kids, so although I don’t remember Lucinda riding, she’s such an idol she always made an impression on me. I remember watching Andrew year after year, being so close to winning Badminton and then finally winning in 2017. To beat Andrew is always impressive.”

    Ginny Elliot, winner of eight British five-stars and three-time European champion

    “I would like to ride Michael Jung’s La Biosthetique-Sam FBW because he reminds me so much of Priceless. He has the same attitude, height, basic shape, even similar movement. I’d like to go back to my first Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 – it was so daunting and there was huge expectation. But perhaps the pressure was a bit too great, so I’ll pick Burghley in 1989, where Mark Phillips built the most incredible course for the European Championships. It kept us all kicking madly and furiously.

    “I’ve appreciated and enjoyed everyone I’ve been lucky enough to be on a team with and I don’t want to fall out with anyone by leaving them out!

    “I’ll take Ian Stark on Glenburnie, because he makes me laugh a lot, he’s gutsy and so reliable. Lorna Clarke – on Myross, her 1986 world individual bronze medallist – also makes me laugh and she’s very down to earth and practical. Lucinda Green always rides amazingly across country and she’d partner Regal Realm.

    “If I was picking a team from today’s competitors I’d choose Ros Canter on Allstar B, Piggy March on Vanir Kamira and either Tom McEwen on Toledo De Kerser or Oliver Townend on Ballaghmor Class.

    “I’d like Malcolm Wallace as our chef d’équipe and Hugh Thomas as the organiser!

    “Germany would come second because their dressage is so strong and France third. Lorna and Lucinda would join me on the individual podium. I’d like Ian up there but there isn’t room for him… he can be fourth! It’s a difficult decision, but us chicks have to stick together.”

    Also published in H&H 11 March 2021

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