Graham Fletcher: Send an SOS to Nick Skelton *H&H VIP*

  • Di Lampard got off to a fantastic start in her first year as British team manager, with Nations Cup wins in La Baule, Rome and Rotterdam.

    Sadly, the team’s more recent performance has disappointed, with sixth places at Hickstead and Dublin — not what you need before next week’s Europeans.

    Aachen will be one of the most important weeks for British showjumping for many a year. We must qualify for Rio. It’s unthinkable to have won team gold in London and then not even make an appearance at the next Olympics.

    When I spoke to Di in Dublin, she was in a sombre and reflective mood — unsurprising after the rollercoaster of the past few weeks. But she was upbeat about team morale and getting the result needed to qualify.

    I’m sure I’d be too gung-ho to make a good chef d’equipe, but in Di’s shoes I’d go for a full-out attack. We have to be brave and chance our arm in the first speed leg to be up there with the leaders, else it could be too tall an order to claw our way back.

    After that, it’s about tactics. It isn’t about winning medals, it’s about finishing in the first three of non-qualified teams — so we must beat three of our five main rivals: Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and Italy.

    The Belgians, who didn’t compete at Dublin, won at Hickstead, while three out of the other four teams beat us in Dublin. It will be a difficult task, but definitely an achievable one.

    One thing we do need in Aachen is a man on the ground assessing the competition as it unfolds. My advice would be to send an SOS to Nick Skelton.

    Di will have her hands full in the collecting ring, so we need someone with Skelly’s ability to analyse the implications of each round and formulate a strategy for each rider in response. Because believe me, the game will keep changing.

    You need someone able to assess not only the riders who have jumped, but the likely form of those to come. For instance, it could be worth risking a time-fault to secure a clear round.

    Next week, our Olympic qualifying predicament means we must play for percentages.

    I wish our riders all the luck in the world. To recite that great quote: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

    Calmers and Copacabana

    I can’t remember a busier season for our yard. We’re producing a really nice bunch of youngsters, and Hello Sailor — Tina’s best horse — is back from injury. He’s fit and well and I was delighted with his jumping at Hickstead.

    This week we’re in Austria for another European Championship. Our stable jockey Alfie Bradstock rides my KBIS Caicos in the young riders, and our son Ollie is on our home-bred mare Little Business in the children on horses.

    I wonder if they’ve packed any of those herbal horse calmers — I may need a couple of squirts myself before the week’s over!

    In past Olympics, a deputation of riders has competed on the proposed surface well before the Games. That isn’t happening this time, with “representatives” assessing the facilities instead at the test event.

    Well, I’m volunteering myself and Geoff Billington as very able deputies. Not only could we ensure the ground is as good as it was in London, we could also check out Copacabana beach — just to see if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be…

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 13 August 2015