Graham Fletcher: Tricky decisions for top riders ahead of Europeans [H&H VIP]

  • Nothing will ever surpass the hype and expectation around the 2012 London Olympics. So it’s mystifying that so little is mentioned about Rio. And the harsh reality is that if we don’t get a good result at the Europeans in Aachen in August, a British showjumping team won’t be defending its Olympic gold medal.

    There are ifs and buts to be answered before these championships too. Ben Maher’s exciting new ride Diva is posting some great results over in Florida. And I understand his top horse Cella is back in work, so it’s to be hoped her comeback is trouble free.

    I know Scott Brash would have preferred to jump Ursula in the Europeans, but she’s not expected to be ready by then. His up-and-coming horses are making great progress, but will they be experienced enough for the formidable Aachen arena?

    Scott’s top horse, Hello Sanctos, is likely to compete in Aachen in May for the Rolex Grand Slam. But a warm-up round and grand prix is far less arduous than four days’ jumping in the Europeans. Even the world number one has tough decisions to make…

    Defying the odds

    Money talks in every sport nowadays. In ours, most national riders can only look on with envy as they jump for a pittance compared with the unbelievable prize money the world’s best compete for.

    As the gulf becomes increasingly wide, these riders also know that if by good fortune they find a top novice, and a buyer comes along from one of the top stables, they won’t be able to resist the money offered.

    So wasn’t it one of the best equestrian stories of all time when the incredibly hard-working Mark and Sara Bradstock defied all the odds to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Coneygree?

    To be there on the day, and to have seen and heard about the build-up to the race, made it a truly great occasion. Our stable jockey Alfie Bradstock is Mark and Sara’s son.

    The Bradstocks are real horsey people, but not without their idiosyncrasies. For instance, Sara insisted on taking Coneygree to Cheltenham in their old truck which, to be polite, has seen better days. She thought he’d travel better in it, although Mark had to follow behind in another horsebox because they thought it might break down.

    Alfie had an early start that day to ride six before we headed for Cheltenham. As soon as Coneygree was over the last fence and had begun that strength-sapping run up the final hill, Alfie was in no doubt the horse was going to win.

    Determined to greet him coming in, Alfie bolted from the stand, scaling a barrier fence in the process, only to be chased by three policemen threatening to throw him off the racecourse. I’m not sure if it says more about Alfie’s ducking and diving or the fitness of our modern police force, but he got away with it.

    Yes, Coneygree’s Gold Cup was a marvellous outcome. Not just for racing, but for giving hope that with hard work and enthusiasm anything is possible with horses.

    A fine mess

    As much as I rant and rave when another speeding fine arrives in the post, I know I’ve only myself to blame. It’s the same with British Showjumping (BS) fines. When you jump a horse in the wrong class, it’s your administration that’s at fault.

    Yet am I the only one who finds it difficult to translate actual prize money into notional? We had 12 novices out this weekend and keeping track of it all is as difficult as understanding Pythagoras’ theorem.

    However, I must try harder; last season my fines must have paid for two full-time members of staff at BS.

    This year, I’ve had only one fine so far, and I’m feeling pretty smug about it. It concerned prize money won at last September’s Newbury show and turned out to have been issued because I’d been incorrectly listed as the rider instead of the owner.

    So I admit to being quite flattered to think the item had gone through the BS system without anyone asking “how is it possible for the old bugger to record results like that?”

    H&H 26 March 2015