Harry Meade: How many four-stars do we need? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Mark Phillips rightly commented that this year’s Luhmühlen cross-country was not a four-star (comment, 22 June), but the organisers seemed happy with the result.

    This was Mike Etherington-Smith’s first year as Luhmühlen designer and no doubt the track will grow, but the event is always a weak four-star. Over the past eight years Luhmühlen has on average produced a significantly higher percentage of combinations clear inside the time than the other four-stars.

    When a three-star is labelled a four-star, the victims are the less experienced riders, who think they have jumped round their first four-star. They are likely to be unprepared and overwhelmed when they face the real thing, producing ugly pictures. The course-designer then gets blamed despite setting an appropriate test.

    Moving forward, there are two options. Should Luhmühlen be made tougher, which may not be desirable given the German public’s negative perception of eventing’s risks, or should the event be rated in line with its standard as a CCI3*? It’s not an easy one to answer.

    Could they run every other year?

    At present, Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky are the leading four-stars, Pau has a weaker course and field, with Luhmühlen and Adelaide trailing behind that. So how many four-stars does the sport need? We currently have six, with another planned in the USA from autumn 2019. Would increasing the number further be a positive?

    There are only so many riders who are comfortable and competitive at this elite level, and true four-star horses are a rarity and can only run so often. Fields will either be smaller if they are diluted across more fixtures or the door will be opened to weaker pairs.

    Tennis has four grand slams, which represent the pinnacle of the sport. Would it be beneficial to add two more? Probably not. If top players skipped a slam, the level of competition would be normalised, the publicity draw reduced and the magic with it; these should be infrequent showdowns between the world’s best.

    Similarly in eventing, these should be something the season builds towards for the best combinations, not frequent occurrences with weaker fields. Furthermore, a reduced quality of field puts the designer in an impossible situation.

    For riders moving up to four-star, it is not necessary to have “first time four-star” events – an extra run around a strong three-star prepares you for a true four-star without mismanaging riders’ expectations.

    Could Adelaide and the proposed US autumn event run at four-star only in the “odd” years (2019, 2021 etc) and host a three-star in the championship years? The Australian and American riders don’t have a championship in odd years so the field would be stronger and it would give those nations a real focus.

    Put owners first

    It would be great if CCIs were able to publish the drawn order as early as possible. Badminton and Burghley release theirs two weeks in advance — but some leave it as late as the day before the trot-up. This leaves owners in the dark as to when their horse is likely to be doing dressage.

    Running a mass of different classes gives event organisers a headache finalising the timetable, but more notice allows owners to plan their trip, particularly when flights and hotels need booking. Owners put so much into the sport, no one wants them to miss out on the action.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 29 June 2017