Mark Phillips: Feeling the Festival vibe away from Rio *H&H VIP*

  • I was a little anxious before last weekend as the 2016 Festival of British Eventing not only clashed with the Rio Olympics, but also the BBC Countryfile weekend at Blenheim Palace. Luckily the weather gods smiled and we had sunshine, near perfect footing and a good crowd on all three days — how a little sun helps.
    This year we incorporated the British Open Championship into the Event Rider Masters (ERM). It was a learning curve all round but I think a great success as the two teams from the Festival and ERM worked together for the first time in a very harmonious atmosphere. It was also difficult for the riders as the qualifications for the Open were very different this year. By next year it should be easier all round.

    Obviously Rio had a big effect on our entries. Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and it was an opportunity for others to seize success while some of the sport’s stars were away.

    Oliver Townend in particular “made hay”, winning the Open on Cillnabradden Evo, the same horse that fell last year with Andrew Nicholson at the final fence. Many were holding their breath at the end as the horse tired in similar fashion over the last fences, but Oliver carried him home to win the £16,000 first prize by a comfortable margin.

    It was nice to see Thomas Carlile over from France. He was duly rewarded with a large slice of the spoils in second place and Elizabeth Power moved up from 16th place with the fastest time of the day. Paul Tapner’s fourth place was some consolation for missing out on selection for the Aussie team.

    The entertainment business

    I have to say the Open and the ERM prize money produced a great cross-country climax, with rider after rider having a real cut over the Gatcombe terrain.

    Inevitably that induces the odd mistake. I felt particularly sorry for Izzy Taylor, who was going like a good one when she stopped at an innocuous triple brush in front of Gatcombe house, as she had a great chance of winning.

    This year saw the introduction of a new water jump that all but the Corinthian Cup competitors went through twice. This was not popular with everyone, particularly those that missed fences out, but whether we like it or not, sport is in the entertainment business and the clustering of fences in a “roundabout” is universally popular with spectators, sponsors and TV.

    On the best footing in years, the courses rode really well apart from the Land Rover At The Folly combination. I walked five strides to two strides, but too many did six and three. I suspect horses backed off due to the people and atmosphere there more than I had anticipated.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 11 August 2016