Mark Phillips: Aachen is great but we need ‘fair play’ [H&H VIP]

  • At this time of year events come thick and fast and I’ve had three weeks on the trot at Aachen, Renswoude and Gatcombe.

    I am so lucky to have an amazing group of friends, volunteers and helpers at the Festival of British Eventing. I’m almost left without a job, although I still take responsibility for the cross-country course.

    I was very happy with the championship tracks. Remember the names of William Fox-Pitt’s novice and intermediate winners Top Biats and Luxury FH — you will see them again at the three- and four-star level.

    The open was so exciting, with only the cross-country clock determining the placings. Unfortunately the advanced on Saturday had the worst wet weather and an unprecedented 12 of 56 starters didn’t finish.

    The terrain at Gatcombe is legendary and not to everybody’s liking. You have to be committed. It’s very difficult to jump around just to give your horses a nice day out, as at some point that reduced leg factor will find you short of power.

    With the conditions greasy, time after time the less committed were caught out. In contrast, winners Aoife Clark with Fenyas Elegance (pictured) made it look ridiculously easy, as did Nicola Wilson (second) and Tina Cook (third), after a little moment at the BETA Lane Crossing. A word too for Louise Harwood — her fourth place in the advanced and third in the open were special performances.

    The rain on Saturday left a £20,000 hole in the budget, but I take my hat off to those that braved the elements. But Sunday showed the British sport at its best. Hats off to William, Andrew and Aoife, and we’ll try to make the 2015 Festival even better.

    Why can’t we compete?

    I hadn’t been to Aachen for a few years and you forget what a great show it is.

    Eventing is lucky to be part of such a great exhibition, although the showjumping was unusual, with acres of galloping between the fences as designer Rüdiger Schwarz tried to utilise the massive main arena.

    The cross-country was beautifully presented and Rüdiger used a plethora of brush and frangible devices — Germany still very much has the demise of Benjamin Winter in mind. Even so, the offset brushes after the coffin caused some heart-stopping moments.

    Germany took the CICO3* ahead of the Brits. They really made a statement before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) with Sandra Auffarth (Opgun Louvo), Michael Jung (La Biosthetique-Sam FBW) and Dirk Schrade (Hop And Skip) all looking impressive. Britain didn’t exactly field a C team, but the Germans were runaway winners. France looked good and we know that they are difficult to beat on home soil.

    Opgun Louvo looked absolutely outstanding in all phases and must be individual favourite. Ingrid Klimke was not in the team, but finished second ahead of Michael. She has a good chance of a team place in France.

    The first four shared €75,000 (£59,853) — only in Aachen can you win that sort of money eventing.

    Aachen has always been something of a law to itself and is very particular about who is invited to compete. However, Aachen is part of a CICO Nations Cup series now, with accumulated points.

    As Belgian coach, I wanted to enter a team. Karin Donkers and Lara de Liedekerke were accepted but Joris Vanspringel, on his experienced four-star horse, was not. How can Aachen remain as part of a CICO series if some nations can’t play?

    To make it even more irritating, others rode two horses, including Tim Price who never intended to do the whole cross-country on Wesko after his win at Luhmühlen four weeks earlier. Hopefully the FEI will ensure “fair play” next year, but I’m not holding my breath.

    The week after Aachen, I experienced another first at a CIC3* at Renswoude. We finished the three-star cross-country at 9pm! To be fair, the class was always scheduled to be at the end of the day, starting at 4.30pm, but a thunderstorm meant a delayed kick-off. However, quite why the stars of the show were not scheduled for the middle of the day remains a mystery to me.

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (7 August, 2014)