The horse who won Britain’s top event in 2020 hits early form, while rising stars dominate the intermediates at the Aston-le-Walls Elite. H&H’s Pippa Roome reports on the action...
IZZY TAYLOR and Monkeying Around franked the form that put them at the head of Burnham Market’s four-star long last autumn with a win in advanced section A at Aston-le-Walls Elite horse trials.
“He felt fantastic – he’s a better, stronger horse than he was last year,” said Izzy of the 10-year-old, who belongs to his rider and Mark Sartori. “He just feels more grown up and is improving all the time. He’s still relatively young and every time we go out, it’s more exciting for when he runs at a big one.”
Everyone is finding making plans difficult this year when Covid-19, Brexit and the equine herpes virus are laying waste to so many dreams, but Izzy has Luhmühlen tentatively in mind for Monkeying Around’s five-star debut.
Izzy led throughout this section and, with a time-fault in the showjumping and 3.2 across country, had a penalty in hand over Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin, whose runner-up placing was a strong back-up to his open intermediate win at Oasby the week before.
Izzy also had Springpower – back with her after a season with Sarah Cohen – in ninth in section B and last year’s Thoresby three-star long winner Hartacker in fourth in the third advanced section, C.
“Every section was very hot, so you definitely can’t be disappointed with any horse who finished in the top 10,” said Izzy, acknowledging too that Hartacker is only nine.
With glorious sunshine and minimal commentary, there was a slightly trance-like quality to watching for those on the viewing mound, many of them owners comparing vaccination status and enjoying their first outing for some time.
The start lists were rammed with quality for this final elite-only event before the season proper kicked off the following weekend, and it was a treat to see top horse after top horse flow over Aston’s beautifully prepared grass after doing their first two phases on all-weather surfaces.
“[Organiser and course-designer] Nigel Taylor always puts in a fantastic effort and everything was as good as it could possibly be,” said Izzy.
Tina Cook was third equal after dressage behind Monkeying Around, but 20 penalties at the log on top of the hillock before the water at fence 10a put paid to a placing for Billy The Red. Mr Bass finished third in this section, with Laura Collett tweaking his bitting again after Oasby, keeping the Waterford gag but this time choosing one with big rings rather than side pieces.
“He felt like he didn’t fight and could cruise around,” she said.
Most of the pairs ticked off the fences without any problems. A few riders – including James Avery (Mr Sneezy) and Nicky Hill (MGH Bingo Boy) – were eliminated for errors of course, which must have been frustrating but was perhaps understandable as the roping was kept to a minimum with no spectators.
Ros Canter’s ride Lordships Graffalo and Tom McEwen’s Bob Chaplin shared fifth after dressage in section C, but both had 20 penalties early on course – Ros at the corner at fence six and Tom at the first element of the double of boxes at fence four.
Sweet success for Berry
IRELAND scored two wins in the supporting sections, with Susie Berry claiming the advanced intermediate on Helen Caton’s 10-year-old John The Bull, by Luidam. She finished on her dressage score to capitalise on her mark of 27.1, which put her equal second after the first phase.
“He’s only happy when he’s working – he doesn’t like it in winter when he doesn’t get to go to pony parties and show off,” said Susie. “He was a bit feisty in the dressage, though he did keep a lid on it, and he’s a jumping machine.”
Dressage leaders Selina Milnes and Iron IV finished fourth with one showjump down and a slightly steadier cross-country, while Selina also piloted Vivendi Time into second.
Susie also racked up the only round in the time in advanced section A – and one of only two in all the advanced sections – for fifth on Ringwood LB. Both Ringwood LB and John The Bull are on Ireland’s Tokyo 2020 potential squad and will be aimed at Bicton Arena’s four-star long, as will another of Susie’s rides, Monbeg By Design.
Aoife Clark was Ireland’s other winner, landing open intermediate section F on her own eight-year-old Dondarrion, who had run for the first time at this level at Oasby.
“I’ve had him since he was a three-year-old and he was a bit raw as a young horse, so I gave him plenty of time, but I always really rated him – he’s a real five-star type in my mind,” she said.
“I threw him in at the deep end at Oasby and he found the cross-country so easy, but was a bit surprised and green in the showjumping. Today he came out like a pro. He’s had a good technique and attitude in the showjumping, he’s just still weak in places. Across country he’s so confident and brave; he has lots of gallop, a snaffle mouth and is super quick.”
Dondarrion was well placed at BE100 and novice throughout 2019, but didn’t do much last year as he fractured a splint bone in the field just as eventing was restarting after lockdown.
“It was nothing major, but just the wrong timing,” said Aoife.
Tattersall’s new ride
GEMMA TATTERSALL took the red rosette in open intermediate section G on a new ride, Pru Dawes’s nine-year-old Flash Cooley. Pru has been taught by Gemma for many years and moved Flash Cooley to her yard for this season when his previous rider, Liz Halliday-Sharp, decided to base herself full-time in the US after some years of splitting her time between the two countries.
“Pru adores the horse and as she comes for training with me regularly, she now gets to see him all the time,” said Gemma. “Liz has done a fantastic job producing him so I feel very lucky to be able to pick him up and crack on.”
The pair were the only ones to break the 30 barrier in the dressage and finished on their first-phase score.
Gemma said: “We had a ‘getting to know each other event’ at Oasby and went slowly across country, but today he felt fab. He did a super dressage and went clear across country, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I put my foot down and it was like he was on rails, he was so easy to ride.”
Gemma says she will not rush the “really talented” nine-year-old and plans to aim for Houghton’s three-star long and potentially an autumn four-star.
ADVANCED sections B and C were both led from pillar-to-post by horses who had also won the week before at Oasby.
Laura Collett was a clear 8.2 penalties ahead in section B on last year’s Pau winner London 52, who belongs to Keith Scott, Karen Bartlett and his rider. He led the dressage on 20.4 and then had the fastest round of the section to finish just three seconds over the 5min 51sec optimum time.
“Both here and at Oasby, I’ve just gone out of the start and let him dictate what he wants to do – I was never really going to go fast, but he suits being forward,” said Laura. “He’s so adjustable, which makes him quite a quick horse, and he covers the ground and it was one of those courses that flowed really nicely.
“I thought if he was feeling good and happy, I’d let him bowl along a bit. The ground was really good and you never know when it’s going to turn, so I was just trying to utilise the nice going while we have it.”
It was a similar story in section C for Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, owned by Karyn Shuter, Val Ryan and Angela Hislop. They had a 24.1 dressage and 3.2 time-penalties.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Oliver. “There’s still more to come in the dressage – I wasn’t pressing all the buttons today, just having him relaxed and going through the motions. He was very comfortable and within himself across country and wouldn’t have blown out a candle at the end.”
Runner-up Piggy March was denied the win by a rail down in the showjumping on Brookfield Inocent, the only horse in the time in section C – no doubt helped by son Max’s cries of encouragement each time she passed his vantage point. She also took third in section B on Brookfield Quality.
Kitty King and Vendredi Biats – best of the Brits at the 2019 Europeans – were sandwiched between Laura and Piggy in section B, while Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On claimed the third podium spot in section C.
In the genes: a second generation home-bred ‘princess’
KIRSTY CHABERT won open intermediate section E on her own and The Daisy Chain’s Opposition Loire.
“She’s my princess – I’ve been excited about her for a long time,” said Kirsty. “Her biggest fault would be trying too hard.”
The 10-year-old mare is a home-bred by Kirsty’s father John Johnston’s Opposition Heracles, who they bred by their foundation stallion Fleetwater Opposition. Opposition Heracles evented at advanced level and died last December.
Having competed at four-star in 2019, Opposition Loire had a quieter season last year, with some novice runs and a three-star long at Bicton Arena in October.
“I took her up to four-star quite quickly, so I thought last year I would go back and polish things and have an educational year, rather than run her round big events when there wasn’t a big plan. The plan is for this year and next year,” said Kirsty, who will now aim for Bicton Arena four-star long – the Bramham replacement event in June.
This report will also be available to read in next Thursday’s Horse & Hound magazine (8 April, 2021)
You may also be interested in…
The crème de la crème enjoy a first outing of the season, with three of the five open intermediate sections
Event rider Harry Meade talks about the ‘frustratingly slow process’ of recovering from his head injury and how he is
Mark Phillips reviews the current global travel and competition challenges facing riders and their support teams
Reigning champion Oliver Townend is set to return to Kentucky, while three other British riders will make the trip across