Nicola Wilson’s promising 10-year-old pulls off a pillar-to-post victory in the senior three-day class, as rising stars and five-star campaigners mix at the top of the leaderboard at Bicton, supported by Chedington, in Devon
THERE was a certain wild irony in the fact that Nicola Wilson has striven for so many years to take the showcase CCI4*-L at her local event at Bramham – and she finally won it when the Bramham classes were relocated to Bicton due to Covid putting paid to the Yorkshire event.
“An owner messaged me to say, ‘You can take the event out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the event’,” grinned Nicola after her victory in the Chedington CCI4*-L on 10-year-old JL Dublin.
But it was a mark of the success of this fixture, arranged at seven weeks’ notice, that stalwart Bramham fan Nicola was full of praise for the Devon event, which produced the sternest cross-country test seen in Britain since Burghley 2019.
She said: “Much as it would have been amazing to have been in this position at Bramham on our doorstep, the whole team at Bicton have done the most wonderful job – the setting, the arenas, the cross-country course. There was so much to jump but it rode beautifully.”
Traditionally, promising nine- and 10-year-olds show their colours at Bramham and this time was no different, although the 89-strong field competing for the £10,000 top prize was bolstered by several five-star horses, who had nowhere else to go once the German travel ban made a Luhmühlen campaign very difficult.
Nicola chose the Holsteiner JL Dublin, by Diarado, at the sales in Germany for his owners, Jo and James Lambert and Deirdre Johnston.
“Since working with him as a young horse, I sensed that he was a star in the making,” she said. “But he was quite bullish, boisterous and very cheeky until he got to this level, when he’s started to knuckle down and use that energy in a positive way.”
This was JL Dublin’s 10th top-10 finish at international events, but his first win.
JL Dublin’s co-owner Deirdre Johnston is married to Flat trainer Mark Johnston.
“Mark will often ring Deirdre and say, ‘Well, are you winning?’ so we say, ‘Um, not quite.’ This week she’s been desperate for him to ring and he hasn’t asked!”
Half-siblings in top 10
RUNNER-UP Lordships Graffalo impressed all weekend under Ros Canter. A nine-year-old, he was building on second in the young horse championships last year and a recent CCI4*-S win at Aston-le-Walls.
He is out of the same mare as Pencos Crown Jewel, who finished ninth for Ros. Pencos Crown Jewel, by Jumbo, was bred by Pennie Wallace, who owns the pair’s dam Cornish Queen, by Rock King. Pennie sold her as a foal to her current owners, Kate James and Annie Makin.
Pennie then loaned Cornish Queen to Lordship Stud, who bred Lordships Graffalo, by Grafenstolz.
“Pennie sent me Graffalo to break as a three-year-old because I’d had Pencos Crown Jewel. Michele Saul was looking for a young horse and I said I’d really like her to buy this one,” said Ros. “He’s beautiful to ride, but on the ground he walks all over everybody and chews everything, but in a very nice way.”
The top four all finished on their dressage score, as did seventh-placed Chilli Knight for Gemma Tattersall, who also had Caroline Teltsch’s Santiago Bay in third.
The 13-year-old mare was seventh at Burghley Horse Trials in 2019.
“She is really sweet and loving,” said Gemma. “But she is also very sharp. I fell off her last week jumping at home when she stopped and whipped round! But that sharpness is partly why she’s so good – she’s got that killer instinct.”
Kirsty Chabert (née Johnston), recently back to top form after complications following the birth of her son Henry in December 2018, was fourth on the “nifty” mare Classic VI, another who has five-star experience.
Tough dressage judging
THE dressage judging was tough in this section. Eight broke the 30-barrier, but the top score of 28.7 wasn’t breaking any records and the top 15 were all within two penalties of the leader, JL Dublin.
“It was one of his nicest tests to date – he was very light on his feet and expressive,” said Nicola.
The experienced Mr Bass was just 0.5 of a penalty behind.
“He’s not built for dressage, but we can’t ask more than going in and trying his best,” commented Laura Collett.
Pippa Funnell was third on Thursday’s leader Billy Walk On and fifth on Maybach; she paid tribute to World Class physiotherapist Ash Wallace, whose help kept her in shape to ride four horses here at Bicton.
“It’s what the sport needs”
VENUES rarely provide a particularly strong test the first year they run at a higher level, with designers understandably erring on the side of caution.
With other replacement fixtures since Covid having been a softer test, riders received a wake-up call when they found that organiser Helen West, assisted by Mark Phillips, had designed a course that was “four-star plus”. There was plenty of terrain, too, and Helen’s team worked hard watering and verti-draining the ground.
“It’s a tough test and something that I think we are all probably ready for and need in order to see where we’re at,” said Piggy March, echoing the positive response from other riders. “We need to use our brains, because the hills are a shock to us when we walk it, so it will be a bit of a shock to our horses too. It’s what the sport should be.”
In the senior CCI4*-L, 60% of starters finished and 37% jumped clear. Fourteen different fences caused problems across the two CCI4*-L sections and there were even falls at four plain fences.
After the first of her three rides, Ros Canter said: “It’s just intense – at Bramham, the let-up fences come off long gallops. Here, your let-up fences come at the bottom of the hill, at the top of the hill or on an angle. There isn’t a fence that you can just keep rolling on at.”
Offset Brushes cause problems
THE combination out of the first water at fences nine and 10 claimed the most scalps statistically – 27 had problems here. The question consisted
of two severely angled brushes on one stride. Many ran out and a few horses successfully jumped through the high part of the second brush.
Will Rawlin, 11th after dressage on VIP Vinnie, retired here after also having 20 penalties at the second element of fence seven, a turning question of narrow stump to tree trunk corner which caused 15 problems.
The Course Designer’s Conundrum at fence 15abcd was the talking fence, but around half chose to take the longer route and so avoid the difficult angled question of rail to ditch to corner. Nonetheless, eight faulted here.
By contrast, the Clinton Devon Drop to Skinny at 21ab didn’t get much airtime in advance. Thirteen had issues here, most running out at the narrow b element, though Chris Burton (13th after dressage) had a strange fall when Leopard’s Action refused the drop and then fell backwards.
The final serious combination was the HTSG parallel to corner to skinny, all on a downhill curving line. Renumbering here allowed riders to circle after the parallel, but 24 still received penalties. Sadly, these included experienced five-star campaigners Reve Du Rouet, who Sarah Bullimore pulled up after 20 penalties at the final element, and Ivar Gooden, who had the third of three run-outs here under Imogen Murray.
By contrast, 2019 Badminton winner Vanir Kamira was one of six inside the 10min 8sec optimum time and she and Piggy March were rewarded with a rise from seventh to second. Sadly, this “real game little girl” had four showjumps down on Sunday to wind up 15th.
Pippa Funnell’s pair dropped out of the top 10 with cross-country time-faults, while Mr Bass slipped to sixth with 2.8 penalties, though his showjumping clear brought him up to fifth.
The course-designer’s view
HELEN WEST was designing at four-star for the second time.
“It was a good result for the sport – it needed to be a proper track,” she said after Saturday’s long format classes had run across country. “The terrain played a big part. The prep for many has not been as good as it would be in a normal year, so some horses were not quite fit enough.
“This is an MER [minimum eligibility result or qualification] for Badminton and Burghley, and from a safety perspective I would rather the riders know where they are and if they need to do more work before they step up to five-star.
“I was pleased that the trouble was widespread; there was no one bogey. Those that rode it well made it look easy. And even some of those with less experienced horses found a way round, and said to me, ‘They’ve learnt so much and are coming out of this a better horse.’”
Helen is also the organiser at Bicton and she paid tribute to the team: “The track looked stunning and the guys here have done masses of work on the ground, putting an awful lot of water on it.”
Mark Phillips acted as course advisor.
“He’s been really helpful and I’ve enjoyed the process,” said Helen.
Chedington CCI4*-L results
1 – Nicola Wilson (GBR) on JL Dublin
2 – Ros Canter (GBR) on Lordships Graffalo
3 – Gemma Tattersall (GBR) on Santiago Bay
Winning owners: Jo and James Lambert and Deirdre Johnston
Winning grooms: Ruth Asquith and Abbie Pearson
This report can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 17 June
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