Piggy March scores a double as eventing returns at Oasby’s elite fixture *H&H Plus*

  • Find out who won and what fences were influential at the first elite horse trials of 2021, as the crème de la crème of eventing started their season…

    Piggy March has scored at least one win at the first Oasby fixture every year since 2014 – except 2016 when she was on maternity leave – and despite saying she felt rusty, she kept up her record at this extra elite fixture on Monday 22 March with a double of victories.

    “It was just good to have an outing and it was a bonus to have these results – it was good to get on grass and jump a fence faster than second gear, as we do in school,” said Piggy, echoing the appreciation everyone felt at being able to access these early elite events, which are operating under special protocols and only open to five-star riders.

    John and Chloe Perry and Alison Swinburn’s Brookfield Inocent, the runner-up at Pau last year, pulled off the only sub-20 score in open intermediate (OI) section C and could afford his six time-faults.

    “He is a horse who benefits from outings, but everyone’s been limited in what they could do this winter,” said Piggy. “He was spooky and fresh in the jumping, but his class gets him through – it does me good to be reminded he’s not totally golden balls.”

    The Lancer Stud’s Fonbherna Lancer was the victor in OI section E as he starts his second season with Piggy.

    “He’s a beautiful horse and we’ve had a good winter bringing ourselves on as a partnership – I’m excited about him,” said Piggy.

    It was great to see Emilie Chandler’s ride Gortfadda Diamond looking well to take the runner-up spot in this section after the horse was withdrawn before the final trot-up at Pau last year.

    Oasby elite results: Wilson takes section A

    Nicola Wilson’s ride JL Dublin showed his class to take OI section A – with just one four-star long under his girth, the 10-year-old is relatively inexperienced compared to many who lined up at this star studded event.

    Jo and James Lambert and Deirdre Johnston’s horse was fourth after dressage on 26.4 and added nothing to that score. His was one of only two cross-country rounds inside the 5min 12sec optimum time, as a number of riders opted to take horses more steadily on their first runs of the season.

    “He was very excited to be out and have grass under his feet for the first time – he sneaked a buck in the dressage – but he gave me a lovely ride and feel in all three phases,” said Nicola, who said she had an open mind about how fast she would run.

    “If he was overly full of himself, then I may have gone a bit steadier, but he felt relaxed and rideable on the cross-country, so I let him get on with his job, which he did beautifully.”

    The 10-year-old was aimed at Nicola’s local three-day event at Bramham in June and is likely now to head to the replacement fixture at Bicton Arena.

    “I don’t think I’ve ever been to Devon, but I look forward to doing a bit of sightseeing,” joked Nicola.

    Nicola also scooped 12th in section D on Erano M, but had a run-out on Hawk Eye at the Tigga’s Saddlery Stables at fence 11ab. The long two strides between narrow brushes here required commitment and four pairs were caught out.

    “Hawk Eye felt great the rest of the round and I think he was just a bit rusty. It was a reminder to do a bit more skinny training – it’s been so wet with us we haven’t had a chance to do much cross-country schooling,” said Nicola.

    The NAF-sponsored question at fence six, a right-handed corner off a left-hand turn, led to three horses incurring 20 penalties, including Jodie Amos’s veteran campaigner Wise Crack, who was eliminated further on. The only other non-finisher was Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto, who missed out fence three on Vinci De La Vigne. In all, 92.6% of pairs jumped clear.

    “It was an absolute treat to watch such spectacular horses and riders. The course followed the same route as in the past but it was a step up from the normal March Oasby, which was the brief I was given because of the quality of horses competing,” said organiser and course-designer Stuart Buntine, who said he is likely to tweak the siting of the corner and hedge combinations before the next Oasby fixture when the field will be more mixed.

    Burghley winner keeps improving

    Ballaghmor Class finished on his second-placed dressage score of 20.5 to land OI section B. Oliver Townend said the 2017 Burghley winner – who belongs to Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan – feels “better than he’s ever been”, particularly on the flat.

    “I can’t tell you how much he’s come on – I know he’s always done good tests at big events, but I think his work has gone up another level,” he said. “He just cantered round the cross-country and makes everything feel very easy. A lot of effort had been put into the course, which was good to see.”

    Ros Canter’s Lordships Graffalo was the only horse to best Ballaghmor Class in the dressage, with 18.9, and finished second.

    Oliver had a horse in each section, with Miss Cooley fifth in section A and Tregilder ninth in section E, while Cooley Rosalent and the double Kentucky winner Cooley Master Class were run very steadily across country.

    “We weren’t there to win rosettes, but just to have an outing and take a step forward from it,” said Oliver. “Hopefully the world will return to being able to plan something and work backwards from it.”

    Oliver’s was the largest winning margin of the day – eight marks – while Laura Collett was just 0.9 of a penalty ahead in section D, which she led from start to finish on last autumn’s Pau winner London 52, who belongs to Keith Scott and Karen Bartlett and his rider.

    “He was mega. I let him dictate the pace across country and he cruised round,” she said. “It’s just nice to have him feeling like he’s started where he left off last year. The course was perfect for what we all needed and the ground was brilliant.”

    Laura was also second in section A on Dacapo. He shared the dressage lead with 2019 Badminton winner Vanir Kamira, who was taken very slowly across country as Piggy March said she was “fairly nuts”.

    Laura said: “Dacapo’s always been super-talented, but sometimes didn’t really put much effort in because he found everything quite easy, but now he seems to have knuckled down and be working with me.”

    Laura’s third ride, Mr Bass, was ninth in section B, wearing a Waterford running gag with cheekpieces for cross-country instead of his usual three-ring gag.

    “He has to learn to listen as he thinks he knows everything and isn’t always the nicest to ride round an open intermediate as he thinks the jumps are a bit small and pointless,” she said.

    All three of Laura’s horses may go to the four-star long at Bicton Arena, though if Covid, EHV and Brexit allow, London 52 might be aimed at Luhmühlen.

    This report will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, out Thursday 25 March

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