Laura Collett leads Pau five-star after cross-country: ‘London 52 showed everyone what he’s made of’ *H&H Plus*

  • Read our full analysis of how riders tackled Pierre Michelet’s course, plus find out why it was a relief for leader Laura Collett that London 52 went so well today…

    Laura Collett and London 52 lead a British one-two at the head of the Pau Horse Trials 2020 cross-country results after the action today (24 October).

    Last year’s Boekelo winner, who belongs to Keith Scott, Karen Bartlett and his rider, responded to Laura’s every call in his first five-star cross-country, including being super honest to take on the last corner in the penultimate combination, which he didn’t see until the point of take-off.

    “London came out this year and from his first couple of runs in open intermediates, he felt like a totally different horse in himself – when he was fighting with his head last year it was because he was just so nervous. I felt he couldn’t be coming here in better form and now was the chance to see if he’s really what I think he is, and he showed he is,” said Laura.

    “I’ve always believed in him – there’s always been a reason behind his problems and [Irish rider] Sam Watson said to me last year that every horse has ups and downs, but because London always puts himself in the limelight by being up there after dressage, his problems are high profile. He’s never had a chance to do his learning under the radar before he hit the big time. So that was a good pep talk from Sam.

    “Now, he’s done it in front of everyone and shown everyone what he’s made of. It’s a relief, I owed it to the horse for it to go right and to make sure it went right and I’m just very glad I didn’t give him a reason not to be confident. Hopefully he’ll have grown in confidence again from this.”

    Laura herself took confidence from riding the course earlier in the day on “my best friend”, the more experienced Mr Bass, who at one stage had 20 penalties on the scoreboard from the penultimate combination, but the rider successfully appealed the faults as she did not present to the corner at 27bc, having decided not to attempt the straight route. 

    “He’s always more difficult to turn right and he got very strong on me, she explained. “I had quite a forward shot at the house on the top of the mound, took a stride and thought there was no way I’d get to the corner so I shouted ‘long’ and went long – it was frustrating because he was so good on the clock up to there, but he didn’t deserve to have a silly problem right at the end. It was annoying the long route was very long, but he came home safe and that was the main thing.

    Mr Bass finished with 7.6 time-faults and sits in 15th overnight.

    Wth Mr Bass having shown Laura the time was achievable, she and London finished one second inside the optimum to sit 0.9 of a penalty ahead of Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent, with John and Chloe Perry and Alison Swinburn’s horse also putting up a fault-free performance today.

    Piggy’s only dicey moment came at the influential corner at fence 14, which took Brookfield Inocent by surprise, but he chipped in a stride and cleared it.

    New Zealand’s Tim Price provides the only interruption in an otherwise all-British top seven. He had three rides today and saved the best until last, bringing The Windrush Equestrian Foundation’s popular 17-year-old Wesko home just one second over the time to move up from fourth after dressage to third.

    Alex Bragg rose from seventh to fourth with his clear inside the time on Philip and Sally Ellicott’s majestic Zagreb, who never faltered on a track he knows well, having been placed at Pau three times previously. Alex also rode his younger horse, Michael and Naomi Roe’s King Of The Mill, earlier in the day, coming home with one run-out but giving the horse great experience for the future.

    “They are totally different horses at different ends of their careers,” said Alex. “King Of The Mill is very green and was looking at everything except the jumps, whereas Zagreb just looks for the flags. It didn’t faze me having a run-out on the first horse and then going out on Zagreb, you just have to start from a blank canvas and trust your training and experience.

    “Zagreb is a pleasure to ride, this level is well within him and I’ve just got to point and shoot – he does the rest for me.

    “I’m not overly disappointed with King Of The Mill. This is an education and a stepping stone – he’s a very big galloping horse, who copes well with distance and stamina, and is more suited to Badminton and Burghley than Pau. All these twists and turns are difficult for a big, rangy horse, especially when they are young. He will have taken so much from this course and he’s shown he’s an amazing prospect, which is super exciting for our team and his owners.”

    Five-star first-timer Mollie Summerland put up a super performance to bring Charly Van Ter Heiden home clear inside the time and move up from eighth after dressage to fifth. The pair had a few untidy moments, but helped each other out and showed the strength of their partnership, with Mollie making sensible decisions such as adding a stride to the second arrowhead at the first water when the horse was not really travelling over the previous one.

    “I know he jumps steps into water like that so I was prepared for that – I knew he’s so genuine that if he understood where he was going he would jump the arrowheads even with that funny jump in. That’s where our partnership really counts,” said Mollie.

    “I hear them say I was bang on the optimum as I finished and I was expecting to burst into tears or have a strong emotion, but I was in complete disbelief and a bit speechless. It still doesn’t feel like it’s sunk in how well he went – my phone has been going berserk even though I didn’t post anything on social media as I didn’t want extra pressure, it just reminds you how many people are watching and I hope I didn’t look too untidy.

    “I want to credit Robin Dumas as I’ve been training with him leading up to the event and he’s given us such a good tune up and been on the end of the phone this week. He’s given me a lot of confidence and I’ll continue to train with him.”

    Behind Mollie and Charly in sixth are last year’s Pau winners Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser, who whisked round with a superbly professional performance. Toledo looked keen and made even the longest distances very easily, with Tom able to sit up and showjump the final fence, still finishing 10 seconds inside the time.

    Ros Canter holds seventh after adding 2.4 time-faults to her dressage score during a lovely neat round on her own Pau aficionado Zenshera.

    The 1993 European champion Jean Lou Bigot (Utrillo Du Halage) lies eighth for the home side, with his compatriot Alexis Goury (Trompe L’Oeil D’Emery) in 10th. Oliver Townend is sandwiched between them on MHS King Joules, who was just five seconds over the time.

    Pau Horse Trials 2020 cross-country results: Michelet’s course

    The riders previewed the course as a typical Pierre Michelet track featuring the narrowest possible skinnies, blind turns to corners and forward, brave distances.

    In the event it proved an excellent test, with plenty of influence on the leader board but not a single horse or rider fall. Ten of the 45 starters (22%) came home inside the 11min 8sec optimum time, with 32 clear jumping rounds (71%). British five-star first-timer Richard Coney was the first to make the time, piloting Mermus R Diamond round for a 18-place rise up the leader board to 16th. Richard also sits 22nd on Kananaskis, who had a better dressage test than his first ride but added 12.8 time-faults today.

    The first water (fences 9ab and 10) provided the first major test. Horses entered the lake over a log on the edge of a drop and without a big fence into the water, many landed in trot or not really moving, fiddling through to the first triple brush arrowhead on a mix of trot and canter. Emilie Chandler’s ride Gortfadda Diamond (currently 20th after adding 9.6 time-faults to his 28.6 dressage score) was one of the best here, landing cleanly and stepping forward boldly into the ideal three strides. It was then a further three moving strides to a second triple brush arrowhead.

    Kevin McNab lost his fifth place after dressage with Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend when he made it over the first arrowhead after landing off his line, but didn’t lock onto the second one and had a run-out.

    Sarah Bullimore’s campaign also came unstuck here when Reve Du Rouet made it over the first arrowhead, but ran out at the second. Sarah was unseated, making a great effort to avoid falling off in the water, but her stirrup had come loose from her saddle and she retired. Her second ride, Conpierre – who had already had a run-out at the first of two angled hedges at fence 6ab – had to stretch to make it over the first arrowhead and having deviated from his line, couldn’t make the third.

    A number of riders successfully added a fourth stride between the two arrowheads, including both Oliver Townend on MHS King Joules and Izzy Taylor with five-star debutant Artful Trinity, who is in 18th after adding six time-faults.

    The double of swans at fence 12ab caused a dramatic moment for Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam, 15th after dressage. The bay gelding left his off fore over the first swan, which sat up on a mound, unbalancing him and Kevin, who then had to pull right away from the second, angled bird at the bottom of the slope. He successfully appealed his 20 penalties and sits 27th with 18.8 time-faults.

    Dressage runner-up Chris Burton’s challenge came to an end at fence 14ab when Graf Liberty ran-out at the right-handed open corner which followed a sharp left-handed turn from an oxer. This fence was also the undoing of British vet Katie Preston, who went on to complete with Templar Justice with 60 jumping penalties, and the site of the first of two run-outs for five-star first-timer Rehy DJ, under young British rider Yasmin Ingham.

    The second and third waters gave riders plenty to think about, but proved surprisingly forgiving in terms of penalties. At the second, fence 21abc, riders jumped a big brush rolltop with the ground dropping away on landing, before four strides to a brush-topped box and then on round the right-hand curve to an upright box. The catch was that the four strides was not particularly long – so anyone whose horse ballooned the initial fence needed to hold up or adjust their line to the box – while the ideal six strides to the final element required riders to push on. Some added a seventh, while Ros Canter’s super-smooth line and tight turn here on Zenshera allowed her to make the six strides look very easy.

    The penultimate combination (fences 27abc and 28) was, as riders predicted, a tricky one. On the direct route, riders jumped a spread brush fence before curving right-handed on a downhill slope to two left-handed corners (fences 27bc and 28) on three moving strides. Options to avoid this toughest of tests included circling between the corners – as Kevin McNab did on Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam – or taking a time consuming long route, looping round the driving obstacles over alternative fences 27b and c, before returning to the corner at 28.

    Nicola Wilson was among those who took the long route and she now sits 17th on Bulana after adding 9.2 time-faults – the mare looked a little strong at times in the early part of the course, but used her nimbleness to good effect to add strides before a couple of fences. Chris Burton was initially given 15 faults for a flag penalty at the first of the corners here in addition to his earlier 20, but these penalties were later removed.

    The competition concludes tomorrow with the final horse inspection at 1.15pm French time (12.15pm British time) and then the showjumping at 3.15pm French time (2.15pm British time).

    Read more reports from Pau…