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EquiRatings Presents: Brits Against the World at Luhmühlen 2018

One of the hottest fields in Luhmühlen history comes forward for the CCI4* this week. Will we see Great Britain dominate the event? Sam Watson of EquiRatings makes his case. Keep it locked on EN for wall-to-wall coverage from Germany starting tomorrow. Go Eventing.

Piggy French and Quarrycrest Echo on their way to taking a dominant win in the Event Rider Masters leg at Chatsworth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There is a four-star achievement that hasn’t been achieved outside of Australia for ten years. That in itself should be a clue, but the answer is quite the task — a complete top-five clean sweep by a nation in a four-star. Australia did it eight times between 2008 and 2016 on home soil at Adelaide. For geographical reasons it is quite the outlier, so we will focus on the other five majors, plus any World Equestrian Games (not possible at an Olympic Games) that took place between 2008 and 2017.

We use a simple points system to measure those that have come close. Five points are awarded for first place, four for second place, down to one point for fifth place. The maximum for a full clean sweep is therefore fifteen points.

Most Recent Clean Sweeps Outside Australia

In 2008, this awesome dominance by a nation in a major was achieved twice — both times by nations on their home soil. At Burghley, William Fox-Pitt led home a one-two for Great Britain with the mighty Tamarillo taking the win and the ever-reliable Ballincoola finishing runner-up to his stablemate. Mary King followed up with the three-four aboard Imperial Cavalier and Apache Sauce, with Nicola Wilson completing the quintet with her stalwart Opposition Buzz.

The same year also produced an Adelaide-esque performance from the USA at Kentucky, taking the top eight places in a field that perhaps lacked the usual strength of European raiders that we are now used to in more recent years. Phillip Dutton won the event with Connaught, and he still remains the most recent U.S. rider to do so. The fun fact here is that if Boyd Martin (8th place) had been riding for the USA at the time (instead of AUS), then it would have been a top ten clean sweep for the hosts.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class at Burghley. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Closest Encounters

Since 2008, there have been a couple of big efforts from nations, but the top-five full-house remains elusive in a sport that is clearly becoming more evenly spread between the powerhouse nations.

10 pointers: The U.S. have picked up ten points on three occasions, each time for finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th — the relevant years were 2012, 2014 and 2016. The 10-point haul has also been achieved twice by New Zealand, both times aided by a win from the maestro Andrew Nicholson. These came at Burghley in 2013 and then again at Badminton in 2017. Great Britain had a fruitful 2009 at Badminton when they just reached the double-figure mark of ten points, and they did it again with a raid on French soil at Pau in 2011.

11 in 2011: Team GBR are also responsible for the only 11-point total which again was another foreign raid, this time trans-Atlantic. The big hit coincidentally came in 2011 courtesy of a Mary King one-two, a result that ultimately crowned the British favourite our most recent female world number one in the sport.

The 12 point podium full house: In both 2009 and 2011, Luhmühlen had a home 1-2-3, which secured Germany a hefty 12 points on both occasions. In 2009, it was Michael Jung who topped the podium with a first four-star win for the great La Biosthetique Sam FBW. He was backed up by Andreas Dibowski and Dirk Schrade on that occasion, and then two years later it was Dibowski who took top honours with Sandra Auffarth and Frank Ostholt tucked in behind.

The closest count of 14: Burghley 2017 is the closest we have come in ten years to the top-five full-house in the Northern Hemisphere. It signalled the completion of Chris Bartle’s one-year ‘Great British Rebuilding Project’ with a 1-2-3-4 led home by Oliver Townend. That result turned out to be the beginning of an agonisingly close Grand Slam bid, and it saw Townend finally take the mantle of world number one after his two fruitful visits to Kentucky and Badminton in 2018.

Mr Bass makes his four-star debut as a hot favourite. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A First Full House On Foreign Turf

So, the crux of the matter is whether the in-form Team GBR can deliver the full knock-out blow at Luhmühlen 2018 and become the first nation to complete the clean sweep at a foreign four-star. The Eventing Podcast gives a full run-down of the key contenders in the preview show, but my bet slip would have the names Bulana with Nicola Wilson, Quarrycrest Echo with Piggy French, Billy The Red with Tina Cook, Mr Bass with Laura Collett and Zenshera with Ros Canter on it.

For party-spoilers, watch out for the reigning Badminton winner Jonelle Price with her 2015 runner-up Faerie Dianimo. Andreas Dibowski is always a force at his home four-star, and to add some darker horses in to the mix then the first-timer Deniro Z for USA’s Liz Halliday-Sharp is an exciting prospect, as is the more experienced Horseware Stellor Rebound who could give Sarah Ennis a highest four-star result for Ireland this century. Finally, never rule out Dutch favourite Tim Lips with the his reigning National Champion Bayro.

Call it wild speculation for Team GBR this week or call it obscure trivia for the eventing junkies. But either way, consider yourselves educated in the realm of four-star domination and prepared for the mid-season major at Luhmühlen.

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EquiRatings Road to Rio: Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen

Eventing is a numbers game. Lowest score wins, simple. At EquiRatings we analyse eventing numbers like no one else. Our six years of international results translates into 15 million crucial pieces of data that can scrutinise strengths and weaknesses that sometimes even the best trained eye can overlook. Our Road To Rio series is an overview of the leading combinations heading towards next year’s Olympic Games. We’re delighted to team up with our U.S. media partner Eventing Nation and introduce to you the first of our medal contenders.

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen at Luhmühlen. Photo by Leslie Wylie. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen at Luhmühlen. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Oliver Townend broke his own record for international appearances this year with an incredible 82 starts under his belt in 2015. Clark Montgomery went for a different approach. This year we saw him on just four occasions under FEI rules. No other rider has ever given us a better display of how low quantity can produce incredible quality. What’s even more remarkable is the turnaround produced by Clark between his 2014 and 2015 campaign.

In 2014, with both Universe and Loughan Glen on the road, we saw Clark compete nine times. The output of those runs were three completions, no Top 10s, one clear cross country jumping, no clear cross country inside the time, and just one sub-60 finishing score. His average dressage of 43.2 was a beacon of hope, as were the four clear show jumping rounds from seven attempts. There were hard luck stories for Clark in 2014, but the overall stats from that season must have required a great deal of mental strength to overcome.

With only Loughan Glen to compete in 2015, the pressure to produce results must have been immense for the combination. We first saw them at Belton — 39.8 in the first phase and into second place. No real surprise; these two are super talented in the dressage arena. They left all the coloured poles in place and took over the lead. Again no surprises really, but now the pressure must have been bubbling under the surface.

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen celebrate their Belton win. Photo via Clark on Facebook.

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen celebrate their Belton win. Photo courtesy of Clark Montgomery.

They had been in a similar position at Belton the previous season, second after dressage and clear show jumping, but the cross country caught them and 20 penalties scuppered their hopes. In 2015, off the back of a tough season, they buried their ghosts and produced a fast clear cross country to take the win. Belton was the largest field of the year at three-star and four-star level with 106 starters — this was a serious result!

Their next start came at Luhmühlen, this time stepping up to the highest level for a four-star. Again a solid start to the first phase with 37.1 and into the top 10. The cross country was still a huge question that this pair needed to answer. They did so in some style by only adding one second (0.4 penalties) to their first phase total. They finished off the event with a clear in the final phase and finished sixth at a seriously competitive four-star.

With consistency starting to appear, Clark nurtured the confidence and quality that was now emerging in their performances. They reappeared at Somerford Park in a CIC2*. Their score of 35.0 in the dressage saw them lead from pillar to post, adding just 1.2 time penalties on the cross country course. Another win and again he saw off a huge field in doing so — 113 starters lined up and none of them could trouble this combination that now seemed to be on a considerable roll!

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen (USA). Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen on their way to a 37.1 dressage test at Luhmühlen. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Blenheim was their final appearance. Again they led the first phase, this time on 33.8, a number that is now hinting strongly at medal contention in Rio. What is even more impressive is that they finished on it. They took down another high-class field, this time comprising 101 starters. We would be very surprised if one horse, in one season, ever wins three internationals all with over 100 starters. A phenomenal achievement.

While dressage was always a strength, it improved in 2015 — 39.8, 37.1, 35.0 and 33.8 shows a consistent trend, and if any horse starts to hit the 20s next year, then maybe it is this one. The show jumping was strong, but this year it was perfect — four from four, 100 percent.

The cross country jumping had been a significant weakness. This year they may have avoided Badminton, Aachen and Burghley, but their reward was again perfection in terms of jumping four clear cross country rounds. In fact, in four runs they added just 3.2 penalties to their first phase total — an average of just 0.8 per run.

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen zoom into the lead at Blenheim Palace CCI3*

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen storming around the Blenheim Palace CCI3* course. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Clark’s dressage average of 36.4 is better than Michael Jung’s (37.3), Ingrid Klimke’s (41.5) and William Fox-Pitt’s (41.6). Luhmühlen and Blenheim may not have been the toughest cross country tests in the calendar this season, but they are more than adequate trials for an Olympic Games.

In the past five Olympic events, the USA have claimed more individual medals (4) than anyone else. NZL (3), GER (3) and GBR (3) will be hoping to catch them in Rio. Should Clark and Glen make the U.S. team, they’ll have their sights set on continuing a strong tradition for the Stars and Stripes.