Blenheim: The Dancing Shoes Come Out for the First Horse Inspection

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall,” said Jordan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and look, we’ll be honest with you — we don’t often relate to much in Gatsby, but that’s one line that hits home this week.

There’s something extra special about the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. Held each year as the aftershocks of Burghley start to ebb away, it could get lost in a funny sort of end-of-season ennui, but each year, it heralds the start of autumn with a bang. You can always rely on Blenheim for a few things: sudden, crisp mornings and evenings, where the air smells faintly of log fires and the novelty value of digging out a proper jacket is still fresh, and new, and not at all soul-destroying. A feeling of real English luxury, too — the proper kind, in which chaise longues are populated by bevies of terriers, and wellies might be accepted in the ballroom with a bit of a wink at the Duchess, and the former seat of Winston Churchill looms over everything, golden and spectral and splendid. Most importantly of all, you can rely on Blenheim to deliver two enormous, exciting three-stars.

The World Equestrian Games might be in full swing across the pond, but it would be remiss to forget about Oxfordshire’s crown jewel — after all, its prestigious CIC3* for eight- and nine-year-olds has historically been a barometer of world-beating talent. Look to Tryon, and you’ll see Cooley Lands, competing under the Australian flag with Chris Burton — look back to Blenheim and you’ll see his victory in this class here just last season. This year, 78 horses come forward to prove to the world that they, too, could be the next big thing.

Kitty King’s Ceylor LAN is one of the many major names contesting the CCI3* this year – and can we all just take a second to admire how perfect he is? Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The CCI3*, too, is colossal — both in fence dimensions and in class size. 101 combinations from twelve nations presented to the ground jury this afternoon at the first horse inspection. This year, the trot-up took place on the Palace’s south lawn — an atmospheric first.

A handful of combinations were asked to re-present. Johnny Cash II, presented by Johan Lundin, was the first of these — he was asked to trot twice before being sent to the holding box, but subsequently passed. The Swedish rider will compete two horses in the CCI class — his other ride, Mind Me, was also accepted.

Edouard Chauvet is one of a serious contingent of French competitors here this weekend, and his Vesubio was also asked to trot twice, though was accepted straight away thereafter. Great Britain’s Francis Whittington had to re-present his experienced Hasty Imp, and will also go forward to the first phase.

Taking ridiculous photos at a trot-up is getting to be something of a habit, and, in Harry Meade‘s absence, Will Rawlin kindly offered himself up as EN’s victim this time. We’d like to know what he’s feeding VIP Vinnie, and if we might also be able to have some.

Will Furlong and best turned-out winner Cooley Zest. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will Furlong‘s Cooley Zest was awarded the prize for the best turned-out horse, while HiHo Silver named David Britnell and Eilidh-Jane Costello as their best-dressed gent and lady.

Eilidh-Jane Costello and Westmur Quality. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

David Britnell and Continuity. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both the CCI3* and the CIC3* begin in earnest tomorrow, with some top combinations on show, including Kitty King and Vendredi BiatsPippa Funnell and MGH Grafton StreetCarlos Parro and Summon Up The Blood, and Camilla Kruger and Biarritz II performing their tests in the CCI3*. In the CIC3*, we’ll be watching Izzy Taylor and her seven-year-old reserve World Champion Direct CassinoJames Avery‘s Vitali, who led the same class until the final phase, Katherine Coleman‘s impressive Monte Classico, and Laura Collett‘s DacapoBen Hobday brings forward Shadow Man II, who narrowly missed out on a win in Blair Castle’s CIC3* last month — as Ben told us then, he’s hungry for a three-star win. We could see him pulling out the big guns this week.

As always, keep it locked on to EN for all your Blenheim (okay, okay, and WEG) news as it happens — it’s going to be a spectacular week to be an eventing fan.

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