Delight and Disappointments On Cross Country at Blair

Michael Jung and fischerTakinou. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Michael Jung and fischerTakinou. Photo by Samantha Clark.

In what’s becoming a re-occurring theme, Michael Jung jumped clear inside the time cross country today, this time on the youngest horse in the field, the 8-year-old chestnut fischerTakinou, in pretty appalling conditions to take the overnight lead. Once again the Germans are in the lead going into the show-jumping after five of their six team members came home with clear rounds.

There were three clears inside the time today, 35 clear jumping rounds, ten riders with one stop, 45 finished, five retired, and 14 eliminated from 64 starters. After two members of each team had gone, there was a hold on course while stone was put down in front of the Neeps, Haggis and Tatties fence at 21ab and 22 due to three falls in a row there, but after two further riders the Haggis (the middle element) was removed. All the riders agreed this was the right decision (Ian Stark’s decision) as the ground was so slick there, and it was just getting worse. Lucinda Green’s rider Daniel Dunst was an unfortunate victim of the Haggis before it was removed. The second corner in the arena was the most influential fence on course with nine problems there.

Whereas British team orders, especially for first rider out Kitty King were definitely to go clear, and she did that, riding the long way at both waters to see how long it would take and to get a clear under their belts, Michael Jung seemed to defy the conditions and the instructions that the Germans had specifically said they were under the night before to be careful, to not get complacent, and he flew around on on his customary longer reins on fischerTakinou, no breastplaste, no martingale, riding him boldy and bravely as if it were perfect going and nothing were at stake at all. To give both Michael and the horse his due, FischerTakinou responded, galloping and jumping better and better as he went round, and it took Michael two circuits to pull him up at the finish.

At the finish he was as usual upbeat and positive but laid-back about his success. “He was very nice, it felt easy, he’s a very, very talented horse with not very much experience so sometimes he needs a bit more help. He was very focused and galloping very well and he gave me a very good feeling and everything worked perfectly so I took all the direct ways. I hate the rain, I never like riding in the rain but when you’re galloping and you feel the horse and you’re on the cross country then you’re so focused you don’t always feel it.

“My horse had no problems with the rain or the wet, he was concentrating and listening to me and did everything I asked. Normally I have a breastplate but I thought today with all the ups and downs I think you need very good the shoulder but I think sometimes it’s a little thing in the head, it works also! This is amazing, an 8-year-old horse, so talented, so strong on the cross country, so good in the dressage, it’s a fantastic feeling, for the future it’s very important.” Another Sam? “Maybe…every horse is different, you cannot find a second Sam but he’s definitely a horse for the future.”

Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo moved into second place behind teammates Michael Jung after a long hold on course saw them finish with 11.2 time faults which she is currently contesting. “He  made it very easy for me, he’s a very good jumper, he was concentrating, it was fun to ride. Everything went to my plan, my horse did a great job, I’m so happy to ride him. The ground was good to ride, I felt really fast.”

Great Britain's trailblazer Kitty King gives teammate Nicola Wilson advice before she heads out on course. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Great Britain’s trailblazer Kitty King gives teammate Nicola Wilson advice before she heads out on course. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Izzy Taylor rocketed up the leaderboard with a stylish clear inside the time on KBIS Briarlands Matilda. Both the mare and Izzy go hunting regularly, and Izzy was the only rider to complete both her horses round Badminton last year so today was right up her alley. In her trademark quiet but effective manner she rode a stylish and economical round with just one nasty moment when Matilda tripped before the second last and she now sits in third place going into the show-jumping tomorrow. Izzy was another to be held right before she started.

“It’s always tricky being held whether you’re on course or about to go, but luckily we’re used to those situations, it was just quite cold for us and a bit of worry for the horse with her being a mare you don’t want her to get cold and her muscles to get sore so they can’t gallop and jump as well as they should do. She is a fantastic cross country horse and she really was great today. I just went out there and rode the course as I found it. I hoped being at Blair it would be a good cross country competition, that the time would be influential and the weather definitely played a big part in that and I was on the right horse today.”

Frenchman Lt Col Thibault Vallette went early and clear with just 8.4 time to move into 4th place overnight, proving that plenty of the direct routes could be done, and Kitty King rode to team orders to get the job done, riding carefully and precisely to bring a keen Persimmon home clear also with 8.4 time to lie 5th. “I wasn’t expecting to be pathfinder the for the team and it took me a little while to get my head around it. I was more nervous this morning than I’d normally be but I actually really enjoyed going out first. I didn’t know what was going on out on the track, it meant I could just ride my horse as I found him and do my job,” Kitty said.

“I was asked to go long at the first water just because it’s a tough question and Percy can be a little feisty and that upright rail in the bottom would be the type of fence that he might make an error at from being over-bold and over-keen, so it was team orders to go long and I think they wanted to find out how long it would take, whether it was very costly, to see what they tell the other riders to do. The coffin was fairly eventful but we got through it and at the end of the day like Yogi says it’s not what you look like as long as you go through the flags and he did that, but it was definitely a bit of a rollercoaster but apart from that he was pretty brilliant.”

Ingrid Klimke had to wait until the very end of the day to take her ‘hunter’ Horseware Hale Bob round by which time the ground had really deteriorated; she had mentioned yesterday that his hunting experience as a youngster would stand him in good stead and he did indeed look quite comfortable today, skipping around on top of the ground as if he was going around a pony club course, but Ingrid said it was actually pretty bad. “I was very happy because Horseware Hale Bob did a fantastic job, he was full of himself running and jumping and looking and I was very pleased. The ground was, I must honestly say, horrible. It was deep everywhere, you couldn’t really avoid it, I tried to go left and right, to change tracks but there was no chance, it was just all over the place too deep. He was fantastic, he was so good and balanced, I was really happy. After seeing it the whole day I thought it would be harder, the only hard thing was the ground, the fences was really fun.”

Gemma Tattersall didn’t disappoint with a fast clear inside the time to move up to seventh place overnight on her OTTB Arctic Soul. Since Burghley last year Gemma said he’s improved more, and getting easier to ride. “Everything rode as I thought. He’s just fantastic, he’s like a cat for such a massive, big Thoroughbred. He was only 11 last year and he didn’t start eventing until he was eight so he’s done pretty well to get to where he’s got to in such a short space of time, and now he’s pretty established at the level and he’s so confident, he knows that he can come back to me, he doesn’t have to rush.”

Dirk Schrade and Hop And Skip in 8th with a clear round and 5.2 time faults are the German team drop score which shows you just how far ahead they are. Germany lead on 122.7 from Great Britain on 169.3, and France are in 3rd on 179.7. The Netherlands are in 4th on 209.3 and Sweden is in 5th on 247.8 which mean that at the moment France and Sweden are in the hot spots for qualification for Rio next year, but Spain is right behind Sweden in 6th place on 253.8 so tomorrow will be a tense day all round (except for Germany probably!).

Pippa Funnell and Sandman 7. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Pippa Funnell and Sandman 7. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Laura Collett rode a class round on Grand Manoeuvre to bring him home clear with 10.8 time and they’re now just inside the top 10 in 9th place and she professed herself rightfully chuffed with the horse. Right behind her and equally delighted was an emotional Pippa Funnell who steered a green Sandman 7 round clear and is now in 10th place; close to tears when she pulled up she admitted she was in two minds about whether this was too big a question for such a genuine but relatively inexperienced horse that she thinks so much of, and that she’d ridden the course for her mentor and part-owner Ruth McMullen who couldn’t be here today.

“I’ve probably felt more nervous about this Championship than any other because Redesigned was so different, he was SO exceptionally bold cross country, he’d jump anything from anywhere, and this horse has been but he’s careful, he’s bold but he wouldn’t be the same sort of horse as Redesigned so I felt I had a lot more at stake because I feel with Redesigned he wouldn’t be so easily put off, he’d jump anything, whereas this horse it could have gone either way.” Sandman did look fabulous, ears pricked the whole way round and looking keenly for the next fence, he didn’t seem phased at all by the weather, the footing or the course and took on the direct routes with gusto – what an exciting prospect for Pippa and Team GBR along with Billy the Biz who goes to Blenheim next week.

Unhappier rounds for Team GBR were Nicola Wilson’s on One Two Many – an inexplicable run out at the second corner in the arena while they were going so beautifully dropped them from 4th after dressage down to 28th, “He was giving me such a super ride, he felt great, he jumped the first corner really well and we turned onto the second corner, the line felt great, we had a great take off corner and for some reason I just don’t think he actually properly clocked onto it and it isn’t like him at all to duck out like that and I just genuinely think he wasn’t properly looking at what he was meant to be doing.”

Holly Woodhead had an early drive-by at The Bothys, Fence 4ABC when DHI Lupison just didn’t lock on, “I had him a little bit too much coming in to the first part, and then I probably should have given him a little bit more time to see the second part because he’s such a good jumper, it’s just quite a tight angle and I didn’t really help him out, and I think he was jut looking at the cameraman on the left rather than the fence. The rest of the course was amazing, he was brilliant, I learnt a lot from it. You live and learn.”

Francis Whittington’s Easy Target was never going to love this weather or the terrain and by the time he got to the arena he was looking tired. Francis nursed him through the Malcom Loch and Water but when he ground to a halt at the Neeps, Haggis and Tatties at Fence 21 he sensibly called it a day and retired.

William Fox-Pitt’s Bay My Hero should have found this track relatively easy but he said he never enjoyed the footing, going as he did at the very end of the day; and he looked to be hating it, giving the fences no room at all instead of his usual extravagant and exuberant shape over a jump; they took the slightly  longer way at the corners in the arena and then shockingly Bay My Hero ran out, twice, at the innocuous skinny brush fence at 17, a clear sign that he’d had enough, and William put his hand up and walked home. “This wasn’t his day, it was very tough ground for him. He’s never made a mistake cross country in his life and I think it reflected how he was feeling.”

Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Sarah Bullimore, a last minute call-up to the team was kicking herself for a run out The Bothy, fence 4C on Lily Corinne. “I’m gutted. She is a lovely horse, I wanted to come here and really show what we could do and I’ve had so many lovely well wishes that it would have been great to have been able to repay their faith so I feel like I’ve let everyone down a little bit, but I’m chuffed with the mare, she’s been great, but I’m obviously I’m gutted.”

Oliver Townend was flying round on Fenya’s Elegance, with her tongue flapping the whole way round, until the brush corner at Malcolm’s Loch and Water at 19 where the mare just ran past it; she could have tried a bit harder for Oliver and he was clearly disappointed as he would have made the time easily. “She’s a good mare, there’s no doubt that there’s no lack of talent; obviously she’s lost her way in recent times with life but at the same time she’s got enough experience I just think at times she could be a little bit more generous, but she wasn’t this time. You learn more every time you ride around a serious course on them but I can’t see myself having a lot of time to learn, she’s only got a few more big runs left I would have thought before she retires to stud and I think that she’ll need to buck her ideas up very soon but I can easily see her doing something very special and pulling it off but she’s certainly a character.”

Team GBR coach and Chef D’Equipe Yogi Breisner remains positive despite the day’s disappointments and the disgusting weather. “I think we have learned a lot. There are riders that we wanted to give Championship experience and we have done that, and there have been one or two horses that have come here with very good form, and there have been one or two that have had inexperienced run-outs like Lily Corinne had, or Holly Woodhead, or Oliver Townend had but it’s good to be able to give them experience and learn things. Unfortunately the weather was such that we couldn’t learn as much as we hoped to, but that’s our sport. You can get it wet in Rio but you will basically have things on a much firmer footing and it will be a much different type of course, it will be a Pierre Michelet course compared to an Ian Stark course. I think he built a great track today, I think he’s had a very, very good result, it’s been an exciting competition and once the weather set in like it did it was always going to be tougher, but we had it tough in Haras Du Pins last year.”

Thomas Carlile rode a lovely round on his 9-year-old young horse Champion Sirocco Du Gers, following team orders to play safe and come home clear. A standout for Italy was Emiliano Portale on Rubens delle Sementarecce who was held for a long time but coped beautifully; his round was one of the nicest of the day. The two Irish individuals Camilla Speirs on Portersize Just A Jif and Sam Watson on Horseware Lukeswell were also wonderful to watch, one on one of the smallest and most experienced horses in the field, the other on a relatively novice horse, look out for a video interview with Sam and Camilla tomorrow morning hopefully (wifi allowing!) The Irish team did not fare so well with Joseph Murphy falling at the Neeps, Haggis and Tatties, Padraigh McCarthy falling at the corners in the arena, and Austin O’Connor coming to grief at the Malcolm Loch and Water.

There’s much more I’d like to share from today’s action but it’s dark and cold, and so little wifi! The Final Horse Inspection is tomorrow at 9:15am, we’ll be on site to bring you as much as we can, and show jumping finale from the FEI Longines European Championships at Blair Castle. Congratulations to everyone who made it today, it was a complete test. We saw some very exciting horses for the future and some really talented riders, despite the rain it was a great day. Well done to all the grooms, what a massive task in the cold and mud, I hope they are tucked up warm soon, likewise the horses and riders. A good night’s rest to all, and the volunteers who stood in the weather all day long – thank you and Go Eventing!

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