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.
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.
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!
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’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.