When eventing phenom Ian Stark flexes his course-designing muscles, the eventing world sits up and takes notice, and never more so than at Bramham. Set in the heart of North Yorkshire, the Bramham Park estate boasts sweeping undulations, natural dips and mounds, and ample space for the sort of long, old-fashioned, galloping course that the event is known for.
But it’s not all running and jumping — to stand a chance of taking the top spot here, you’ve got to be prepared to tackle serious slopes and dips within combinations, to jump from light to dark and back again, and your stamina — and that of your horse — must be at its absolute peak.
At 10:24, and covering a distance of 5927m, today’s CCI3* and CCIu253* course certainly offered nothing for free.
KRAJEWSKI LEADS CCI3* CHARGE
Germany’s Julia Krajewski and Chipmunk FRH had given themselves a margin of nearly six points going into the cross country, with their dressage score of 19.4 moving them well ahead of their competition. But, as it turned out, they didn’t need to use any of that buffer, producing a fast, clear round inside the time to make the influential track look almost beneath their abilities.
“I really had the feeling that he was enjoying it to the last — his ears were pricked, and it was a very cool feeling,” says Julia of her impressive ten-year-old. “We were concerned that, perhaps, the ground would be too hard, but it really was perfect — the team did a great job.”
Hot on their heels was France’s Karim Laghouag, who, with Entebbe de Hus, sat third on a score of 26.3 after the first phase. They, too, went clear, finishing just one second over the optimum time to sit second on 26.3 heading into showjumping.
“Entebbe de Hus went really well today, but he started the season a bit under his normal ability,” says Karim. “I came with many things to prove — to the French selectors, the supporters, and to the rider, too! So it was nice that every stride went as I planned them to.”
William Fox-Pitt moved up to third place from sixth after producing a clear round inside the time with the young and exciting Oratorio II. The nine-year-old gelding is sired by William’s recently-retired top level mount Oslo, with whom he won Pau in 2011, and out of a point-to-point mare that he and wife Alice had previously trained, so, says William, “he’s a very sentimental horse.”
“He was offered to us as a three-year-old, and I thought, no — he’s far too young, I won’t still be going by the time he’s ready to compete! So we thought about it a bit, and advised the owners to send him to Laura Collett instead. She competed him up to CIC2*, but he was rather too big and rude. Then he came to me and grew three inches from the age of seven until nine. He’s not a girl’s ride — he’s not really my ride, for that matter, but we’re learning!”
That learning curve has resulted in some moments of miscommunication in the past, in which even 6’5 William has struggled to keep the horse straight and correct, but today, he felt that an enormous step was taken in the right direction.
“He was a good boy — he’s still quite a green horse, but his real asset is his class,” explains William. “He has endless stamina, and probably could have gone around that course twice today, and while he’s quite argumentative and strong ordinarily, today, he was great. It wasn’t a perfect round, nor the most pretty, but he was really up for it and taking me to the flags. He’s really a project for me; I hope he’ll go four-star once he learns to look for the flags.”
The Antipodean contingent ensured representation in the top ten, with Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs moving up one place from fifth to fourth after adding just 1.6 time penalties, and Australia’s Bill Levett posting a double-clear with Lassban Diamond Lift to climb five places to fifth.
2.4 time penalties was fast enough to allow Kitty King and Vendredi Biats to climb a spot to sixth place, while elsewhere, 6.4 time penalties plummeted France’s Matthieu Vanlandeghem and Trouble Fete ENE HN from second after dressage to eighth. Seventh, ninth, and tenth places were taken by riders whose fast clears allowed them to climb substantially — Gwendolen Fer and Traumprinz from 28th to 7th, Olivia Wilmot and Zebedee de Foja from 26th to 9th, and Richard Jones and Alfies Clover, rerouting from Badminton, from 29th to 10th.
EXAMINING THE INFLUENCE
The final water combination at 21ABCDE, the Womble Bond Dickinson Pond, proved the most influential question on course, with five faulters in this section. Late in the course, the combination was made up of a large rolltop, followed by a descent into the water, in which the competitors had to negotiate a curving line of two skinny arrowheads. Then, they had to canter up and out of the water, over a skinny swan, and left-handed through a 90-degree turn to a wide, galloping trakehner. When competitors stayed true to their line, and rode forward into their stride, it was made to look very easy — but when the line wavered, or the horse sucked back behind the leg, it became a much more difficult question.
It was responsible for perhaps the most impressive ‘nearly’ of the day, when Nicola Wilson and One Two Many, 11th after dressage, misjudged their stride over the first of the skinnies. Miraculously, both cleared the fence and remained upright, but Nicola, who ended up being One Two Many’s saddle, sensibly put her hand up and opted to retire after the hairy effort.
William Fox-Pitt, too, offered up a tense moment when Luxury FH dropped behind his leg and opted to trot and lurch his way through the combination. They ultimately retired two fences later: “the horse just tired, but fortunately he thinks he did very well! He’s had rather sketchy prep as most of his Advanced runs were cancelled this spring.”
As always, the demanding cross country course proved hugely influential but not insensible, with just over a quarter of the 66 starters retiring or facing elimination on course. A further six riders incurred jumping penalties but completed, and ten combinations added neither jumping nor time penalties to their dressage scores. The ground, and the questions asked, were widely praised by riders, who acknowledged the enormous amount of effort put in by the management team to continuously water and aerovate the swiftly baking footing.
KING REIGNS SUPREME ON CROSS COUNTRY DAY
Dressage leaders Emily King and Dargun defied previous form and proved that their hard work had come good, laying down a fast clear to hold their position for another night in the under-25 CCI3*. They have just a time penalty in hand going into tomorrow’s showjumping.
“He was very good — he’s very careful normally, and today he was bold, straight, and galloped well from the start,” says Emily. “He got in a good rhythm right away, and the first combinations went very smoothly. I found him very easy to ride forward and turn, and so when we got a big jump in at the second water and I only just managed to get him back, it was down to being able to turn him.”
Emily experienced the first ever hold on course of her career while tackling the track, when the rider ahead of her fell at the final trakehner.
“I’ve never been held, so I was like, ‘oh, that’s what this is like!’,” she laughs. “It went on for four or five minutes, so both of us really had the chance to catch breath and start over again very fresh. We went on and did the final water and then I could feel confident that the very hard ones were behind us. I had been keeping a close eye on the time up until the hold, but after that I didn’t have it very sussed out so I just tried to get back into the rhythm I had before.”
Second place overnight is held by her boyfriend Sam Ecroyd and her former ride Cooley Currency, who added nothing to their dressage score of 28.1 to climb from 4th. He also sits fifth going into showjumping with his first ride, Master Douglas.
“I had two very good rides today,” he says. “I came here two years ago and thought that it was the nicest cross country course I’d ever ridden, so I knew it would suit my two. It’s bold, it’s attacking, and Ian Stark deserves huge praise for the way he build it — nowadays so many are like dog agility courses, so it’s nice to have one like this. It was brilliantly done.”
“I was lucky to be sat on two very brave horses who went really well. Cooley Currency is a very big, very scopey, very strong horse – of all Emily’s great qualities, her physical strength wouldn’t be one of them,” he laughs. “So I took over the ride, because I’m taller, and have longer legs and arms.”
Sam, too, was held on course, just before the final water.
“Unfortunately, the hold was too late on course to be much help — he just thought he was finished, as this is the longest course he’s ever done!”
Slipping into third was France’s Thibault Fornier and Siniani de Lathus, who added just one second to the optimum time.
“I would like to thank the organisers for an amazing cross country,” he enthuses, echoing the sentiments of his fellow competitors. “I was so happy about my horse. He was very clean up to the end, and jumped very well at all the fences. It’s my first CCI3* with him — I don’t know him very well but the way he makes the cross country feel shows me that he can make a nice horse for bigger courses.”
Hallie Coon and Celien posted a classy clear round, despite some stickiness at the final water, to add 14.4 time penalties to their dressage score. They sit 13th going into tomorrow’s showjumping on a score of 46.3.
The cross country proved similarly influential in this class, with nine of the 27 starters not completing the course. A further four picked up jumping penalties, with two of those occurring at the final water complex. Those went to Caroline Martin, who picked up 20 penalties on her first mount, Danger Mouse, after the horse veered left at the first skinny and wasn’t able to get back on the line to the second. On her second horse, The Apprentice, she was awarded 50 penalties for missing a flag on the same fence, despite evidence that suggested the contrary being presented by members of the media. She sits 16th (Danger Mouse) and 18th (The Apprentice) heading into the final phase.
We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Chuffy Clarke‘s mount Second Supreme, who collapsed near the end of the course and died, apparently of natural causes. You can read the full statement, as well as enjoy a gallery of beautiful photos of the dynamic duo’s wonderful partnership, here. Our deepest condolences go to Chuffy and all of Ed’s team.
We’ll be coming at you bright and early tomorrow from the final horse inspection, as well as bringing you a report on the CIC3* competition’s thrilling finale, and all the action from both CCI3* section’s showjumping. Hold onto your hats, kids — it’s going to be exciting.