It’s been a few years since EN has been able to have boots on the ground at Oxfordshire, England’s Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, a competition that’s managed to clash with the World Championships and CHIO Aachen over the last couple of years — but what a joy it is to be back. Not only is the estate, which is famed as the former home of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a feast for the eyes, but the event itself, which hosts both a CCI4*-L and a CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds, is a crucial fixture in the annual calendar. That CCI4*-L, which is generally situated on the softer end of the level, is a super end-of-season aim for less experienced horses and riders, while the eight- and nine-year-old class has an extraordinary track record of developing young horses who go on to become five-star winners, generally within just a year or so of their success here.
Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at how that roll of honour stacks up since the inception of the CCI4*-S back in 2009. The first winner, Piggy March’s Flying Machine, went on to a top-five finish at Luhmühlen in 2011; the second winner, Mark Todd’s NZB Land Vision, won Badminton the following spring; the third winner, William Fox-Pitt’s Oslo, won Pau just a matter of weeks later; the fourth, Andrew Nicholson’s Quimbo, went on to win Boekelo the next month and Kentucky the following spring. Catch your breath for a moment, and then let’s move to the sixth: Jonelle Price’s Faerie Dianimo, who won here in 2014 and then took Luhmühlen the next summer; in 2017, Chris Burton won it with Cooley Lands, who then headed to the following year’s World Equestrian Games; in 2018, Laura Collett and London 52 nabbed it, and we all know where that trajectory led them; in 2020, when the class was temporarily relocated to Burnham Market, it was won by Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir, who then became World Champions two years later. It is, in no uncertain terms, a very big deal to score a victory here, and this year’s field of entries, which sits at 98, is absolutely chock-full of talent. We’ll see the likes of five-star winner Mollie Summerland bring forward young talent — she’s got a serious entry in the Cloke family’s Flow 7, who made his British team debut at Jardy’s Nations Cup this year — and we’ve got a former Young Horse World Champion in Cute Girl, piloted by US rider Hallie Coon. Reigning Olympic champion Julia Krajewski pilots Nickel 21, with whom she finished on the podium in Luhmühlen’s German National Championship this summer, while Oliver Townend has a formidable contestant in nine-year-old Cooley Rosalent, who’s been very successful at Le Lion d’Angers and stepped up to five-star this summer. You can check out the entries for the class in full here.
But that’s the CCI4*-S, and today, our attention was wholly on the CCI4*-L, which has no such age restrictions for its equine entrants. A golden late-summer afternoon unfurled over Blenheim’s picturesque parkland — one of the few such summery days we’ve seen this year, frankly — as its 93 entrants presented in front of the ground jury of president Andrew Bennie, Judy Hancock and Angela Tucker.
All 93 of them ultimately passed into the competition, with minimal drama; just Selina Milnes and Gelmer were sent to the holding box, and were accepted upon representation. A number of horses were trotted a second time, mostly because of an excess of jolly spirits: those included Tom Rowland and Dreamliner, who he recently inherited from Oliver Townend, Scotland’s Louisa Milne-Home and the striking palomino Future Plans, and US rider Cosby Green, currently in the midst of a season based with Tim and Jonelle Price, and her lop-eared Highly Suspicious.
Jewellery company Hi-Ho Silver were on hand to award Best Dressed prizes; these went the way of Tom Grant and Frankie Reid-Warrilow, while a one-off ‘special prize’ was given to British-based Frenchman Gaspard Maksud, who delivered a delightfully odd nod to the sport of golf with a loud set of trousers and a beret designed to look like a hole, complete with hovering golf ball. Never change, Gaspard. Never change.
Now, there’s an awful lot of competition ahead to think about, and both of these enormous classes will get underway promptly at 9.00 a.m. tomorrow in the main arena. The pathfinders for the CCI4*-S class will be Jonelle Price and Fernhill Kankan, while the CCI4*-L will hit the ground running with today’s Best Dressed Male, Tom Grant, riding Penhills Optimax.
There isn’t, unfortunately, a live-stream for the first phase, which will play out through tomorrow and Friday, but you’ll be able to follow along with all the cross-country and showjumping over the weekend thanks to Horse&Country TV. But don’t worry — we won’t let you miss out on any of the news and views from this hugely important fixture, which will be run under new directorship this week after the early termination of the Jockey Club’s tenure. Keep it locked on EN for full reports daily — and until then, Go Eventing!