Belton, Day Two: Taylor is Untouchable; Comeback King Returns to Main Stage

Despite valiant efforts, no one could usurp Monkeying Around’s decisive lead in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S today. Piloted by world number 12 Izzy Taylor, he put a 26.2 on the board yesterday morning and, although he’s one of the most inexperienced horses in the field, continues to hold top spot going into the final day of competition. Though this is his first appearance at the four-star level, he showed a maturity which belied his years.

“I was delighted with him; he’s only eight,” says Izzy. “He’s very capable, but it’s a lot in there, and it’s a level up in what he’s got to do. He’s one I’ve had from the beginning, and it’s lovely when they’re yours from the very beginning. It makes a big difference.”

For Izzy, the process of taking a horse through a high-pressure competition like this is much the same, whether she’s sitting on an experienced horse or, in the case of Monkeying Around, a youngster: at the end of the day, it’s about taking one step at a time and adapting to what the horse needs at every juncture.

“He’s got to showjump tomorrow, and we’ll see how he goes and jumps,” she says firmly. “Then — well, he’s a very exciting horse for the future, and today, or tomorrow, or whenever isn’t the be-all and end-all. His future is still the most important thing; he’s still learning, but equally, I’m very driven, and I know him and he knows me. If I’m going around and he suddenly says, ‘I’m not okay with it’, then we go from there.”

Izzy Taylor and Springpower. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But #BusyIzzy wasn’t sitting on her laurels today – she also brought forward the Badminton-bound Springpower (Power Blade xx x April Imperator), who duly showed that he’s lacking in neither spring nor, as it happens, power. Some cheeky moments pushed them down to a 34.7, which sees them hold 32nd in this incredibly competitive class. But lest you discount her now, remember that Izzy is one of the fastest and most reliable cross-country jockeys on the scene, and this certainly won’t be a competition that ends in the first phase.

“He’s quite naughty and can be cheeky,” says Izzy. “It’s the first outing here – the sun’s out, the warm-up’s manic, and you go in there … it’s irritating, but he’s a very good horse, and hopefully going to Badminton, so very exciting.”

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street get their Badminton prep underway. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell stepped into second place overnight with Billy Walk On, one of her Badminton entries and a product of her Billy Stud sport horse operation. He scored a 27.6, rocketing him up the leaderboard and placing him well ahead of his ordinarily competitive stable mate MGH Grafton Street, who scored 33.9 for provisional 27th place.

Harry Meade and Away Cruising follow up their Burghley success with a strong start at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Meade’s Away Cruising delivered a CCI4*-S personal best of 27.9 to hold third place going into the final session of dressage tomorrow morning. He’s been a reliable circa-30 scorer at this level for a while now, although his career-best performance at Burghley last year saw him score a 29.5 in this phase. Last year, he produced a 30.5 in this class – with his major spring run at Badminton looming, this impressive spike could bode well for his early-season campaign.

Mr Bass impresses for 6th place provisionally. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett held second place yesterday after a fantastic test with London 52, and although he slipped a couple of spots into 4th, he was joined in the top ten by stablemate Mr Bass today. Mr Bass, or Chuck, put a 29.9 on the board and sits sixth after having shown much of his typical class today. Between Laura’s two star boys sits Australia’s Bill Levett, riding his former five-star campaigner Shannondale Titan. The Event Rider Masters specialist scored a 29.6, leaving him in fifth place overnight.

Oliver Townend and Kentucky winner Cooley Master Class. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire managed to stay in seventh place after their afternoon test yesterday, while Piggy French and early runner-up Quarrycrest Echo share overnight eighth with Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4, as well as Oliver Townend and his Kentucky winner (and entrant) Cooley Master Class. Though the latter lost marks for unsolicited lead changes in both counter canters, the quality of the rest of his test allowed him to cling onto a top-ten provisional placing on 30.4. Oliver brings forward his Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class tomorrow, who dazzled us all with a record-equalling 20.8 at Badminton last year – though Oliver is prone to an eleventh-hour withdrawal at this competition, so his looming test shouldn’t cause too much alarm amongst the ranks.

Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude fly the flag for the USA. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our sole US representative – and currently the only US rider accepted at Badminton – is Jenny Caras, and she and Fernhill Fortitude strode down the centreline today for their UK season debut. Some tension marred their overall score, and the pair move ahead to the showjumping and cross country with a dressage score of 40.1, which sees them sit in 75th place overnight.

Pregnancy isn’t slowing Ros Canter down: she and Allstar B gave an educational and entertaining demonstration in the main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Baby on Board

Spectators were treated to a surprise main arena appearance from World Champion Ros Canter and her WEG mount, Allstar B. Ros, who announced her first pregnancy shortly after her Tryon successes, might be sidelined this spring – but she’s not letting it slow her down. She’s been keeping busy fine-tuning her horses’ flatwork at home, and today, she demonstrated how she schools and warms up her top horses.

“I might do most of this in canter – it’s a little bit more comfortable,” she laughed, gesturing to her burgeoning bump. Ros, who’s due in early summer, then demonstrated a series of breezy flying changes and canter pirouettes because, you know, she’s rather good.

We’ve got a while to wait yet, but here’s something slightly frightening to mull over: we’ve seen an awful lot of riders come back better than ever after their maternity leave. If Ros gets any better, what hope do the rest of us have?!

Flanked by his teammates, Jonty Evans makes a return to his happy hunting ground at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Return of the King

Today’s competition was punctuated by a warm welcome back to reigning Grantham Cup champions Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift. Their victory in Belton’s feature class last spring felt a fitting and poignant one – it came, after all, on the back of a gruelling fundraising effort to secure the horse, which birthed a nearly-7,000 strong collective, referred to as ‘Art’s Amazing Family’. Then, of course, the partnership’s story took another turn: Jonty fell from Art in Tattersall’s CCI4*-L and spent the next seven weeks in a coma. Since then, he’s defied every single odd that’s been stacked against him – first, he woke up, despite doctors warning his family that he might not. Then, he walked. Soon, he ran. Before too long, he was back aboard his beloved horse, and today, they made their first public appearance together, riding back into Belton’s main arena flanked by former teammates Padraig McCarthy and Austin O’Connor.

Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After parading around the main arena, Jonty and Art gave the crowd a show, popping a fence before stopping to thank Jonty’s many supporters throughout his ordeal. Those mentioned included Art’s part-owners Jane and Fred Moss, long-time owners Helen and Nick Caton, head girl Jane Felton, handyman and friend Michael Knight, and his family, including mum Maggie, stepfather Arthur, sister Rebecca, and children Mia and Charlie.

Jonty and Art treated their fans to a show, demonstrating their enviable flatwork and popping a fence, too. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I’m quite confident I speak for all of our noble eventing nation denizens when I say we’re glad to see Jonty back – we look forward to welcoming him into the spotlight for many, many years to come.

Tomorrow brings us an even more ludicrously jam-packed day: we’ll be powering through one last tiny dressage section in the morning, which includes Kitty King and Vendredi Biats and Burghley winners Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, and then we’ll go straight from showjumping into the weekend’s cross-country finale. Stay tuned for an absolutely colossal report and photo gallery tomorrow!

It’s a who’s-who of eventing in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S – here’s your top ten as we head into tomorrow’s final short session of dressage.

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