Blenheim, Day Two: Dressage Leader Unchanged in CCI4*-S But Big Bids in Top Ten

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent are the best of day two in Blenheim’s CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Friday afternoon dressage advantages be damned: throughout today’s packed day of CCI4*-S dressage for the eight- and nine-year-olds at Blenheim, we saw an extraordinary array of talent, but no one could usurp the top spot, claimed yesterday morning by Tom McEwen and MHS Brown Jack on an impressive score of 24.6.

Actually, admirable judging has been one of the major takeaways over the two days of this class — while the CCI4*-L has seen some major variations in several tests, the ground jury in the CCI4*-S has been the picture of consistency, with two of the three judges united in awarding a 75% score to Tom (the third, at C, was just marginally more generous at 76.25%) and, most remarkably, all three judges giving overnight fifth-placed Jarillo, ridden by Tim Price, a 73.33%.

They’ve been happy to reward greatness where such a reward is due, but similarly unafraid to penalise problems; eight of the 95 tests earned scores in the 40s.

With a quality field like this, that yields close margins — and they couldn’t be closer at the business end of the leaderboard. Piggy March and Brookfield Future News remain in a close overnight second behind Tom and Jack, just a tenth of a penalty off the lead on a 24.7, and today, they’re joined in equal second place by Burghley winner Oliver Townend and the exciting Cooley Rosalent (Valent x Bellaney Jewel, by Roselier), who’s one of the more experienced horses in this class with a five-star start under her belt already. That start, which came at Luhmühlen in June, was her last FEI event; though she underperformed in the first phase there with an uncharacteristic high-30s mark, the 2020 Six-Year-Old Reserve World Champion looked back to her best today, logging her second sub-25 at four-star.


Tim Price and Chio 20. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price has a seriously exciting trio of horses for this class this year, and while yesterday afternoon’s ride, the splashy Jarillo, was relegated to overnight fifth on his score of 26.7, it’s hardly a hardship when another of the string takes the spot ahead. Today, that was the role of the nine-year-old Holsteiner Chio 20 (Castelan 3 x Nobelis, by Heraldik xx) who, with his expressive paces and natural balance, was a delight to watch — but even for all that, Tim was surprised to earn a 25.1 and overnight fourth place.

“He’s really hard work, actually — he’s quite agricultural to ride,” admits Tim. “I’ve got a little wheely spur on behind and double bridle in front. But he’s always got a very friendly face about his job, and it’s just who he is as a build and a type. He’s big and strong and always wanting to you run his balance long and down.”

Unlike Cooley Rosalent before him, Chio is very inexperienced, with just six FEI starts — and a decidedly up-and-down cross-country record across it — to his name, in comparison to Rosalent’s 15. But for Tim, the primary goal of this week is simply to continue quietly plugging away at the talented gelding’s education, one big milestone at a time.

“This was his first Advanced test, and it’s nice to get into some movements where they help everything, compared to 3*,” he says. “It’s nice to actually put him into a shape and make him go sideways, because it’s all improving. I’ve been looking forward to this stage.”

Tim initially sourced the horse as a six-year-old through Canada’s Rebecca Howard, who had got him from Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 via agent Francesca Pollara — and over the three years he’s been on the Prices’ yard, he’s made himself something of a main character.

“Rebecca was around for a barbecue one night and said, ‘I’ve got this big horse that is quite impressive’. That was him as a six year old. I bought him then and have just been quietly coming along with him, really, since then.  We’ve taken me a wee while to get to this level — he’s nine, but he’s been that sort of horse that I’m just taking  my time over. He’s quite a character; he likes to have everyone on, and he imposes himself on people a little bit, in a BFG kind of way.”

All smiles for Storm Straker and Fever Pitch after an exceptional test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just three-tenths of a penalty behind Chio, and on an impressive career personal best of 27, is amateur rider Storm Straker‘s nine-year-old German Sport Horse Fever Pitch (Tannenhof’s Fahrenheit x Sinfonie, by Sherlock Holmes).

“I felt a bit of pressure, only because it’s a big championship and you want to do well, don’t you?” says 25-year-old Storm. “But he was really good. He was a little bit tired, probably because of the heat, but he was quite responsive — normally, he can get a bit flat, but actually, he was with me, which was nice.”

Storm and her mother, Victoria, have owned the gelding since finding him as a four-year-old through friends in Germany, and now, he’s her sole international eventing ride; alongside her job in the farms and estates division of Howden Insurance, she also maintains two exciting young horses, one of whom she’s aiming for pure dressage. But riding and working full-time presents its own unique challenges: “It’s difficult — I don’t get to cross-country school very often, because I’ve got a full-time job, so balancing the two is a bit tricky,” she says. “But we’ve been getting a lot of help from Chris Bartle, and so I really put recent successes down to him.”

With Fever Pitch, who she describes as “a difficult horse, just because he’s so sensitive,” she’s had to be particularly methodical and smart with her time — and part of that sensibility is simply in giving him time.

“To start with, teaching him half-passes and things was a very slow process, but he started to really get it, and he trusts me now, which is great. He’s also started to show his character in the last year, which is really nice. He’s special, and we adore him. He knows he’s the king of the yard — it’s really nice that he’s shining. It’s time, and it’s training,” says Storm, who trains on the flat with dressage rider Nicola Naprstek, with whom she’s ridden since her early teens. “She’s really understood him, and that’s how it started to click.”

Stephen Heal and Quidam de Lux. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Stephen Heal and the Irish-bred Quidam de Lux (Boswell Mr Heartbreaker x St Breddans Lady, by Lux Z) move into overnight seventh place after a smart 27.5 — a four-star personal best on the 2021 British Seven-Year-Old Champion’s third start at the level.

“I’m really pleased. He’s done plenty of good tests and he generally always does a good one, he just sometimes struggle with the contact a little bit — but today he felt mostly on side. He always wins the warm up and then I go in and I’m like ‘that wasn’t quite as good as the warm up’, but it was fine,” says Stephen, who explains that finding the fine balance in getting the right amount of work into the gelding is an ongoing process. “He’s tricky like that, because he’s naturally actually quite a lazy horse. So I don’t actually want very long on him, but then you need long enough to get all the gears working. So factoring in quite a long walk down [here from the stables] is quite difficult. You’re like,  ‘It’s quite long, but I’m only walking’ —  so we’ve been playing around with things, but it feels like on the whole we got it about right today. I wouldn’t have wanted to be on him any longer in here.”

The flashy chestnut has progressed quickly while learning the tougher movements demanded at four-star, but as for any nine-year-old, this year has been all about learning to find the fine margins and eke out the work he can get at home while at a show.

“He struggles with his changes one way to the other, but he seems to just save them for the test,” laughs Stephen. “At Bramham I was in the warm up and I was like ‘I can’t do a left to right change’ and then he went in, and was like ‘I can!’  Everything’s there — all the lateral work and everything, it’s just getting it in the ring. At home, I can do an 18, and then you go in the boards and he goes a little bit tight and a little bit less off the leg and then you just lose that half a mark from where he will be, but then, he’s only nine.”

Stephen’s had Quidam de Lux since he was a four-year-old, and each year, the gelding has contested the British national age finals — “in the five- and six-year-old championships, he had his only fences down of each season, so winning the seven-year-olds made up for that a little bit!” — but Stephen admits that having such a prodigious youngster in his string also requires him to step back and retain some perspective.

“It’s always really easy to forget how young he is because I’ve had him five years,” he explains. “I’m like, ‘Oh, God, we need to keep up with everyone.’ But then everyone’s like, ‘Oh, he’s only nine’ and then I’m like, ‘Oh I suppose he is —  it feels like he’s about 15 now!’ When you look at these top guys that are still there… Ballaghmor Class won Burghley six years ago and then he’s just won it again and then you think, ‘oh, there’s actually loads of time’ — but you just panic!”

Clare Abbott and Mr Mighty. Photo by Tim Wilkinson/Eventing Images.

Ireland’s Clare Abbott and the charmingly-monikered Mr Mighty will go into tomorrow morning’s showjumping in eighth place on a score of 27.9 — their second-best score at this level, but not quite in the league of the 22.4 they picked up in their last run at the level at Lisgarvan.

“He’s very capable, but some things were just out of our control today,” says Clare, who balances competing at the top levels with part-time work as a maths teacher. “Like, a few people caught his eye in the seating area when we first went in, and then his first halt was dodgy, and in the walk, the flies were annoying him — we didn’t have enough fly spray on. It’s just small things like that, but he’s very capable, he just needs to get some mileage at events like this for experience.”

And, she says, he needs the mileage to learn to curb his enthusiasm for the task at hand.

“He has so many gears, and he’s so powerful — he’d like to be doing tempi changes and bouncier stuff, so the main thing, really, is keeping a lid on it to just do one flying change,” she laughs.

Clare’s particularly excited about riding around David Evans’ track come Sunday, and giving the smart son of Gatcombe another pivotal building block in his education.

“It’s definitely built with an eight- or nine-year-old in mind, which is nice. The course is progressive in size and difficulty, and they give the horses every opportunity to get built up into it. It’s great — we’re looking forward to it,” she says.

The top ten at the culmination of dressage is rounded out by Caroline Harris and the British-bred D. Day (Billy Mexico x Dillus, by Dilum xx), with whom she finished third in Chatsworth’s tough CCI4*-S earlier this season. There, they put a 26 on the board, and while their 27.9 is a marginally worse score on paper, Caroline is delighted with how the talented nine-year-old has come on since then.

“He’s just getting physically stronger,” she says. “He’s not the most flamboyant and flashy, so it’s just getting some strengthening into him. He  wants to do everything so correctly, so the stronger he’s getting, the more I can show him off and do better movements — better half passes, better changes. I still feel there’s a lot more to come when he gets stronger, and I think next year, when he can actually hold himself even more than he did last year, he’ll be even more impressive. He just tries so much.”

Tiana Coudray and D’Artagnan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British-based US Olympian Tiana Coudray sits 62nd overnight on a 34.9 with the nine-year-old Holsteiner D’Artagnan (Diamant de Semilly x Cherie Nema), who she describes as “the most generous horse I’ve ever met.”

“He was a Novice horse last year,” she explains. “We picked him up as a bit of a project — I thought I’d put a bit of form on him and sell them as a moneymaker, and he did one Novice, went Intermediate; did one Intermediate, was double clear; went to a 3*, jumped clear around that, and finished up the year having done three three-stars. This year he came out and was supposed to have a few Intermediates but they all got abandoned, so he came straight out at Advanced, and jumped double clear around that. He doesn’t know if he’s coming or going or which way is up, but he tries his heart out. He’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Now, she’s hoping to keep the ride on him for the future, if she can find a buyer or a group of buyers to invest in him, but more immediately, it’s all about giving him exposure and mileage — particularly where big atmosphere is concerned. And if all goes well here? A step up to CCI4*-L at Boekelo — arguably the most atmospheric of all the events — could be on the cards. His test today, she says, is a really positive start.

“He tried so hard,” she says fondly. “By the end, he was getting body tired and he was wobbling about and bouncing off the boards and he sort of fell onto the centerline, but it’s simply his strength. He got tired at the end of the test. He really is like a nine-year-old going on a five-year-old! But I couldn’t ask any more of him. He tried so hard in there.”

The final US competitor of the class was 21-year old British-based Rowan Laird, who trains with Angela Tucker — one of this week’s CCI4*-L judges — and competes this week with his own nine-year-old Sceilig Concordio. They’ll go into tomorrow morning’s showjumping in 89th place on their score of 41.

That showjumping phase is the star of the show for this talented group of nearly 100 eight- and nine-year-olds tomorrow: it’ll all kick off bright and early at 8.00 a.m. (3.00 a.m. EST) and run until roughly 11.00 a.m. (6.00 a.m. EST), prior to the start of the CCI4*-L cross-country at 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST). Then, Sunday will see them head into their cross-country finale over David Evans’ educational track. Head on over to Horse&Country TV to follow along with all the action on the livestream here, and keep it locked on EN for an update on all the action tomorrow, as well as a full report to come tonight from the CCI4*-L dressage.

Until then: Go Eventing!

The top ten after dressage in Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S.

EN’s coverage of Blenheim is presented by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn all about their full line of science-backed nutritional support products, including Neigh-Lox Advanced for digestive support.

Blenheim Palace International: [Website] [Entries] [Live Stream]

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments