Bramham Cross-Country Day: Izzy Taylor’s Not Monkeying Around to Take CCI4*-L Lead

Izzy Taylor’s previously mercurial Monkeying Around proves his class to take the lead in the CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There are a few things that can always be counted on at Bramham Horse Trials: you’ll hit your 20,000 steps by lunchtime, and by the close of play, the leaderboard will look very, very different to how it started. This, the first Bramham cross-country day since 2019, certainly lived up to those expectations throughout the course of the feature CCI4*-L class, with plenty of penalties, eliminations, and refusals, particularly in the early stages of the day — and ultimately, 32 of the 62 starters would come home sans jumping penalties, with six managing to do so inside the time.

The problems that were had are important to acknowledge: tragically, we lost two horses during the course of the day’s proceedings and the course was altered partway through the day to remove fence 7AB, but nonetheless, riders praised Ian Stark’s bold course design. Dressage leader Piggy March, who picked up an educational 20 penalties with Coolparks Sarco, was effusive in her support: “It was a really lovely track, and we’re totally behind Ian Stark and his courses,” she says. “I know it’s been a mixed day, but we’ve had a few years with Covid and things, and I don’t think a lot of places give the experience of the ditches and that sort of terrain, or that sort of decent competition and normal preparation that we get to bring ourselves up to here. But as far as course design, the track was absolutely brilliant, and there was no fence out there that shouldn’t have been there. They did all they could and made all the right decisions throughout the day.”

Several top contenders were taken out of contention throughout the day, including top-ten-placed horses such as Gemma Tattersall‘s Flash Cooley, who was retired after an early mistake, Izzy Taylor‘s Ringwood Madras, who had a drive-by at fence 11, and Oliver Townend‘s new ride As Is, who activated a MIMclip for 11 penalties. Those errors, plus the demotion of Piggy and Coolparks Sarco, opened the door for anyone who could deliver a speedy clear to climb enormously — though the new leader in the clubhouse certainly surprised a few fans.

Izzy Taylor‘s Monkeying Around has never been short of talent: the eleven-year-old won the Six-Year-Old World Championship in 2017, the Blenheim replacement CCI4*-L at Burnham Market in 2020, and has scooped a number of top-five placings at CCI4*-S, too, over the last two years. But he’s also a horse who flits between either end of the spectrum — he fails to complete just as regularly as he places. Today, though, the patience Izzy has put into working through his inexperience paid off, and he set out on course looking as focused as we’ve seen him, romping home easily with just 1.2 time penalties to add to his very good first-phase score of 24.

“I’m really proud of him and pleased with him,” says Izzy. “He did have to dig deep and help me out, but that’s what cross-country is — we have to help each other out. He’s eleven now, and he’s seen a bit more of life, and I think now he kind of gets what the aim is — to go over the fences, not around them, and realise that occasionally, vaguely, I have the right idea of where we’re meant to go!”

Bramham’s toughness was no bad thing for the dressage-bred gelding, who realised quickly that he’d need to ask his rider for a bit of a helping hand in order to get the job done.

“It was good for him: it’s a big track here, and there’s a lot of ditches, and he did have to look to me a bit. That probably helped as well,” Izzy says. “He’s a phenomenal athlete; he could do anything, if he chose to. He’s scopey, he can turn himself inside out if he needs to, and there’s nothing he can’t do — and that’s possibly why, like talented children, they’ve never had to try very hard. Then, when they do have to try, they’re not sure they like it. But I think he’s realised that he can try, and he can do it, and he’s still okay.”

As he made his way around the course, Izzy found that he grew in confidence and in boldness alike — an experience that she thinks will be a real turning point for him as he makes the leap from mercurial green horse to serious competitor: “He got better and better, which was great, because they can come here and go ‘oh my god, I’m not okay with this!’ But he was like, ‘okay, if you say it’s alright, then we’re okay’. So I’m very pleased with his mentality, and that he realises he can do it if he wants to — and the thing is, now he’s going to have the belief that he can do it, basically.”

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel make light work of Ian Stark’s track for overnight second place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter moved up a place into overnight second after a clear inside the time with Pencos Crown Jewel, who attacked the track with gumption: “She gets cooler as she gets older, and she loved it today,” says Ros. “I thought she’d like Bramham, because every time she sees a hill, she pricks her ears a little bit more and gallops a bit faster — so she came up here like a bat out of hell! She gets to the bottom and says, ‘I’ll take that challenge on!’, and off she goes.”

Ros left the start box intending to run competitively, which suited the thirteen-year-old’s skillset perfectly — though producing competitive rounds hasn’t always been that straightforward.

“I thought if I could make the time on anybody, I’d be close on her, because I knew she’d go the distance. She’s also just getting more and more rideable to a fence, and she’s feeling scopier than she ever did. I’ve had her since she was a three-year-old, but funnily enough, we’ve had bumps along the road in our relationship. She’s gone from being really easy to getting a bit buzzed by the atmosphere, and being a bit trickier and stronger, but I think that this year, we’ve just found the balance. We’re really enjoying each other again.”

For Pencos Crown Jewel, who finished in the top ten at Bicton’s Bramham replacement last year, and again in its Burghley replacement, it’s another major feather in her cap and sets her up as another serious British talent to keep a close eye on — even if she’s not the most obvious champion at first glance.

“She’s kind of a small, unassuming mare — she doesn’t really stand out from the crowd, but she’s a gutsy little thing,” says Ros fondly.

Tom Carlile’s exciting debutant Darmagnac de Beliard climbs back into podium position with a swift clear. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The strong French contingent here showed some serious class in each of the long-format divisions, with first-day leaders Tom Carlile and Darmagnac de Beliard stepping into provisional third place. Though this is just the nine-year-old’s first CCI4*-L — and third four-star ever — he looked mature beyond his years to add just 1.6 time penalties.

Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire remain well in the hunt after a tough cross-country day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire remain in fourth place after their laser-focused round, which saw them add 2.8 time penalties and open the door for Tom to slip in just ahead of them — they now both sit on a score of 30.9, but Tom’s slight speed advantage gives him the upper hand in the tie break. In fifth place, Japan’s Toshiyuki Tanaka bounced back after the heartbreaking loss of his first ride, Ventura de la Chaule JRA, to jump clear inside the time on Swiper JRA and remain on their first-phase score of 31.3.

Astier Nicolas brings forward another superstar in his stable in Baladin de l’Ocean La. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The fastest round of the day was that of flying Frenchman Astier Nicolas, who stopped the clock an extraordinary 23 seconds inside the time with Baladin de l’Ocean La – the first time the gelding has made the time in an FEI since doing so in his first CCI2*-L at Tartas in 2019.

The top ten after an influential day of cross-country in Bramham’s CCI4*-L.

Phoebe Locke takes over the lead on Bellagio Declyange. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Remarkably, after the tough morning’s sport in the CCI4*-L, the under-25 CCI4*-L yielded a significantly higher rate of success, despite being held over exactly the same course and contested by generally much more inexperienced competitors. Just five of the 21 starters failed to complete, while 14 of the 16 finishers went clear and, as in the much larger section before, six did so inside the time.

Dressage leaders Alex Holman and Carrick Diamond Bard made an excellent showing over the track, but so tight were the scores that their scant 2.4 time penalties dropped them down to fourth place overnight, allowing 22-year-old Phoebe Locke to step into the top spot after adding nothing to her first-phase score of 30.4 with Bellagio Declyange. Doing so took some gutsiness, though: “I had a bit of a hairy moment through the water, where I had no stirrups, but I managed to keep going for the D element and then collect them up as I went up the hill,” she says. Plus, she continues, “I’m sort of riding with one leg, as I’ve done my ACL, so Bramham has always been quite a big aim — and then I fell off at Houghton and got a concussion, so I’ve had to jump through a few hoops to get here. But this has always been my aim, to come here, and I’m really happy that hard work paid off.”

Phoebe had hoped for a bold, positive track to tackle, and got just that.

“The course rode really well, actually — I think Ian Stark always rewards attacking riding. It was a bit of a gather-and-attack-it track, which is what I wanted to do.”

Even the difficulty of the morning’s viewing didn’t throw her off her game: “It was a long wait,” she says. “But I had my plan, and I tried to watch a few good people and then stick to my guns, know my horse, and ride what was underneath me. I was really happy with how he finished, actually, because he found Bicton quite hard and I probably didn’t get him quite fit enough, but this year he’s a lot fitter and he finished really nicely.”

Day one leader Morgane Euriat steps up to second place after a committed round with Baccarat d’Argonne. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The French riders continued to impress in this class, too, though one — Julie Simonet and Sursumcord’or, who were fourth after dressage — dropped out of contention after a tumble on course. But day one leaders Morgane Euriat and Baccarat d’Argonne proved exactly why they were victorious in their only previous CCI4*-L start, sailing home just one second over the optimum time to put the pressure on Phoebe. They go into tomorrow’s showjumping just 1.2 penalties, or three seconds, behind her, closely followed by fellow French entrants Heloïse le Guern and Canakine du Sudre Z, who are less than a second behind them on 31.9.

The under-25 CCI4*-L top ten after cross-country.

Ros Canter’s Izilot DHI takes CCI4*-S victory after a team effort to steer his training. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The CCI4*-S competitors were put through their paces in both jumping phases today, and Ros Canter capped off an excellent day with a wire-to-wire victory aboard the quirky nine-year-old Izilot DHI, who added just 0.4 time in showjumping and 1.2 across the country. This is a first four-star victory for the gelding, who has won twice at CCI3*-L and twice at two-star, but hasn’t always been the easiest horse in Ros’s enviable string, with a smattering of problems on his record.

“Isaac can sometimes go in different directions to where the course is supposed to lead you,” she says with a laugh. “He can win, like he has done today, but he can also lose — so it was a relief to come through the finish and to know he’d gone so well, and enjoyed the experience as well. He is a nervous horse — brave as a lion at the jumps, and there’s never any doubt about him jumping a ditch, or his scope, but there’s a lot going on in his brain. He’s been nervous all the way through his life, so it’s important that when I do go fast, he comes away from it having had a nice experience. I think he did today.”

With Isaac’s focus firmly in situ, Ros found that he felt more capable than he ever has: “I think he would have gone around the long format today — he’s such a brave jumper that the ditches and things don’t bother him at all. It’s more if there’s a decoration we’ve got to go around or something that takes his concentration or makes him a bit spooky. That’s when we tend to have our problems.”

Getting to the bottom of the sharp, sensitive horse hasn’t been a one-woman job, and Ros was quick to praise her army of coaches and supporters for helping her to get him on side.

“We’ve had help from all sorts of people,” she says. “Chris Bartle has been massively influential in getting me to ride him slightly different, and Caroline Moore, Ian Woodhead, Amy Woodhead — everyone’s put hours into helping me. I’ve had people help me ride him on the flat when he’s been naughty, so it’s been a real team effort. It’s nice he’s done it in Yorkshire, too, because a lot of those people are Yorkshire-based.”

Now, Izilot DHI is on the cusp of big things — he could go to CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S for the British team next month, but if not, he’ll step up this season.

“I think it’s likely that Allstar B will go to Aachen, but he is reserve horse so we’ll have a think about which one’s the best one to go. Basically, we want to try to build him up and give him lots more experiences, really, and find a long-format for him later in the year.”

Oliver Townend’s Cooley Rosalent makes the grade on her third start at the level. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The third time certainly was a charm for Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent, who has been exceptional throughout her short career but has had problems in both her four-star starts previously this spring. At just eight years old, though, she’s been able to learn from those experiences, and Oliver was delighted to see his enormous faith in her pay off today as she finished on her dressage score of 26.6 — making her one of just two horses in the class to do so.

“She’s top class, and she’s probably as good as we’ve got, if not as good as we’ve had,” says Oliver. “She’s still a baby with the flags and the people and even the trees blowing next to the combinations, but if you get the fence in front of her and you show her the way, she will jump it. It’s been an unbelievable experience for her; she’ll have come on for the run and I couldn’t be happier with the way she’s gone.”

Piggy March and Brookfield Quality get the job done with a major change on the horizon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy March took third place after an excellent pair of performances with the thirteen-year-old Brookfield Quality, who bounced back from a tricky run at Houghton to add just 4.4 time penalties across the phases today.

“I had a few bridle issues at Houghton two weeks ago, so I dropped him from the long to the short here and all was fine today,” says Piggy. “We didn’t have any moments at all — he was beautiful.”

Now, though, the gelding — who’s known at home as ‘Nervous Norris’ — will try a new rider on for size because Piggy, despite a swathe of wins and good results with the horse, doesn’t quite think she’s doing him justice.

“I’ve never found him the easiest to go really fast on — I’ve found him really slow to adjust,” she says. “Tom McEwen and I share owners, and he might even try him. He’s a brilliant horse, and I think he’s a five-star horse, but I’m a girl — and while I don’t think he particularly needs a strong man, I do find I’m just not quick enough with him. I think Tom has a little bit more strength, and maybe a tiny bit more bravery that would suit him. He’s thirteen years old, and I don’t want him missing the chance of being a five-star horse just because I swing off him too much or I don’t quite have the buttons for the speed with him yet. He’s been totally genuine, and he’s never done a thing wrong with me, but I don’t want him missing the chance of being in the top few and taking those twenty seconds off. I think Tommy could do it, but if he doesn’t, or he can’t, or he doesn’t want to, then he’ll come back to me and just stay at the level that I’m happy with. I’ll be interested to see where the journey goes with him.”

Whichever way Norris goes, Piggy holds the same level of excitement about, and fondness for, the horse: “We’re a team at Brookfield — it’s not Tom vs me, or who’s got what horses; we work as a team and that’s very important to us. So if he takes him on and gets him to be quicker and better then I’ll be very excited, and proud that I played such a good part in his career as well, because he’s been a very, very good horse for me.”

Franky Reid-Warrilow’s delectable Dolley Phantom takes fourth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fourth place went to Franky Reid-Warrilow and Dolley Phantom, who were the only other pair to finish on their dressage score in this class, while Aachen-bound Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ put in an excellent prep run for the event to add just 0.8 time penalties and finish fifth.

The final top ten in Bramham’s CCI4*-S.

Tomorrow takes us into the final horse inspection at 8.30 a.m., followed by showjumping from 10.00 a.m. There won’t be a live-stream of tomorrow’s action, but we’ll be back with two full reports — so keep it locked onto EN!

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