Bramham: The Red Queen and the Comeback King Take CCI4*-L Wins

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats take the win in the CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you disregard a minor blip back in 2014, Kitty King has enjoyed a rather remarkable relationship with Bramham. She first came here in 2003, finishing second in this class with Five Boys, and second again in 2015, this time with Persimmon. In 2016, she contested the CCI4*-S, which served as the final Olympic trial, and came fourth, securing her ticket to Rio with Ceylor L A N. Last year, she brought the tricky, talented Vendredi Biats and finished fourth in the CCI4*-L. When you consider that Bramham is heralded as the toughest of four-star tracks, it’s not a shabby record at all – but the top spot had always eluded the British team stalwart.

She changed that today. A clear round inside the time yesterday – and a 20 for dressage leader Pippa Funnell – had moved her into the overnight lead, and although she didn’t expect to have a rail in hand, second-placed Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeno III gave her one as they jumped the penultimate round of the day. She wouldn’t need it – well, not all of it, anyway. Kitty and ‘Froggy’ jumped a classy clear round, but finished a single second over the optimum time – a second that would have cost them the win if Gemma had gone clear.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I didn’t feel too nervous, because I know he’s a good jumper and he’s produced lots of clears,” says Kitty, who walked the course four times to solidify her plan of action.

“I really knew how I was going to ride each turn, and each approach, and it all came off – apart from at the treble, where I went a bit backward! That’s probably what cost us the time fault, which has really annoyed me,” she says with a laugh. “To win is lovely, but as a rider I’m always looking for something to do better, so that’ll irk me! I’m probably quite a self-critical person.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats on their lap of honour. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Perhaps, but maybe that tendency to improve and make marginal gains is what separates the good from the truly great. Also helpful, Kitty points out, is the mental conditioning provided by riding reliable jumpers.

“I’ve had some great last-day jumpers, and it does make you get confident if it’s never been a problem,” she says.

Vendredi Biats’ win marks a sterling return to form after a disappointing Badminton debut, which saw Kitty take a tumble on cross-country after producing a competitive test. But despite the horse’s historic penchant for naughtiness, the Badminton problem was due to greenness and naivety, she says. The ten-year-old’s performance this week suggests she’s probably right. But how will she celebrate his winning comeback?

“We go to pie night at the local pub every week,” she says. “So perhaps we’ll make it pie and prosecco night!”

Gemma Tattersall finishes with two in the top ten – here, she’s pictured aboard Jalapeno III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kitty led an all-British, all-female podium. In second place, Gemma Tattersall enjoyed her second podium finish of the week – she won the CCI4*-S aboard her Rio mount Quicklook V. Today, it was the turn of new ride Jalapeno III, previously piloted by Karin Donckers. Though the horse only joined Gemma’s string six months ago, they solidified their burgeoning partnership this week, giving Gemma a much-needed boost in what has been a tough 2019 season.

“Team Tattersall has finally found some form – thank god!” she laughs. “I was this close to booking a holiday and just leaving – every time I went on the yard, something else had gone wrong. I just wanted to run away for a month and escape it. It’s been really hard, and not necessarily because we haven’t been getting results, although I’m a very competitive person. Mostly, it’s been hard because I really love my horses, and it’s horrible when they get injured. Billy Shania’s injury at Belton really affected me, and then, of course, Pamero got hurt before Badminton. But I thought, ‘no, we’ve got to do Bramham’ – it’s one of my favourite events, and we’d been aiming Jalapeno and Chilli Knight at it all year long.”

The final podium: Gemma Tattersall, second, Kitty King, first, and Selina Milnes, third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both horses came good – beyond Jala’s second-place finish, Chilli Knight finished sixth, adding nothing to his dressage score of 34.1. Gemma is enormously fond of the gelding, despite the fact that he’s a slightly unconventional model of an event horse.

“He can’t put one foot in front of the other at home – he can’t even walk across the yard without having a nervous breakdown, but he’s just come sixth at Bramham! We laugh about him all the time at home, otherwise we’d cry,” she jokes. “But on cross-country, I can say anything to him, and he’ll just say ‘okay!’ He knows he needs to go between the flags, and he doesn’t know anything different – in fact, he’s never had a cross-country fault in his entire career, because he just doesn’t have the brainpower to stop!”

Gemma, who also showjumps extensively, praised Di Boddy’s course design.

“I did see it and think, ‘Jesus Christ!’ It was a serious track, and that wasn’t necessarily because it was that big – Di is just seriously clever. She’s clever with how she places the fences and the distances, and things like having a red and white plank fence in front of the red and white GAIN banner on the side of the arena.”

Selina Milnes and Iron IV. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Selina Milnes held onto overnight third, adding 1.2 time penalties but jumping clear aboard Iron IV.

“He’s my horse of a lifetime; he’s got everything you’d ever want,” she says of the ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse, who she sourced from Richard Sheane’s Cooley Farm and then sold to owner William Rucker. “He wanted something nice, and I said I already had it in the yard,” she recalls. “I’d like to think he’ll go to Badminton next year, without a doubt. I brought him here, rather than Tattersalls, because you end up seeing what you’ve got underneath you – he’d skip round a flat track no problem, but until you’ve tackled these hills, you don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be a Burghley horse, but now? We’ll see!”

Cathal Daniels Scoops CCIU254*-L for Ireland

The final podium in Bramham’s CCIU254*-L: Yasmin Ingham, second, Cathal Daniels, first, and Will Rawlin, third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though he’s only 22 years old, Ireland’s Cathal Daniels‘ competitive resume looks as though it could belong to a rider many years older. With that accumulated experience comes an unshakeable calm under pressure – but has anyone ever seen the WEG silver medalist cave to pressure?

“I’m sure I have, once or twice, I just won’t tell you about it,” he laughs. “But I didn’t feel it today, and I don’t think [Rioghan Rua] did either. She felt very confident in there – it’s a big atmosphere to go into, but she felt very sharp after yesterday and very fresh. But as four-star rounds go, it was a smooth one – there were one or two little moments that were a little bit breath-holding, but she jumped clean and careful, so I was happy.”

Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua make easy work of the final line. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He should be: although the Irish-bred mare is consistently blazingly fast and clear across the country, her showjumping form is a little less reliable, and she’s prone to a rail. But Di Boddy’s course was typically influential, making use of clever lines and, as a result, Cathal would produce one of only two clear rounds in this class to take the win.

If you’re a fan of unconventional, fiercely talented little mares of the Classic Moet ilk, look no further than Rioghan Rua to get your fix. Though only twelve years old Red, like her owner, has amassed experience that belies her young age: beyond that team silver medal at last year’s World Equestrian Games, she’s also jumped clear around Pau, Badminton, and Luhmühlen, picking up seventh place at the latter. At six, she finished seventh – and contributed to team gold – in the Junior European Championships and was second in her seven-year-old year, once again taking a team gold, too. That autumn, she notched up at top twenty finish at the Seven-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers. The next year, the pair were sixth and took team bronze in the Young Rider Europeans before making their senior team debut on the gold medal-winning Irish Nations Cup team at Boekelo, and in 2016, they made their five-star debut, finishing twelfth. Red was just nine years old, and Cathal scarcely past his twentieth birthday.

It’s all rather impressive, especially when you consider that Cathal, who has produced the horse himself, only picked up the ride for owner and breeder Margaret Kinsella because it was widely thought that the horse wouldn’t make a top-level eventer. Instead, she planned to give the horse some valuable mileage with Cathal in the irons and sell her on as a junior horse.

“But then we started winning,” says Cathal, “and Margaret was enjoying the winning.”

The rest, as they say, is history, and Cathal runs Red as the ringleader of a growing string of talented horses from his Co. Kildare base. Already, he’s making his mark as one of Ireland’s busiest, and most successful, competitors. Last week, he took top honours in Tattersalls’ CCIU253*, and on the strength of his performances in various classes through the week, was also awarded the prize for being the leading Irish rider at the competition. But Red, he says, was always going to come to Bramham instead.

Cathal Daniels, Rioghan Rua – ‘Red Queen’ in Gaelic – and groom Katherine Charlton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cathal admits that he’s never been able to reliably put a stick to the diminutive mare – “you’d have to sedate her; she’s terrified of it” – but estimates that Red stands at roughly 15.1hh. Though inarguably talented, she isn’t the most straightforward ride, and occasionally, her tempestuousness has gotten the better of her. She scored a 56.4 in her Badminton debut in 2017, before levelling her scores out in the low 30s at later runs, and at her last run at Chatsworth, she boiled over for a 40.2. This week, though, she was back to her best, skipping her way to a 33.7 for eighth place after the first phase.

“She’s a complicated little horse, and opinionated, but it’s not luck of the draw, thank god – we have a system that’s all worked out,” Cathal explains. “Last year we had some very, very good dressage results, but Chatsworth this year was her first proper run since the WEG, so we changed it a little bit. We did a lot of different things, mostly to see if she’d matured from going to the big championships, and if she’d changed in herself – but obviously not. We went straight back to what we’d done before, and it worked perfectly. It’s just about having her relaxed and confident; she’s just highly strung, so she needs to feel safe to perform.”

Now, Cathal is looking ahead to this summer’s European Championships, and beyond that, a trip to Tokyo.

“She’s all qualified now, so we just have to keep her in bubble wrap,” he says with a smile. “She’d be a strong one to have over there, if it came good.”

Yasmin Ingham adds the under-25 title to her impressive roster with Sandman 7. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

An unlucky rail might have cost overnight leader Yasmin Ingham the win, but her second place finish with the former Pippa Funnell ride Sandman 7 was still enough to make her the under-25 national champion. This means she follows in Emily Llewellyn’s footsteps, becoming one of the only riders to ever win all four young rider titles: she’s been the under-16, under-18, and under-21 national champion previously.

“I’m ecstatic, delighted, just all the happy emotions,” beams Yasmin. “It’s been an incredible week, and just so unexpected, I suppose. It was always a dream to come here and do so well, but there’s a lot to do at Bramham! He jumped incredibly this morning, and I just rode a bit strong into the treble to have a rail – where the second and third parts were quite big oxers, I thought if I just got a bit more power he’d find the distance a bit easier, so it was definitely a rider error. But I couldn’t fault him around the course; he was so straight and so careful.”

Yasmin, who turned 22 last month, might be one of the country’s most exciting young riders, but she’s already begun to bridge the gap to the senior levels, too. Last year, she made her five-star debut riding Night Line, finishing sixteenth after an impressive clear cross-country round. In Sandman 7, the thirteen-year-old gelding she describes as “a princess – the queen of the yard!”, she rounds out a trio of top-level talent in her string and puts herself on enviably solid footing as she aims for a Nations Cup call-up this year.

“I’m so lucky to have some incredibly supportive owners, and to have the young horses coming up the levels, too,” she says. “The goal for the nearer future would be the Paris Olympics, and we’ll have three horses that should be peaking right around that time, which is really exciting. Rehy DJ, who was the under-21 national champion last year, will be aimed at this class next year; we’ve been producing him quite quietly, and hopefully sensibly on my behalf, for him to be a star in the future. It’s just incredible to think about the horses that I’m so lucky to be able to ride, and the events we might get to in the future.”

Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie complete the podium. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third place was taken by Will Rawlin, who also had an unfortunate rail aboard VIP Vinnie, but who records his best-ever result this weekend in what is just his second CCI4*-L. His week with the eleven-year-old gelding, who he’s produced from a four-year-old, has been something of a whirlwind: fourth after dressage, he found himself catapulted into the lead after yesterday’s gruelling cross-country phase. Then, after a drawn-out appeals process, an erroneous 20 penalties was removed from Yasmin Ingham’s score, and he was relegated to second.

“I’d seen Yaz’s round, and to be honest, I didn’t know why she’d been given the penalties in the first place,” he says. “In my opinion, she was still in the lead, but on the board I was – which was amazing. But either way, I don’t think I’d have done anything differently today. I was absolutely bricking it, of course, because I do suffer with nerves, but I tried to stay as relaxed as I could. That’s all I could have done, really.”

Will made his CCI4*-L debut last year at Blenheim with VIP Vinnie, but although he’d gotten a taste of main-stage atmosphere there, it was incomparable with the fishbowl he found himself plunged into today.

“To be in the top three at Bramham, with everyone watching to see what happens, is definitely the biggest atmosphere I’ve ever been in,” he says. “Showjumping is my weakest phase, and it’s something I’m constantly working at and trying to get better at, so I’ll go away and watch it back and take what I can from it. But I was so pleased with how he came out after yesterday, because it was a bloody tough track; it’s the furthest he’s been, distance-wise, and Ian Stark built a seriously good course. In the dressage, too, Vinnie really composed himself and did a really nice test – there were just a couple of rider things, but he’ll get a good result one day. He’ll have learnt so much from this, and I have, too. Now I know more about how to be more economical.”

Will, who’s producing a string of talented youngsters to follow Vinnie up the ranks, is looking ahead to another trip to Blenheim this autumn. In the meantime, though, he’ll focus on the up-and-comers while his top horse enjoys a holiday.

That’s all for us from an incredibly exciting week at Bramham. We’ll be taking the show back on the road in just three days’ time, when we head to Luhmühlen CCI5*. Onwards!

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