What a year it’s been for Laura Collett and London 52. After a promising start – they took the win in the Chatsworth leg of the Event Rider Masters, getting the 2019 season off to a good start after a win in the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class in 2018 – it all started to go a little bit awry. An uncharacteristic blip at Blenheim set them on the back foot, and Laura acknowledged that under the weight of his previous and projected performances, she’d put the horse on a pedestal.
Aachen offered the pair an opportunity to put the wheels back on the bus, and when they went into the final phase in the lead, it looked as though they might just do it – but a minor overcorrection just a couple of fences from home saw them pick up another 20 penalties for their record sheet. Finally, there was the Europeans, and again, it all looked like it was going the right way: well in with a shout of an individual medal, Laura and ‘Dan’ set out looking focused, efficient, and ready to put their back luck to bed – until they met the bird.
They certainly weren’t the only pair to come to grief at the final water, where a colourful bird-shaped fence threw many experienced pairs for a loop, but when London 52 left a leg, tipping Laura into the drink, it was the mouldy cherry on top of a colossal layer cake of, well, crap.
But though she is but little, she is fierce – and determined not to finish the horse’s year on a bad note, Laura opted to bring him to Boekelo, where he’d finished in second place in his first CCI4*-L the year prior. The goal? A nice run and a happy time for the ten-year-old gelding, so that he could come back out with all guns blazing next year. The result? An emotional and long-awaited victory, proving that sometimes, these things really do come in threes. For the first time this season, all the luck appeared to play in their favour: a 26 dressage saw them tied for third after the first phase with Chris Burton and Clever Louis, and when both combinations came home fault-free and inside the optimum time, Laura won the tie-break for having come closer to the time than Burto, who was two seconds faster.
When she then went on to deliver one of just eleven clear rounds inside the time today over Boekelo’s notoriously tough showjumping track, all she could do was wait: Germany’s Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73, who had led throughout, were less than a pole ahead of her in their first long-format combination as a partnership.
She’d have a long wait, as it happened, as all the team riders jumped after the individuals, which meant that Laura had two agonising hours to see her fate decided.
“I’d just assumed we’d be second again,” she laughs. “I never thought [Let’s Dance] would have a rail – he was jumping amazingly. I half looked away but then Camilla [Spiers] grabbed me, and I nearly fell off the railing!”
Sandra had tipped the penultimate fence, the final element of a treble combination that proved fickle throughout the day. The German former World Champion was relegated to fourth place and Laura, with lady luck – and more than a modicum of formidable talent – firmly in situ, was the winner.
“I can’t believe it – second would be good, but there’s nothing quite like winning,” says an emotional Laura. “I’m just delighted for the horse – he deserves it so much.”
Second place went to Australia’s Chris Burton, who also took home an Olympic qualification with Clever Louis, finishing on his dressage score of 26 despite only running in their second competition together.
Third place, meanwhile, was the domain of Michael Jung, who climbed five places throughout the week with new ride Creevagh Cooley. He also finished fifth on former Kentucky winner fischerRocana FST, who makes her return to competition this autumn after over a year out due to joint issues. She added a solitary rail today to her 26.1 dressage.
Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia executed an impressive climb up the leaderboard from 23rd, where they found themselves after their 30.8 dressage, to 12th after cross-country, and finally to sixth place, on the strength of their showjumping performance. They produced a clear round inside the time to finish on their dressage score, proving once again that Kazu’s background as a World Cup showjumper will be one of the not-so-secret weapons of Japan’s crack eventing team in Tokyo next year.
Former World Champion Zara Tindall and Class Affair, who had cheeky cross-country run-outs at both Burghley and Blenheim, followed Kazu up the leaderboard, moving from nineteenth to eventual seventh, while France’s Nicolas Touzaint – the 2008 Badminton winner – and Vendee Globe’Jac HDC stormed from 18th to eighth after an exuberant clear round today. For Nicolas, the pressure was amplified – not only had he been subbed in to jump for the French team in Karim Laghouag Florent‘s place, he had also spent the season working to overcome some cross-country wobbles, which saw them clock up 40 penalties here last year and lodge faults at both Saumur and Jardy this season.
“He did a 62% dressage last year and had two run-outs cross-country, but he came back this year to do a 70% dressage, jump clear, and very nearly make the time,” says Nicolas. “The progression of the horse is very encouraging. I haven’t changed anything in particular; the horse showjumped until late and has only evented for a couple of years, so he’s needed time to understand the sport. I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”
Young British team member Mollie Summerland wouldn’t just record the biggest climb to the top ten – though she did do just that, moving from 29th to ninth through the week – she would also earn the title of best Boekelo first-timer, finishing on a score of 31.5 with Charly van ter Heiden, the impressive Belgian-bred gelding that she’s produced herself.
“It’s just incredible to be here on a team with riders like Laura [Collett] and Izzy [Taylor],” says the exciting up-and-comer, who was the best of the British team in the Nations Cup at Waregem last month, too.
France’s Tom Carlile rounded out the top ten with the eight-year-old Birmane, whose 26.9 dressage and fault-free cross-country round was good enough to stop them from slipping lower when they tipped a rail and added two time penalties.
“It’s always frustrating to finish on four faults, but I’m really proud of how she ran this final in her first time at this level,” he says. “She did really well for her age – she suffered a bit with the atmosphere, and where we had to turn tight, the ground was getting quite loose. I’m not making excuses, but it wasn’t ideal. I had one down, which was a pain, because the mare was jumping really well. But it’s still top ten, so it’s really promising.”
Tamie Smith and Mai Baum finished the week as the best of the US contingent in eleventh place, dropping from seventh after tipping a rail and adding a time fault.
“The time was hard to make, and that horse has a big step – I haven’t ridden him in a long-format four-star in a few years, and I just needed to take one more tug,” she says. “I would have gotten away with it had it been a short-format – but hindsight is a beautiful thing. He jumped fantastic, and he barely touched it.”
Now, she says, the plan for next season is up in the air – with Tokyo on the horizon, much will come down to team orders, but Tamie hasn’t ruled out a trip to Kentucky with the gelding, who she describes as “magic to ride.”
24th placed Merel Blom and Ceda were the best of the home front, earning them the title of Dutch National Champions, a win that was almost in the bag after yesterday’s competition, which saw them sit 20 penalties ahead of Jordy Wilken and Burry Spirit, who held their place to become reserve national champions.
Two rails fell for Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver, who dropped six places to finish thirtieth overall, adding to the eight-year-old’s comprehensive education.
Matt Flynn and Wizzerd finished 52nd after a single rail and 2.8 time penalties, while Jennie Brannigan, who fell yesterday but was able to jump for the team score with Stella Artois, per the new Olympic system, didn’t finish with a spot on the individual leaderboard, but contributed a fault-free round to the team.
“It’s certainly not the way I thought I’d be getting a pinque coat,” says Jennie wryly. “But I love showjumping, and the track was tough – my coach always says it’s good to practice high pressure with low pressure. I still wanted to do a good job for the team, and I feel horrible about what happened yesterday, but I think at the end of the day, it’s just something that happened. She’s a great horse. Life kicks you down, but I try to prove that you’ve got to try to keep fighting. I’d love to be able to base over here for a bit – that’s probably something I should try to make happen for myself.”
The Battle of the Nations
The unassailable German team walked the win, despite clocking up 16 jumping faults between team members Sandra Auffarth and Let’s Dance 73, Michael Jung and fischerRocana, and Ingrid Klimke and SAP Asha P. They finished on a score of 94.1, a remarkable 29.4 points ahead of second-placed Australia, who were led by the faultless performance of Chris Burton and Clever Louis, while Kevin McNab and Fernhill Tabasco added 5.2 penalties and Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB added a solitary rail.
Team Japan confirmed a podium place when they added just four penalties across their team of Kazuma Tomoto and Bernadette Utopia, Yoshi Oiwa and Bart L JRA, and Atsushi Negishi and Ventura de la Chaule JRA.
It was team New Zealand who delivered the leading performance of the day, adding just 1.6 time penalties across three superb rounds by James Avery and One Of A Kind, Jesse Campbell and Cleveland, and Dan Jocelyn and Lissyegan Rory, who were substituted in to replace Samantha Lissington and Ricker Ridge Rui GNZ. Their final score of 130 saw them finish fourth place.
But really, the victors of the day were threefold: with Germany confirmed as winners, Sweden were able to bask in the glory of taking the 2019 FEI Nations Cup Series Championship, a testament to their hard work and consistency throughout the season.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be tenth,” laughed a relieved Fred Bergendorff, chef d’equipe for the team of Hanna Berg and Quite Survivor, Viktoria Carlerbäck and Zlatan, and Anna Nilsson and Candy Girl, who came forward to jump after an elimination on course yesterday.
The battle for the final Tokyo ticket was a closely fought one, with Switzerland starting the day in fifth place and Belgium in third. Any movement in either direction would have changed the fortunes of both teams, who were led by Switzerland on a knife-edge – and their performances through the day remained on the similarly tight margin. Switzerland plummeted to seventh place after clocking up thirty penalties: Robin Godel and Grandeur de Lully CH added 13.2, while Caroline Gerber and Tresor de Chignan CH raised team hopes once again when they added just a single time fault to their tally. But although final rider Tiziana Realini had a smart start to her round on Toubleau du Rueire, it all started to fall apart after one pole fell, and by the time she crossed the finish, she’d taken four and added a time penalty, too.
But Belgium didn’t have an easy day, either – they knew they had to aim for a podium finish to put themselves well in the hunt for qualification, but 30.8 penalties across the team of Constantin van Rijckevorsel and Beat It, Senne Vervaecke and Feebe van Alsingen, and Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Alpaga d’Arville. They dropped to sixth place, and the deal was done: Switzerland will go to Tokyo.
Two further teams made use of the new substitution rule for this final phase: Ireland, who finished 12th, substituted Austin O’Connor and Kinnordy Rhondo for Padraig McCarthy and Leonidas II, who opted not to present at the final horse inspection this morning. France’s Karim Laghouag Florent suffered a horse fall with Triton Fontaine yesterday and was thus ineligible to jump today, and so Nicolas Touzaint and Vendee Globe’Jac HDC showjumped in their stead. The team ultimately finished ninth.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the new format as we saw it this weekend, plus the Olympic spot that could still be up for grabs, in the coming weeks. In the meantime, though, that’s a wrap from Boekelo – we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have! Until next time, folks – Go Eventing.