Day One at Bramham: The French (and Oliver Townend) Are Out in Force in First Phase

Tom Carlile debuts Darmagnac de Beliard at CCI4*-L. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We always see a formidable French contingent at Bramham International Horse Trials, and this year’s renewal is no different: not only have we got some heavy hitters from across the Channel in each class, we’ve also started the week with an impressive tricolour leader in the feature CCI4*-L.

Though it’s the nine-year-old Darmagnac de Beliard‘s CCI4*-L debut, the Selle Français (Canturo*Bois Margot x Palme de Moyon, by Barbarian) made a striking impression in this morning’s first batch of competitors, partnering Tom Carlile to a class-leading 29.3 on day one despite breaking to canter in both the trot half-passes.

“The horse was quite tense at Chatsworth [last month], and he’s coming back here to an atmosphere — but it’s done him good [to experience it at Chatsworth],” says Tom. “He was much more relaxed in his work and not fazed by the atmosphere, though him being more relaxed probably got me a bit nervous, because I felt like I was missing a bit of sharpness, so I pushed him into a mistake, which I’m kicking myself for, but for the rest of the test, he was very serious. The aids [for half-pass and canter] are the same, so it was a misunderstanding; there wasn’t any tension.”

Darmagnac de Beliard has been impressive in his short international career so far, with six top-five finishes from seven FEI starts to his credit.

“I think a lot of him,” says Tom, who has produced him throughout his career for owners S.C.E.A. Beliard and Jean Jacques Montagne. “He’s a real introvert and very shy, but he’s very polite. He internalises a lot of his emotions and he wouldn’t be the most self-confident, but he’s a real trier and he has a lot about him and a lot of spark: if he can get out of his bubble, he’s got a lot to show. I’ve just got to get his confidence.”

Ros Canter and Rehy Royal Diamond. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

Ros Canter sits second overnight with Christopher and Jane Makin’s eleven-year-old Rehy Royal Diamond, who delivered a smart 29.8 despite some uncharacteristic head shaking in the ring. The sizeable gelding’s test was just the second of the day, but he impressed the ground jury — made up of Polly Ann HuntingtonAnnabel Scrimgeour and Xavier le Sauce — sufficiently to hold onto a competitive spot throughout the course of the day’s action. Though we’re seeing a number of talented debutants come forward in this year’s field, Rehy Royal Diamond is relatively experienced at the level: this will be his third CCI4*-L after debuting at Bicton’s Bramham replacement last year, where he was ultimately retired, and then finishing thirteenth at Blenheim in September.

Toshiyuki Tanaka and Ventura de la Chaule JRA take a top five spot on day one. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Japan’s Toshiyuki Tanaka sits third overnight with Ventura de la Chaule JRA, a new ride that he inherited this year from fellow Japanese squad member Atsushi Negishi.  They made their FEI debut together in Ballindenisk’s CCI4*-L in April, followed by Houghton CCIO4*-S last month — and though both runs proved more educational than competitive, they find themselves in an enviable position at this early stage on a 31.9, close to the gelding’s career-best four-star score of 31.3 at Ballindenisk. They’re closely followed by New Zealand’s James Avery and One Of A Kind II on 32.

Allie Knowles and Ms. Poppins take a top five spot on day one at Bramham. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Allie Knowles had hoped for a lower first-phase mark with the elegant Ms. Poppins, their 33.2 was still competitive enough to see them hold fifth place overnight at the halfway stage of the 62-strong CCI4*-L.

“As always, she gave me exactly what I asked for, so I can’t be disappointed with that,” says Allie of the eleven-year-old Westfalian, who produced three stylish phases at Houghton two weeks ago for a top fifteen finish. “You always want the marks higher, but in a new ring and a new space, she was a lady as always, so I can’t be disappointed with her.”

Since Houghton, where Allie and Ms. Poppins were part of the second-placed US team, the pair have been based with J.P. Sheffield, from whom Allie sourced the mare for owner Katherine O’Brien.

“[The horse is] so good, so I just want to keep her happy and keep her wanting to do this for me, so there hasn’t been a tonne of training [since Houghton] — we’ve done a few schools, and a few jump schools to keep her sharp, but we haven’t done anything differently.”

The top ten at the end of the first day of Bramham’s CCI4*-L.

The French domination continues on apace in the under-25 CCI4*-L, which saw the first half of the 21-strong line-up take to the arena this afternoon. It was the last rider in the ring, Morgane Euriat, who ultimately took the top spot overnight, earning a 31.2 with the eleven-year-old Anglo-Arab mare Baccarat d’Argonne. This is a second CCI4*-L for the pair, who won on their debut at Lignières in October and have also placed at the Young Rider European Championships — and it’s also a personal best for both at four-star.

“She was a bit stressed and not fully relaxed today – normally we do better,” says Morgane, who began her own international eventing career in 2018 with the mare. “She’s ready for the cross-country now. She’s always a feisty mare; when she arrived here she was very excited and she just looked at the cross-country – she’s asking me all of the time when we’re going to do that bit!”

Heloïse Le Guern and Canaskine du Sudre Z continue to prove themselves an exciting force to be reckoned with for France. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fellow French representative Heloïse Le Guern sits second overnight with the exciting grey Canakine du Sudre Z, with whom she finished 16th in last month’s WEG test event at Pratoni del Vivaro. Their 31.9 today is among their best scores at the level, and marks the start of a CCI4*-L debut for both the gelding and his rider, who has previously represented France on European Championship teams at Pony, Junior, and Young Rider level.

“My horse was a bit overwhelmed by the arena, and a bit stressed at the beginning of our test, so the first few movements were really difficult,” says Heloïse. “But he didn’t explode and managed to hold it together — so although it wasn’t the most comfortable, I was pleased with him.”

Harry Mutch and HD Bronze deliver their best-ever test. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“That’s the best test he’s ever given me in his life, so I’m absolutely thrilled,” says an emotional Harry Mutch, who briefly took the lead with his five-star partner HD Bronze and now sits third provisionally on 33.3. That’s a career best score for the 16-year-old gelding, and Harry cites his training with Pippa Funnell, which he’s received through the Wesko Equestrian Foundation, as making all the difference to their performance: “Pippa’s been helping me all week, and she’s just been incredible. She has really got the horse on my side and taught me how to ride him at a show. He’s normally really tricky in the dressage – we’ve been getting 48s and 38s – so to do a clear round pretty much, I couldn’t be happier. He’s so sensitive that just to be able to get the leg on to him is hard, and then there’s the atmosphere on top of that. We just got it right today, and I’m so, so happy.”

Heidi Coy’s young Russal Z takes a provisional top five spot on day one. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Heidi Coy and Russal Z are certainly among the favourites to fight for the win in this class, and though their pathfinding score of 36.3 was higher than they’ve previously scored in an international, it was competitive enough to see them take fourth place at the halfway stage of this class’s first phase: “I don’t think it’s going to be a dressage competition, that’s for sure,” says Heidi. “I know she can do a lot more, which is slightly disappointing — she didn’t blow up or anything, but there was just a fair few mistakes, which is quite disappointing after her superb test at Houghton two weeks ago.”

Isabelle Bosley and Night Quality take a top five spot on day one. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

US Emerging 25 athlete Isabelle Bosley holds fifth place overnight with Night Quality, who delivered some of his best work but lost marks for twice spooking at spectators at the A end of the arena, ultimately earning a 36.7.

“[Leslie Law] has spent the last two weeks really drilling me to get us ready,” says Isabelle. “He’s pout a lot of work in a short amount of time, and it’s made a massive difference from my test two weeks ago at Houghton to now. I feel good about riding through the test confidently and actually performing the movements properly now; I’m still quite green at the level, and I’m just getting to a full year at it, so I’m starting to now get to the point of being like, ‘let’s not just get through the test, let’s actually put in a performance.’ Minus the two disobediences, the test itself felt the best it’s ever felt, so I’m really happy — a little frustrated, too, because of the naughtiness here and there, but through all the movements, I’m just thrilled with how he felt.”

The leaderboard at the halfway point of the under-25 CCI4*-L.

“She’s a beautiful person”: Oliver Townend takes the lead with young gun Cooley Rosalent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend ensured that the day wasn’t entirely in the hands of the French by taking the lead in the hot CCI4*-S section with the excellent Cooley Rosalent, who makes her third start at the level after two educational runs previously this spring. Her 26.6 once again proved that the mare, who was reserve Six-Year-Old World Champion in 2020, has an enormous amount of potential — potential that Oliver continues to be hugely excited about.

“She’s very baby at the level, obviously, but she’s probably as good as I’ve ever had at this stage,” he says. “She’s very, very special, and so there’s no pressure on her — I’m just ticking along, and when she becomes competitive in all three bits on the same day, she’ll win. She’s here to learn and to get a qualifying result, and what will be will be. She’s just a beautiful person — she’s bred beautifully, and to me, she looks beautiful. The colour has been lucky for me before, so fingers crossed. I think she’s as good as we’ve had.”

Tom McEwen and MHS Brown Jack enjoy a breakthrough between the boards. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Had you asked Tom McEwen about his chances in this phase ahead of his test with the eight-year-old MHS Brown Jack, he’d probably have been quick to temper your expectations – after all, he tells us, the gelding has been “getting his knickers in a twist a bit learning the changes!” But despite his inexperience the Irish Sport Horse, who’s owned by stalwart supporters Fred and Penny Barker, delivered a clear round test to post a 27.4 and take overnight second place in his first four-star.

“He got all [the changes] today and he was brilliant; the work was excellent, and there’s a lot more to come,” says Tom, who describes the OBOS Quality son and Le Lion graduate as “really polite – he’s a lovely horse, and Penny actually use to hack him out a little bit. He adapts well to situations, and he’s loving being at a big show again, which is always great news for finding the top — and he’s worked really hard today, so I’m very happy with him.”

An error of course doesn’t stop Alex Hua Tian and Don Geniro from making a strong start in Bramham’s CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a case of so close and yet so far for China’s Alex Hua Tian, who delivered one of the most deliciously watchable tests of the day with the extravagant Don Geniro, but walked away with a slightly disappointing 28.6 for his efforts after going wrong in the walk section of the test.

“The trot was lovely and the walk was fine, but then Nick [Burton, judge at C] beeped me,” says Alex. “I think I learnt an old version of the test, and so it’s a different walk.”

After a quick debrief with Nick, the pair were quickly back on track, and though their score doesn’t rival the low-20s marks they’ve previously produced at the level, it puts them in a hugely competitive early position in a tough-marking day of sport.

Jesse Campbell and Gambesie impress in the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Also sitting on a 28.6 overnight is New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell, who earned the score with the flash but under-the-radar Gambesie. Owned by Sarah Moffatt and previously piloted by Ireland’s Jonty Evans, Gambesie has always shown plenty of promise, but niggling injuries have prevented him from realising his potential.

“He’s super low mileage, so it’s great to get him in the arena, despite some little baby mistakes,” says Jesse. “Going down the centreline disunited is probably not what you want to do — it’s kind of 101! But those are baby mistakes, and he had a good attitude in there.”

Jesse, who describes the eleven-year-old Dutch Warmblood as “really cool, but a little bit quirky — like all the good ones are”, is aiming to campaign the gelding at the short-format for now as they get the measure of his management. That gives them an exciting goal on the horizon, though: all being well, Jesse plans to take the son of Zambesi TN to Germany’s CHIO Aachen in a few weeks.

Great Britain’s Dani Evans rounds out the top five overnight with Ann Butler’s ten-year-old Hollywood Dancer, who earned a 29.7 to continue her streak of sub-30 scores at the level.

The top ten in Bramham’s CCI4*-S after the first day of dressage.

Tomorrow’s packed day of competition takes us straight back into a wall-to-wall line-up of dressage, with the CCI4*-S running throughout the day and the CCI4*-L for under-25s once again following after the open CCI4*-L. There won’t be a live-stream of tomorrow’s action, but we’ll be back with a full report at the end of the day’s competition. Until then: Go Eventing!

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