Dressage by the Numbers: Who to Watch on Day One of Pau

The quiet before the dressage: Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Welcome to Thursday at Pau, where we’re looking ahead to a truly colossal afternoon of dressage. Colossal in talent, that is — we’ve all enjoyed a leisurely lie-in while the arena was taken over by driving dressage, the mostly delightfully baffling thing we’ve ever seen.

We’ll see a huge chunk of the field take to the arena today, with just a two-hour section on the cards for tomorrow — and the talent coming forward is seriously hot. You’ll be able to watch along — and play along — here. This is one of the most open fields we’ve ever seen in terms of putting money — literal or figurative — on an eventual winner, but before we put the, um, cart before the horse, as it were, let’s take a look at our heaviest hitters today.

We’ll be using EquiRatings‘ 6RA — that’s Six Run Average — to calculate which horses and riders are likely to score the lowest. This simple metric takes the last six dressage scores they’ve posted, across any international level, to create an overall picture of their consistency and scope in this phase.

First up to bat…

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Toledo de Kerser and Tom McEwen: 25.7 6RA

Time: 16:17 local/15.17 UK/10.17 a.m. Eastern

With the two biggest dressage divas in the field going head-to-head tomorrow, it should come as no surprise that our lowest average dressage score today goes to last year’s victors here. They come here with unrivalled course form, a knowledge of how to get the best marks in the atmospheric main arena — which has hard-packed sand footing, which can often ride quite ‘dead’ for those who haven’t figured out how to deal with it — and, of course, valuable confidence in themselves. The only hitch? They’re short of match practice: they didn’t run at Burnham Market CCI4*-S and their final run at Little Downham was cancelled. It shouldn’t affect them in this phase, though, and their score here last year is actually an outlier to their average: they scored a 24.9.

Piggy March and Blenheim winner Brookfield Inocent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Brookfield Inocent and Piggy March:  26.6 6RA

Time: 16:31 local/15.31 UK/10.31 a.m. Eastern

Last year’s Blenheim CCI4*-L winner makes his five-star debut this week as one of the hot favourites for the eventual win. This is a serious horse by anyone’s reckoning — in fact, he’s Piggy’s Tokyo team hopeful — and with the on-form Mrs March in the irons, he’s likely to be formidable. He averages a 26.6 in his 6RA, but has proven he can throw down some truly impressive outlier scores — like the 21.8 he posted in the CCI4*-S at Burgham in August. Recent form suggests he could do something really exciting today, though it’s important to keep in mind the debutante factor: he’s a clever, sharp young horse and will either thrive in the main arena or lose his focus. We’d be inclined to suggest the former after watching some very smart schooling this week, but it’s been peppered with the odd shy at flowers.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Zenshera and Ros Canter: 26.6 6RA

Time: 17.37 local/16.37 UK/11.37 a.m. Eastern

Coming forward on the same 6RA but with considerably more experience is our current World Champion’s diminutive Zenshera, the former driving horse turned five-star superstar who stands just 15.2hh. He’s got serious form at Pau, with three top-ten finishes here — and he posted  24.1 here in 2018, so has proven that on his day, he’ll really challenge the big boys. That was his best-ever five-star mark, but the others have never gone above 30.1 (which was in his debut at the level; we’ve seen 20s marks ever since). He knows this arena like the back of his tiny hoof and is as consistent as they come — you could safely put your savings on an appearance in the upper echelons of the leaderboard today.

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ringwood Sky Boy and Tim Price: 27.6 6RA

Time: 16.24 local/15.24 UK/10.24 a.m. Eastern

It’s hard to bet against a former Burghley winner — though that’s a wholly different competition, admittedly — even when they’re as historically quirky as ‘Oz’. He’s produced some super five-star tests in the past, like a 25.8 at Badminton in 2018 and a 26.9 at Burghley the same year, but he can also fluctuate upwards, like at last year’s Badminton where he scored a 30.1. He’s only done two OIs this year, which is a far-removed test from today’s, and though his mid-20s scores have been very good indeed, they haven’t rivalled previous seasons in which he’s thrown around low-20s marks at OI. He gets safety points for knowing the job, but isn’t likely to lead the way today.

Chris Burton and Graf Liberty. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Graf Liberty and Chris Burton: 28.4 6RA

Time: 17.23 local/16.23 UK/11.23 a.m. Eastern

Another stalwart campaigner, Graf Liberty spends much of his time contesting CCI4*-S — though we haven’t seen him internationally at all since the middle of last year, when he went to Millstreet for the Event Rider Masters and posted a 30.2. We’ve seen high-20s marks at this level, but we’ve also seen low-30s, so he’s a bit of a wildcard if you’re looking to put all your eggs in one basket. A high-20s and a 30.9 at OI this year suggest that you’d be taking a real risk at this stage to name him as your overnight leader.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Reve du Rouet and Sarah Bullimore: 28.4 6RA

Time: 14.26 local/13.26 UK/8.26 a.m. Eastern

Though his previous misdemeanours often lead people to assume ‘Blou’ isn’t reliable, he’s grown up an awful lot since his formative five-star years, when a genuine fear of crowds used to send him bubbling over the edge and bolting with poor Sarah. These days, at sixteen, he’s still hot and sharp but Sarah’s mastered the art of keeping the lid on, and he’s truly formidable in the arena as a result. He came incredibly close to winning here in 2017 — a hundredth of a second meant they were second by 0.1 penalties — and he’s on form to try for one better this year, with a 23.7 and 23.6 in his last two four-star outings this year. He’s been giving us his best marks ever in 2020, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue when he heads back into an arena he knows well today.

Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Charly van ter Heiden and Mollie Summerland: 28.8 6RA

Time: 14.50 local/13.50 UK/8.50 a.m. Eastern

Five-star debutantes Mollie and Charly fluctuate between the high-20s and around the 30 mark, though this is simply due to the experience the young rider and eleven-year-old horse are gaining together. She’s produced him through the ranks herself, and is now based with dressage rider Olivia Oakeley — and we have it on good confidence that Carl Hester told her last week that Charly could be a pure dressage horse. It’s easy to see why: his natural way of going and the way Mollie’s producing him are setting them up to be among Great Britain’s very best first-phase performers, and a 23.8 at Barbury CCI4*-S last year was an exciting indicator of things to come. The atmosphere and pressure of their five-star debut could push them to deliver their very best, or we could see a couple of green wobbles — so they’re a gamble, but not at all a silly one.

Laura Collett and Mr Bass. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mr Bass and Laura Collett: 28.6 6RA

Time: 13.58 local/12.58 UK/8.58 a.m. Eastern

Though Laura fondly describes him as being ‘built like a wheelbarrow’, Mr Bass has benefited from her meticulous dressage training to become Mr Consistent between the boards. He won’t rival his stablemate London 52, who comes forward tomorrow with the equal best average in the field, but his 27.6 at Badminton last year proves that he can hang with the big boys. We’ve seen him deliver a 25.8 this season already — though at CCI4*-S — and Laura is one of the most accomplished first-phase performers in the field, so this’ll be a rewarding test for fans of the comeback king.

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