There were major changes in the feature four-star class at the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials today, as we bade goodbye to the overnight leader and were granted with a new one in the form of one of the field’s youngest entrants.
Will Rawlin made the tough decision to withdraw his Thursday leader VIP Vinnie, who was sitting on a score of 24.2 – good enough for second place at the conclusion of the dressage.
“After doing such a good test, sadly I have made the decision to withdraw VIP Vinnie as he’s feeling a little under par,” says Will, adding that he’s “gutted” by the circumstances. “I can’t take the risk of running him and something happening. As a team we are thinking long-term, and I’m just glad it isn’t anything serious.”
Izzy Taylor, who last won here in 2017 when scooping the Event Rider Masters CCI4*-S with Be Touchable, was quick to fill the gap at the top of the leaderboard. That she did with an eight-year-old – and a horse that makes his CCI4*-L debut here – will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the eye-catching youngster in the ring. This is partly down to his breeding – despite showing an impressive proclivity for eventing, Monkeying Around is bred to shine between the boards. Out of a Donnerhall-sired dam and by the Grand Prix stallion Bertoli W, his innate expression and balance give him the edge. Today, that edge was a significant one – they sit on a score of 22.7 going into tomorrow’s cross-country phase.
“I’ve had him since he was a four-year-old, and it makes a massive difference when you can have them from the word go and they’re in your system,” says Izzy, who took top honours in the 2017 Six-Year-Old World Championships at Mondial du Lion with the gelding, who she co-owns with Mark Sartori. “He’s a beautiful horse, and I love him. He was very, very good today; there were some mistakes, but he’s still young so it’s all exciting.”
For the mind-bogglingly busy rider, competing at Blenheim offers up some rare treats.
“Blenheim’s ten minutes from home, so that’s lovely – it means my children can come, and it makes that side of it special,” she explains. “But it’s also the most beautiful setting; we’re very privileged with where we get to do our events, and this is a beautiful one.”
“He’s young to be here, but we’re here to be competitive, and hopefully we’ll be on the same score tomorrow.”
Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent remain in second place after their impressive 25.4 test yesterday, giving Izzy a six second advantage across the country tomorrow. But this is the widest margin we’ll see: from here on out, there’s no room for anything less than foot-perfect focus tomorrow. A mere .2 penalties behind Piggy, Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti sit third on 25.6, just missing out on some crucial marks in the halts.
“It’s a shame about both halts, but I’m very happy. He’s always good at the flying changes, so we need to get the good marks there,” says Kazu, who set himself a lofty goal at the beginning of the 2019 season – to qualify all four of his horses for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Remarkably, he’s notched up three so far, and this week’s competition sees him aim for the fourth with the eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, who led the dressage at Luhmühlen’s CCI5* in June.
“[Luhmühlen] wasn’t so good,” reflects Kazu, who opted to retire across the country after a miscommunication on course. “But hopefully this will work out. I’ve course-walked [here] with William and there are lots of tricky angles, but he can do it.”
The pair’s form would certainly indicate so: Kazu first shot to prominence here in 2017, when he and ‘Vince’ led the eight- and nine-year-old class after the first two phases and narrowly missed out on the win when their two time penalties pushed them a tenth of a penalty behind victors Chris Burton and Cooley Lands.
“Two years ago, I was just a tourist,” laughs Kazu, who had made his international eventing debut just a year prior. “But now, I expect him to get the results, so it’s very different.”
Since making the move from showjumping to eventing, Kazu has been based with William Fox-Pitt in Dorset – and William, too, has been impressed by the astonishing trajectory of his career, which now sees him sit 29th in the world rankings.
“If you look back, he’s done WEG, he’s done Badminton, he’s done Pau – he’s come on so far, so quickly. If you think that he’s only been doing the sport for four years – we’d all been doing the sport for four years and were at two-star,” says William. “He’s done as well as you possibly could have dreamt. He’s had good raw material to work with; the horses have all been lovely and quality. [Brookpark Vikenti] can be quite strong, and that’s something that Kazu’s had to learn to deal with; to ride a puller is something that’s very foreign to him out on a cross-country course. But he’s shown that it’s all there, and I know there’s a part of him that would like to win this weekend – but that qualification is the most important thing.”
Australia’s Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend move to fourth on their score of 25.7, while Willa Newton got the best out of the occasionally flamboyant Moonlight Dance S to post a 26.1 for fifth. Pippa Funnell and Billy the Biz slip one spot to sixth on their 26.3, while former British Junior National Champion Constance Copestake steps into equal seventh with El Kolibri. She shares the spot with Emily King and her 2018 Bramham under-25 CCI4*-L winner Dargun.
“I’m really pleased with Dargun,” says Emily. “He’s quite experienced at this level and was very calm, and he really concentrates and is with you in there. There were a couple of movements where I didn’t ride as well as I could have done in there, but he was lovely and I’m really pleased with him.”
Buck Davidson holds a place in the top ten after dressage with second ride Carlevo, who missed his planned run here last season after a minor injury in his final preparation. Their score of 27.2 sees them move into cross-country in ninth place, while Park Trader sits in equal 24th on 29.2.
“He’s good at that bit, and now we’ve got to keep him on that score – that’s the challenge,” says Buck with a smile. If Blenheim’s course offers up a significant test en route to glory, Carlevo himself shouldn’t – the experienced twelve-year-old hasn’t had a black mark on his international cross-country record since 2016, and finished twentieth in his five-star debut at Kentucky last spring.
Two promising first-phase results could herald a redemptive week for Buck, who has suffered a run of bad luck this season with falls at Kentucky and Burghley – but sad circumstances beyond his competitive endeavours have brought with them a sense of perspective.
“My dad’s wife is on life support and had a bad injury, so she’s in hospice, so it keeps things in perspective,” he says. “She can’t move at all – it’s awful. We spend our time going back and forth to hospital, and we’re lucky to be able to do this sport. So I’ve had a couple of falls and a couple of things that were unfortunate, but in the big picture it’s nothing compared to what the family is going through.”
All of us at team EN wish Buck and his family the very best as they continue to battle through this tough time.
Kylie Roddie and Carden Earl Grey move into equal tenth place, sharing the spot with Sam Ecroyd and Davinci III, who also scored a 27.4.
Katherine Coleman and the talented Monte Classico sit 23rd on 29.1 on the horse’s second visit to the venue. Last year, they finished 15th in the eight- and nine-year-old class after a conservative but classy educational run, which paid off – in their next international, the horse’s CCI4*-L debut at the Jockey Club in Ocala, they sailed to the win, confirming the horse’s status as Katherine’s next star. Now, with another year of mileage under his belt, Katherine feels that the horse is ready to take it to the next level.
“He’s ten, so he’s a young horse, but I’ve kind of gotten in the trap of babying him a bit,” she says. “When you get a nice one like this, you’re like, ‘oh, I don’t want to run them too fast!’ But we’re going to go for it – it should be good. He’s always been lovely on the flat, and he’s a super showjumper, but he’s a bit slower in his brain cross-country. Last year, in developing it and aiming towards the future, I’d give him a little more time at combinations and I wasn’t really going for the time as much. But this year, I think he’s ready. I feel like he’s in a place where we’ll go out and try to make the time tomorrow. He’s got more gears now and I look forward to using them.”
Staying on their sub-30 score would certainly put the pair in the hunt, but Katherine explains that there’s more to come in this phase from the gelding.
“He went in there and dropped me a little bit in the contact, and then he just dropped behind my leg a little bit,” she says. “So then it’s hard to keep him as up and as expressive as I’d like. But he’s super; he’s so obedient, and he’s got a lovely extended canter, so there’s a lot to like about it. It’s just about perfecting it; they’re all a little different warming up, but he goes in and just holds his breath a little bit. Unfortunately, he has to deal with me on his back – if he had someone else on his back, he’d probably be winning everything, but he’s stuck with me!”
Cornelia Dorr is making the most of her first trip abroad, self-funded by the sale of a four-year-old half-sister to her striking mount Sir Patico MH.
“Sharon White, my coach, said way back in May that this course would suit us if our year went well, so we set the goal way back then,” she says. “I came over last week and we went to [UK-based Australian] Bill Levett’s. They were super welcoming, very attentive, and the nicest people, so that really helped ease the shock of travelling over here with him! We’re just taking it day by day – it’s very different here, but I’ve really fallen in love with it.”
Making that first leap across the pond is an enormous moment for any rider, but for Cornelia, it’s the culmination of a journey that started when she was just twelve and ‘Hugo’ a five-year-old. In the years since, their partnership has seen them tick plenty of boxes, including top-ten finishes in CCI4*-L classes at Fair Hill and Bromont.
“I was going off to high school and we didn’t exactly know which direction I was going to go in the horse world, so my trainer at the time and I just knew he’d be a safe horse for a young kid to just bop around on,” she explains. “We’re going on our eighth year together – he’s pretty much raised me. There’s no other horse I’d rather do this with.”
The top of the leaderboard remains much the same in the eight- and nine-year-old class, with Piggy French and Calling Card maintaining yesterday’s lead. Sam Griffiths and Freestyler remain in second, with Mary King and King Robert II holding onto third. 2017 winner Chris Burton moves into equal-fourth place with Clever Louis, who matches Oliver Townend and Dreamliner‘s 29.7 to round out a star-studded top five. Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver sit equal 29th on a score of 34.
Tomorrow will be showjumping day for the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S competitors, which will commence from 3.00 p.m. BST/10.00 a.m. EST, while the CCI4*-L will head to David Evans‘ cross-country track from 9.30 a.m. BST/4.30 a.m. EST. The CCI4*-S order of go can be found here, while cross-country times are available here.
Following our Americans on tour? They’ll be on course at the following times:
- Buck Davidson and Park Trader – 9.57 a.m. BST/4.57 a.m. EST
- Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z – 10.15 a.m. BST/5.15 a.m. EST
- Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico – 11.57 a.m. BST/6.57 a.m. EST
- Buck Davidson and Carlevo – 12.51 p.m. BST/7.51 a.m. EST
- Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH – 1.21 p.m. BST/8.21 a.m. EST
You’ll be able to follow along via Blenheim’s live-stream on their website and Facebook page, and we’ll be bringing you a full report tomorrow, as well as a preview of both cross-country courses prior to the action.