With top notch dressage trainers as parents and super form in her recent history (Aachen, Bramham) we all expected great things, but sailing into a commanding lead at the European Championships at her Senior Debut and on her first visit to Blair was still perhaps above and beyond certainly Holly Woodhead’s wildest dreams, “I’m absolutely over the moon with him, he was amazing, he warmed up incredible and he was really rideable and I’m really thrilled with him. It’s hard work to get him like that but when it comes off he’s amazing. I’m amazed and a little bit overwhelmed. Everything went to plan except for the flower pots at the beginning [DHI Lupison had a big spook, stoppping dead at the flowers at A] and I had a slight moment thinking we were going to jump in, or he was going to stop and I was going to end up around his ears….!”
Luckily Holly had the last words of wisdom from uber-groom Alex Van Tuyll ringing in her ears, “Go Nail It!” and indeed she did.
Holly now has a day and a half to get into cross country mode, and is going to walk the course at least a few more times; so far her first impressions are, “Very big and bold. It’s only my second three star so I’ll hopefully be doing what I did at Bramham and kick on and go round clear inside the time. It’s quite twisty to start with which I think will catch quite a lot of people out, and I think there’s quite a lot of upright fences so you’ve got to be careful not to get too long and too free, that’s my aim. Hopefully he’ll have his jumping shoes on and he’s fit enough to gallop up all those hills.”
Holly has a five point lead over Frenchman Lt Col Thibault Vallette, and Kitty King now occupies third place.
Laura Collett did a lovely test on Grand Manouevre to move into fourth currently on a score of 37.8, “I knew Holly was going to do a good test so I waited until the crowd quieted down, but then they read her score out right as I went in. But he actually coped really well with that, he’s such a trier, he just concentrates so hard as soon as he’s in there.”
“The walk was an issue for me but he probably did his best walk yet so I’m really pleased with him. I think we’re all very aware that they’ve got to be super fit to be here so then trying to contain them in a buzzy atmosphere just shows how good the horses are, really. I think the course is not dimensionally big but it’s the terrain that is going to cause the problems, and there’s a lot of questions later on so you have to plan for that with how much petrol you use up early on, and I just think there’s a lot of places to have a silly whoopsie so hopefully we won’t have one.”
Laura might give Grand Manouevre a little pop tomorrow but he’ll have an easy day, whereas she’ll walk the course several more times.
In what was certainly a trend in this group, Sarah Bullimore, a last minute call-up when Dani Evans’ Smart Time was found to be under the weather, managed to keep Lily Corrinne on side to score 38.2, good enough for 5th right behind Laura. Like so many of the horses this morning, the long walk movement in this test was a struggle for this chestnut mare but her stunning uphill canter pulled her score right back up; Sarah and Lily came to Rolex a couple of years ago and the mare has grown and improved so much, and Sarah’s excited that there’s still so much to come still.
“It’s just sad this weekend that my gain has been someone else’s misfortune and I know that she will have her day and we wish her all the best. I’m chuffed with Lily; we got here and went almost straight in the arena. She’s fit and well and we would have gone to Pau had she not come here, so we felt a little bit unprepared but the horse is ready, she’s fit and well and maybe sometimes we overprepare and actually it’s good to get on in there and do it! At the end of the day your training is done at home and you have to come out to a competition and do the business!”
Sarah and her team left home late Tuesday night thinking they would just trot up in the First Horse Inspection, “Fortunately because we were at Burghley last week the lorry was already packed and we haven’t found anything yet that we’re missing!” Nice job Sarah for pulling it off!
Breaking up the Team GBR girl-fest Sam Watson declared himself delighted with Horseware Lukeswell’s 44.1, slotting into 6th so far on their Irish team debut. They go just ahead of Gemma Tattersall on her OTTB Arctic Soul who raced until he was six, and who contained himself impressively in the arena, you only really realised quite how impressively when he trotted out and tried to bolt away once the grandstands started applauding when he’d finished his test.
Gemma knows him inside out and rode him sympathetically, their walk was a bit of a struggle, their trot work was nice and their canter work was elegant but Saturday is what this pair is all about, “It’s taken him a little while to understand what eventing is all about; he’s really nervous and he gets lit up. He’s not naughty, he gets genuinely nervous so it’s all about managing his nerves. He actually goes very nicely on the flat, he moves very nicely and he goes very nicely but when he gets very tight that reflects in the marks. My first opinion of the course was it’s a bit small, but it certainly needs jumping and there’s certainly a few questions towards the end of the track that we will need to have our brains in gear for, for sure.” Arctic Soul is owned by the Soul Syndicate, most of whom are here at Blair supporting him.
Looking ahead to reigning European Champion Michael Jung in the next session, as well as Nicola Wilson on Blair winner One Too Many, and lots more to come. Thanks as always for making Eventing Nation part of your Longines Blair Castle European Championships experience and Go Eventing!