Laura Collett Remains Boss of Boekelo After Cross-Country

Laura Collett and Dacapo maintain their first-phase lead, remaining on 21.9 after Boekelo’s cross-country day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Today’s cross-country at Military Boekelo CCIO4*-L could be fairly described as something of a day of two halves: on the one hand, despite riders’ assertions that it walked as more difficult than in previous years, we saw 59 of 74 starters complete — an 80% completion rate — and 44 of those jump clear, giving a clear rate of 59%. The optimum time of 10:10 proved not at all difficult to catch, too, with a whopping 19 competitors catching it.

But while it was, in many respects, the ‘softer’ Boekelo we’ve become used to, it still had its challenges — and most pertinent of those today was its final fence. A reasonably wide table-profiled fence, it walked as being wholly innocuous — but throughout the day, we saw three fallers here, including second-placed Giovanni Ugolotti and Swirly Temptress. Though each fall was different, as was each approach, each of the horses fell after leaving a left leg, and though officials tried to paint the top edges of the table white to make them more readable after the third fall, by the fourth, they opted simply to remove the jump altogether to keep horses and riders safe — though, as Technical Delegate Gillay Kyle was quick to remind people, that decision didn’t reinstate those four fallers.

One of those nineteen clears inside the time belonged to Laura Collett, who remains in the lead following the pivotal phase with Dacapo.

Longtime followers of Laura’s, though, will be just as familiar with the 13-year-old Dacapo for his misdemeanours as they are for his successes. He’s got plenty of major accolades under his belt, including second place at Aachen last year, but he’s also lost out on plenty more after silly runouts – an occasional habit that Laura hasn’t quite found her way to the bottom of.

“You never know what day he’s going to have, but he was amazing the whole way around,” she says. “You have absolutely no idea [when he’s going to be naughty] — it comes out of nowhere. He’s either going or he’s not, and there’s not a lot you can do about it! When he’s good he’s amazing, and he has his ears pricked and looks like he loves it, so you never quite know what’s going on in his head! When he’s like he was today, he’s mega — he never runs out.”

Dacapo certainly made Adrian Ditcham’s track look easy, coming in a hundredth of a second under the optimum time and never wavering in his approaches, even in the face of 60,000 enthusiastic partiers in close proximity to the tightly-roped track. But then, for all his quirks, Dacapo is a bit of a showman — and it’s that love of the spotlight that Laura hopes will buoy him to greatness tomorrow in the main arena where stablemate London 52 experienced the great turning point of his career.

“He’s a good jumper, but he can have a lazy rail here or there. He loves an atmosphere, though, so I’m hoping he rises to the occasion and tries a little bit harder,” says Laura. “Hopefully it’s his time to shine — he’s been in Dan’s shadow for long enough!”

Tim Price and Happy Boy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Three days into his tenure as the newly-minted World Number One, Tim Price puts himself well in contention for another international title, stepping up from equal fourth to overnight second with his 2019 Seven-Year-Old World Champion, Happy Boy. That movement came after the shock elimination of second-placed Giovanni Ugolotti, who fell at the final fence from Swirly Temptress, and the relocation within the top ten of third-placed Ros Canter and Izilot DHI, who added 4.4 time penalties to slip to ninth.

“He’s a great little horse,” says Tim, who came home three seconds inside the time with the ten-year-old Dutch-bred gelding. “He’s still getting used to this level; it’s only his second time around a course like this, but this is definitely the biggest challenge he’s seen in his career. I was really happy with him — he just kept coming and taking on all the questions.”

Though Happy Boy has previously experienced busy crowds at the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers, Boekelo’s atmosphere adds a whole new dimension — and something of an edge. When the long-term goal is to build a team horse for the future, though, that’s a valuable educational asset.

“I haven’t been here in about three years, and the course designer has changed in that time, so it’s pretty different. It’s a bit more gradual to get you into the technicality element of the course, and it feels a bit bigger, but the thing we get here every time is the crowds everywhere. For a young horse — and even for some of the more experienced four-star horses — they’re looking to the left and looking to the right, just clocking all these people leaning over the strings. It’s a brilliant feeling, but it’s a bit off-putting for the inexperienced ones. It’s what it’s all about, though, and it’s why we’re here — to get them used to this sort of thing.”

Tim’s round helps propel the New Zealand team into overnight second place in the Nations Cup, up one place from their post-dressage third — though still 11.1 penalties behind Great Britain, who continue to hold the lead after two phases. For the Kiwis, though, it’s all part of a recent, much-welcomed uptick in team fortunes.

“We’ve been a bit wavering over the last few years, but we got a great shot in the arm at the World Championships at Pratoni a couple of weeks ago,” says Tim. “It’s all about a bit of momentum, and then when you have someone else come into the frame that wasn’t there, you can pick them up and run with it, so it’s really exciting for the team.”

Tom McEwen pilots Nicola Wilson’s European Champion, JL Dublin, to a clear inside the time and overnight third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another factor allowed Tim to move into second place, and after the brief frustration of Pratoni, at which he lost out on a tiebreak by being further under the optimum time than Boyd Martin, he’ll have breathed a sigh of relief to have been the victorious party this time. He and Tom McEwen both remain on 25.6 going into tomorrow’s showjumping, but as Tim was three seconds inside the time, it allowed him to inch ahead of now-third-placed Tom, who was four seconds inside the time on new ride JL Dublin.

While both rider and European Championship-winning horse is enormously experienced in his own right, this is their first significant competition in tandem: they’ve contested a couple of Intermediates, and used the CCI4*-S at Little Downham this month as a combined test, but have never yet run in an international. The partnership, helped along by the eleven-year-old gelding’s former rider Nicola Wilson, looked to be coming along in fine style, though.

Sarah Bullimore’s Evita AP is the best of the eight-year-olds in the field and will sit fourth overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Boekelo field is always well-stocked with very young four-star horses, and the best of those today was Sarah Bullimore‘s eight-year-old Evita AP, who stepped up to the level just this season and was second in the prestigious eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S at Blenheim just last month. Though Sarah no longer has two horses in the top ten after an educational round with a 20 for the inexperienced Irish Trump, who slipped from seventh to 44th, she was delighted to secure fourth place overnight with the young mare, who also contributes to the British team effort. Their clear round, six seconds inside the time, boosts them from eighth after dressage.

“I had a fantastic ride –  my mare’s only an eight-year-old, and she was fabulous,” says Sarah. “She’s just got a great, great brain on her, and she was out there ready for the next fence with her ears forward the whole way. She had a lovely time, and I’m chuffed to bits with her. She’ll have learnt an awful lot from coming here. They don’t see these sort of crowds anywhere else – it’s quite unique.”

Yasmin Ingham’s Rehy DJ embraces the atmosphere to romp home inside the time. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though her round won’t add to the British team effort after a last-minute switch-around on Wednesday, World Champion Yasmin Ingham is still well in contention for individual honours with Rehy DJ after a faultless clear 12 seconds inside the time boosted them from ninth to fifth and proved that, despite that Wednesday incident that saw the gelding sustain a superficial graze after being spooked by a water bowser, Rehy DJ is none the worse for wear.

Sandra Auffarth and Rosveel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Speaking of World Champions, the 2014 one put in a none too shabby show today herself. Germany’s Sandra Auffarth steps up from tenth to sixth with a faultless round aboard the nine-year-old Polish Sport Horse Rosveel, with whom she finished third in Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S this summer. Just behind them, France’s Morgane Euriat and Baccarat d’Argonne jump from eleventh to seventh after a gutsy, attacking round that reminded spectators why exactly they were victorious in their first-ever CCI4*-L at Lignières last October, and just one second over the optimum in their second at Bramham under-25s this summer.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C add a smattering of time but remain in the top ten after a confident, exciting round from the inexperienced horse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Liz Halliday-Sharp is best of the US team, who slip from second to fourth overnight, despite dropping down two places to eighth after picking up 3.2 time penalties. But for Miks Master C‘s first time competing outside North America, and his first exposure to atmosphere, it’s an exciting milestone in the pair’s five month-long partnership.

“I was a little bit bummed to not make the time because he was quite strong, but honestly, he was fabulous,” says Liz, who pilots the gelding for stalwart owners Ocala Horse Properties and Debbie Palmer. “It was our first four-long together and he really showed he’s a world class horse. I’m excited about his future; I think it was a really good learning track for him. He’s a such a big, bold galloping horse and this is a very tight, twisting track.”

Though five months is barely any time at all in the grand scheme of an upper level partnership, Liz’s time with the gelding has been wholly focused on getting to know him and helping him to build his strength and balance – although sometimes, that strength can be a touch overenthusiastic.

“The biggest thing is he’s gotten so much stronger and fitter, and he’s suddenly realized he’s He-Man now, so he’s gotten to be a lot to hold on to — which is fine, I ride a lot of strong horses. He wants to do the job and he’s a big-striding horse. I was actually 30 seconds up on the time at the last water and I had to just thread the anchor back through the woods because I just didn’t have the control. But I do think he learned a lot; he went through the woods and was a bit strong and then he came back to me. I am quite disappointed about the time because I’m just really competitive, but I can’t fault the horse at all.”

“He’s been a bit of a different horse at every show I’ve done. This has kind of been a learning journey taking him here and finding a horse for the future. I think next year I’m going to have the horse I really know.”

Though Boekelo, with its twists and turns and smaller fences, wouldn’t be the obvious match for the big-striding, bold gelding, that’s partly why Liz wanted to aim him at the show.

“I think horses need to be able to do everything now,” she explains. “I’m trying to prime my horses up for all of the championships, and I think they need to do all the types of tracks. I think this could be a horse for me for the Olympics, but either way he’s proven to me today that he’s going to be a top five-star horse. And they need to prove they can twist and turn as well as gallop and jump.”

Ros Canter’s naturally spooky Izilot DHI steps up to the plate in a big way at Boekelo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Overnight third-placed Ros Canter moves down to ninth place after cross-country after adding 4.4 time penalties with Izilot DHI, who has been exceptional at CCI4*-S this season but hadn’t yet made the step up to this level.

“I’m absolutely delighted,” says Ros. “He’s still a very young horse; this is his first CCI4*-L, and he’s quite a sharp, spooky character, so it was a big occasion for him today. He won’t have seen anything like this, and he was a bit shy and nervous at the start, but so honest and genuine at the fences. I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Boyd Martin and Fedarman B. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Boyd Martin rounds out the top ten with the Annie Goodwin Syndicate’s Fedarman B, who moved up from fifteenth place after going great guns around the course and showing how exceptionally his relatively new partnership with Boyd has come along. They finished fifteen seconds inside the time though, as Boyd explains, that wasn’t because he was pushing the horse for any kind of speed.

“When I came into it, I felt like I had him very, very fit because he was sort of the backup horse for Pratoni,” says Boyd. “So I had him galloping a lot early on in preparation and so he was ready for that. He showed me at the Tryon 4* that he could do the distance. This course here is a twisty course, and he’s got so much speed; he just gave me a great ride. I feel a bit embarrassed coming in fifteen seconds under the time! But he’s very light in the mouth and I was just seeing really good shots, and I don’t have to set him up too much.”

After Boyd jumped through the final water complex with the gelding, an enormous roar went up from the sidelines — such is the strength in depth of their support side this week as they ride in honour of the late Annie Goodwin, who passed away last year following a riding accident. For Boyd, it was great to give them something wonderful to cheer about.

“I’ve really only had him for a little over a year. He’s had one rider since he was three years old and that was Annie, so I couldn’t expect to hop on and have him go for me like he did for her. This time last year, we were eliminated at Morven Park, but we’ve gelled together — and it’s been great to have the Annie Goodwin Syndicate here cheering us on. Annie’s parents are here, so it’s just a brilliant atmosphere. Team USA has such great supporters today — and like Pratoni, it’s just an awesome group of riders. I think Liz, James, and Alyssa are some of the best riders America’s got, and it’s an honor and privilege to ride for the country.”

James Alliston and Nemesis make light work of pathfinder duties for Team USA. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though he was mounted on one of the greenest horses in the field in eight-year-old NemesisJames Alliston made a fine job of taking team pathfinder duties in his Team USA debut, adding just 2 time penalties and bringing back valuable intel to his teammates. He was able to move up from 55th to 30th off the back of that great round.

“I just wanted to start out getting some good jumps, so I didn’t go blazingly fast,” says the West Coast rider, who rode for his native Great Britain until a few months ago. “He’s a fast horse, but at 4ABC, I kind of picked my way through probably in more strides that any other people. After that, he felt really good and confidence, and as I went, I sort of amped it up a little.”

Though they jumped most of the track brilliantly, they survived a near-miss moment at the last fence, which would go on to catch a number of riders and horses out throughout the day.

“It was maybe a little bit chancy coming home,” he says. “And next time, I’d start out a bit quicker!”

Alyssa Phillips and Oskar negotiate the tricky water complex. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Team USA debutantes Alyssa Phillips and Oskar moved from 24th to 48th after picking up an unlucky run-out in the final water combination, plus a further 18.4 time faults — but the exciting gelding looked to gain in confidence on his way around the track, and will have learned plenty from the experience.

Janneke Boonzaaijer, 40th after cross-country after adding 14 time penalties with her CCI4*-L debutant Bouncer, takes the lead on the hunt for the Dutch National Championship after the retirement of first-phase leaders Tim Lips and Wicro Quibus.

“I am very happy with how it went,” says Janneke, who jumped through the tough main water complex with one stirrup, putting an enormous amount of faith in her inexperienced horse in doing so. “A lot of emotions; it was really insanely beautiful. In some places it all went just fine, like on the second water. It wasn’t easy; I really had to fight, but the result is great.”

Great Britain remains in the lead in the team competition, followed by New Zealand in second, French in third, and the US in fourth. Just three teams are in contention for the series title: Germany, who currently lead the standings, sit sixth, while Sweden is eighth of ten teams and Italy is seventh.

We’ll be back bright and early with all the news from the final horse inspection, set to take place from 9.30 a.m. local time/8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST. Until then: Go Eventing!

The top ten after cross-country at Military Boekelo.

The team standings at the close of the second phase in the Nations Cup competition.

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