Laura Collett Leads Virtual Eventing Dressage; Approximately No One is Surprised

 

In¬†one of the least surprising moments in sporting history,¬†Laura Collett¬†and¬†London 52¬†– a horse who Just. Wants. To. Dance., damnit – swooped into the lead in the second and final day of dressage in the¬†NAF Virtual Eventing 5*¬†today. Their 24.9 puts them nearly a mark and a half ahead of yesterday’s leaders¬†Yasmin Ingham¬†and¬†Sandman 7, now relegated to second place, though their impressive score comes despite a significant judging discrepancy – while both Jane Tolley and Les Smith had Laura in the 77th percentile, Annabel Scrimgeour awarded them a 70.93% (which is still a very good mark, mind you). This has been a particularly interesting insight into the subjectivity of judging, because all three of the hugely experienced assembled judges are scoring from the same viewpoint, rather than from separate points of the arena.

At any rate, though, Laura and London 52 – known to his friends as ‘Dan’ – managed to rack up 9s for all three gaits plus the halt, which seems almost unfair to this writer, who has never actually seen a 9 on any of her scoresheets and is concerned that perhaps she never will. Laura, if you want to share, you know where to find me. Please do consider sending over some of that impressive trot, too.

Though much of the top ten remains untouched after a slew of impressive performances yesterday, a 27.3 saw¬†Boyd Martin and his US National Champion¬†Tsetserleg take overnight fifth. Unlike some of his competitors, ‘Thomas’ – or, colloquially, ‘Sexy Legs’ – is no stranger to this level; to secure his National Champ title, he recorded a close second place finish at 2019’s renewal of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, losing out on the win to that pesky Townend bloke. Would this have been their year? We’ll never know – but we do know that Boyd comes into this competition with something to prove (and a mullet), and that could make tomorrow very interesting indeed.

Those viewers partial to a dishy French export were in for a treat today: both Tom Carlile and Sebastian Cavaillon sashayed their way into their respective arenas, casting brooding glances down the centreline and generally bringing a bit of joy to our lonely, locked-down lives. For his part, Tom made an impression on the judges and not just bored and lonely journalists, earning a score of 29.4 with the nine-year-old mare Birmane to sit eighth at the culmination of dressage.

If the wider eventing public hadn’t noticed Tom’s delightful up-and-comer before now, they certainly did today, aided by the enthusiastic admiration of commentator Spencer Sturmey. In her first 4*-L last season at Boekelo, Birmane finished in the top ten and looked considerably more mature than her eight years would have suggested. For the French team, who took the gold medal at Rio but have since sold on or retired half their remarkable mounts there, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics could be something of a blessing in disguise – much of their most exciting talent is young and not yet established, and while the lack of competitive opportunities this year doesn’t foster an ideal learning environment, an extra year of focused training and strength-building could see them create a formidable team next summer, stocked with the likes of Birmane, Astier Nicolas’s Babylon de Gamma, and Mathieu Lemoine’s Tzinga d’Auzay.¬†Fellow Virtual Eventing competitor Sebastian Cavaillon, 13th overnight on the smokey-eyed¬†Sarah d’Argouges, also looks a strong contender on recent form, as does Christopher Six, who was impressive as an individual competitor at last year’s European Championships with Totem de Brecey, finishing fourth.

But enough speculation about the French, charming as they are – this week’s all about eventing in cyberspace, man. The final new entrant onto the leaderboard¬†was the USA’s¬†Hannah Sue Burnett, who rode¬†Lukeswell – though there was some fierce online debate about whether this was, in fact, actually Lukeswell – to a 30.5 to round out the top ten.

Tomorrow’s competition takes us into the cross-country phase from 11am BST/6am Eastern time – but with our competitors under lockdown orders around the world, this is going to be cross-country like you’ve never seen it before. The only thing we can advise? Expect the unexpected – and maybe crack open a beer or two, too. It’s going to be a wild and weird sort of day. Let’s take a look at the leaderboard – could we see a major shake-up tomorrow? Will Virtual Eventing award its own version of the Glentrool Trophy for the highest climber through the competition? All remains to be seen:

The top ten at the conclusion of dressage.

You can rewatch all of yesterday and today’s action on Virtual Eventing’s Facebook page or website. Fancy a bit of guilt-free shopping? Head on over to the Virtual Trade Village, jam-packed with amazing deals (hello, 20% off a custom Voltaire saddle! Hi, ¬£170 off a bespoke tailcoat!), or pick up your Virtual Eventing merch. Want to share your pennies for a good cause? Chuck a little something in the pot of your favourite rider – each competitor is raising vital funds for their country’s medical charity. Can you help them get to ¬£150,000 by the end of the week? And more importantly, will you be joining us at the riders’ party tomorrow evening?

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