Like a Fine Wine: Jonelle Price Takes Pau Victory with Grappa Nera

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Jonelle Price and Grappa Nera add another sterling accolade to the Price family’s roster. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“We’ve got the his and hers versions for the mantelpiece now,” jokes Jonelle Price, who followed up husband Tim’s victory at Pau last year with one of her own today, riding The Grape Syndicate’s eleven-year-old mare, Grappa Nera (Karandasj x Cetonette, by Babalouba).

The victory came after a typically tough day in the office for many in Pau’s pivotal final phase, which boasts the lowest clear rate of the five-stars at just 17%, on average. Today’s was significantly lower than that: just three competitors delivered double-clear rounds, giving a clear rate of less than 9%, though a further five would manage clear rounds with jumping penalties.

Yann Royant’s track is difficult for a number of reasons: it’s achingly big; it’s situated on a slightly undulating surface that doesn’t have any spring to it at all, really; it makes use of technical, difficult changes in stride length; and, pivotally, it’s surrounded at close quarters on all sides by approximately the entire population of south-west France, and we’re pretty sure they’re all at least a little drunk. Every rider who enters the ring does so to colossal cheers and an intimidatingly close atmosphere, and lord help the poor souls who have to follow a clear – never mind a clear executed by a French rider.

For some horses, though, that sense of immediacy seems to lift them over the fences, which was certainly the case for diminutive, feisty Grappa Nera. She entered the ring as the penultimate competitor, having climbed from first-phase 13th to second off the back of a clear round with just 1.2 time penalties yesterday – and today, her trips to the Spanish Sunshine Tour to showjump in the off-season paid off. She delivered the third clear inside the time of the day, and all that was left to do was wait: wait for second place, perhaps, at worst, or wait to see if something rather bigger might be about to come.

Jonelle Price and Grappa Nera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was. We’ve seldom seen a rider so well-supported by his fellow competitors as overnight leader David Doel, who sat on the cusp of his first-ever five-star victory with Galileo Nieuwmoed and was quietly willed over every fence by each rider along the fence line. And his excellent round — jump after jump after jump of solid distances and committed approaches — started to feel like a sure thing when he touched down from the final line and headed to the last, an airy upright on a dogleg turn. Horse and rider met it right at the distance they’d meant to, took off and, just as the crowd broke into a great roar of appreciation, gently tapped it out. Jonelle Price had become the Pau champion, one year after her husband had taken it — and just two weeks after he’d won another five-star at Maryland.

“I actually couldn’t see the last fence from where I was standing, and I just thought he jumped a clear round, so I was more looking at the clock to see if he tipped over on a time fault or two, knowing that it was so close,” she says. “Naturally, you’d be lying if you didn’t say your first reaction is jubilation. But then secondly, you feel for your fellow competitor. But I was 38 when I won my first five-star and he’s only 29 now, so he’s definitely got a few years on me — his day will come, for sure.”

For now, though, the moment — or perhaps the season — belongs to the Prices, who have been pretty well unstoppable from the word go in 2022.

“It’s quite hard to keep up with my husband at the moment,” laughs Jonelle, who was recently named World Number Two, while Tim holds World Number One status. “He’s been on fire this autumn, so I’m just trying to keep up my side of the household, really.”

Jonelle Price and Grappa Nera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But although the Prices are arguably eventing’s First Family, Jonelle confesses that even she had struggled with the tiniest seeds of doubt, having not taken a win at this level since Luhmühlen in 2018, which she won aboard Faerie Dianimo.

“A five-star win is always very special. I won my first two back to back in 2018, and it’s been a fairly long drought since,” she says. “I was sort of starting to wonder if I was ever going to win another one!”

In just her second-ever five-star, though, young Grape managed it — and in fine style that showed a huge progression from her debut at Kentucky last year, where she finished 8th after a mid-30s dressage score, a handful of time penalties across the country, and two rails down.

“The mare really came through for me this week; she delivered three really good phases,” says Jonelle, who took the ride over from British competitor Alex Postolowsky, who had piloted her to a win in the 2016 British Five-Year-Old Championships, in late 2017. But for all the mare’s talent, it hasn’t been an easy road to the top — and those around her have had to exercise extraordinary patience en route.

“It’s been sort of six years in the making — these things don’t happen by chance, so I’m just delighted for her. She’s got a lovely syndicate of owners who’ve been incredibly patient, and there’s been a lot of disappointments along the way but she really came through this week.”

Jonelle Price and Grappa Nera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Those disappointments have included rails, previously, but more pertinently, she’s been an extraordinarily mercurial horse on the flat, often flitting between the mid-20s and the high-40s to low-50s from competition to competition.

“For years I’ve been saying, ‘don’t you worry, we’ll get there!’ as she’s been cavorting around dressage arenas and whatnot at one-day events, so [the Grape Syndicate have] had to be very patient. But I always said we’d get there,” says Jonelle.

This year alone, she posted a 51.4 in the Open Intermediate at Burgham Horse Trials in July, and two weeks later, earned a 31.4 in the CCI4*-S at Haras du Pin. Last year, she twice stepped into the 40s at national Intermediate and Advanced classes; in 2019, she put a 40.3 on the board in the CCI4*-L at Millstreet. For Jonelle, the greatest investment of time has been into her mind — a bit of measured patience that has ultimately been more important, even, than the near-year the mare had off from mid-2021 to the start of this summer while rehabilitating from an injury.

All that meant, though, that while Jonelle was certain she was sitting on a horse who would be worth the wait, she wasn’t necessarily convinced that her day would come today.

“She jumped her socks off today. I always thought she was a good horse, and it was more question of when she would come through for us, not if — and she did today. But I certainly didn’t expect this — she’s a good jumper, but sometimes I think the moment can sort of get to her,” she says. That ‘moment’ was compounded by the sheer chaos of following a Frenchman who’d gone clear: “She’s quite excitable, and I knew Karim was jumping clear, so I tried to stay down the chute and just keep her a bit quiet.”

Though the mare’s stamp — she’s a petite, fine black mare — yields easy comparisons to Classic Moet, Jonelle explains that she’s not at all similar to ride and work with.

“She’s very different — if anything, I’d compare more to Faerie Dianimo. They rival each other, in terms of hotness, and because they’re both fiercely determined and athletic. And it’s delightful when they start to come of age, for sure.”


Karim Laghouag wraps up a tricky year with a bit of ‘revenge’ with Triton Fontaine. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Karim Laghouag and his Tokyo partner, Triton Fontaine, were such popular runners-up that they must have felt as though they’d won the whole thing — and, Karim ruefully recognises, they nearly could have if he hadn’t had a mistake in one of his flying changes in his dressage test.

“If I had gotten my change in time, I might have a little less to regret, but overall, it’s ok — I’m always happy to come second when it’s Jonelle who wins,” he says with a grin.

There’s more to celebrate than there is to regret, anyway: he and Triton Fontaine began their week in nineteenth place on 31.4, climbed sixteen places with one of the four clears inside the time yesterday, and then finished second overall today after stopping the clock just one second over the tight time in the showjumping ring, not only giving them a week to remember, but also putting the cap on a tricky year that’s seen Karim pick up cross-country penalties in five of his twelve total FEI runs.

“I’ve not had a great year and I really saw this competition as a good chance to come back and be with the best, even though we thought the horse was a little bit below the competition level,” says Karim, who has finished first and second at CCI4*-S this year with the 15-year-old gelding, but has also picked up penalties and retired in three internationals with him since finishing 12th individually at Tokyo.

“I had some setbacks in the beginning of the season — I was failing a lot of courses, but at least this is a nice revenge on the season, and at an event I really enjoy being at.”

Coming back to Pau also gave him the chance to bolster his own confidence by surrounding himself by the fans who love him — and their support, he points out, is crucial to the sport. What makes Pau a particularly worthy event, he continues, is that it’s all about them.

“It’s really a nice edition — although inevitably, when we do well as riders, we think it’s great,” says Karim with a laugh. “It’s becoming more and more equal with the quality of Badminton and Burghley, even if we don’t have the hills. It’s really an incredible event with the public, and it’s really important for the sport to have the public and for us to have [organiser] Pascal, who takes care of the public who are often present. For me, I think it’s very very important for the sport.”

Hector Payne and Dynasty. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I decided that if you’re going to do well in two phases, you might as well get it all right on the same weekend — I’m normally the king of screwing up one phase,” laughs Hector Payne, who added just 0.4 time penalties to leap up into final third phase after a week of personal bests with 14-year-old Dynasty. “So I couldn’t be more happy; he came out a million dollars today, and apart from getting a little bit nervous to the last, he was brilliant.”

This isn’t Hector’s first time at this event with the gelding: they came in 2020, though picked up 20 penalties across the country on that occasion. Still, their completion gave them a chance to experience Pau’s tough final phase, which helped Hector prepare for the job at hand today.

“It’s always very big here, and today’s course was probably even more technical than last time I was here,” he says. “Everything was related in it, and it did make getting the time quite difficult, because if you even shut off for one stride it gave you time. When the leaderboard is as close as it is, that makes quite a big difference. I’m very glad I could afford my one second over, because I’d be kicking myself otherwise!”

For Hector, who began his career riding for William Fox-Pitt, from whom he inherited Dynasty after William’s accident in 2015, this moment is the culmination of a huge amount of work and a lifetime of dreaming — not to mention a long recovery from a badly broken femur last year. Now, though, he reckons he’s winning a long-standing argument with his mentor: “I’ve had an ongoing dialogue with William that started years ago, because Dynasty and Little Fire were the same age. Now, William’s go to better me — I always said mine was the better one!”

“I’m absolutely thrilled with him,” he continues. “His owners trusted me to bring him out here; we debated Burghley for a long time, but I really felt he could come here and be competitive. I wasn’t quite expecting to be that competitive, but we’ll take it! I haven’t been on a podium in a very long time, so I hope I remember what to do!”

David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cross-country leaders David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed were struck by an impossibly frustrating bit of bad luck when the final fence came down, but their great efforts throughout the week still earned them a very respectable fourth-place finish, capping off a year that also saw them take sixth at Badminton.

“We came with the aim of being in the top three, so fourth isn’t too bad,” says David. “I was absolutely stoked with his round; he jumped mega all the way, and I don’t think I really would have done anything different to the last fence. Even when I re-ride it in my head, I don’t think I really tightened. He jumped fantastically — the warm-up was so good, and everything was spot-on.”

David certainly wasn’t the only rider to tip the final fence, which came as part of a fiendishly difficult line at the end of a lengthy course.

“He opened you up over the water tray and over the oxer, and then you had two big oxers all the way down the line, as well, so to finish with a really small, lightweight vertical on a left-handed turn was tough. But that’s what makes that 0.1 of a difference.”

Caroline Powell impresses with the youngest horse in the field, Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

When Caroline Powell first made the decision to bring her nine-year-old Greenacres Special Cavalier to Pau, she wasn’t sure if she might be mad — but, she reasoned, the experience would be valuable for the talented young mare, who finished third in the Blenheim Eight- and Nine-Year-Old CCI4*-S last month.

“The whole thing was to try and get ready, hopefully, for Paris,” says Caroline, who finished fifth after delivering one of the three clears inside the time. “As an eight-year-old she made a few mistakes on cross-country, but she’s just got better and better as a nine-year-old. She’s come out and just been amazing; at Blenheim she was fantastic, and we thought, if we don’t keep pushing her, then she’s going to start switching off — because she’s bright. She’s far too bright in herself, and she just loves to work. I think the horses like that, you’ve got to you’ve got to make most of them while you’ve got them, because they’re a long time coming.”

Like most great mares, ‘Cavvy’ is a character in her own right, and now that she’s on side, she’s becoming a ferocious competitor, too.

“She’s sort of a queen bee in the yard,” says Caroline. “No one can walk past her box without her coming over the door. She’ll pick a person by it every day, so you just sort of take a number! She wouldn’t be the best out hacking, but she loves the treadmill. I mean, she’s just a worker — jumping at home is quite fun! She’s a quirky old bird, but her dressage has got better and her cross-country’s so much better. She’s always jumped well; she loves to jump, and she’s just gone from strength to strength.”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of Cavvy’s greatest strengths is that she loves an atmosphere, something that Caroline discovered when piloting her around Le Lion d’Angers as both a six- and seven-year-old. That paid dividends for her today as she entered the bustling, vibrant arena.

“She loves a crowd, and she thought everyone was there for her today, which is even better. They’re unique, those ones.”

Like Grappa Nera ahead of her, Cavvy has become an exceptional competitor off the back of a rather wild and wooly youth, and plenty of patience from her rider and owner Chris Mann.

“It’s pretty special,” says Caroline. “As a five-year-old she actually went to Burghley [Young Event Horse], and we managed to eliminate ourselves in the five-year-old class because the jumping was so bad. She had the power, she just didn’t know how to use the power. And so we’ve had her for a long time, and I think when you you’ve known them for that long… she’s always jumped, and the mistakes she’s made have never been scary mistakes, she’s just been too long and too big. She’s as long as a boat, and when the power starts taking over the front end, you get in trouble. But she seems to have all that mustered and under control now!”

Bubby Upton makes it happen with Cannavaro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s been so great to be back at Pau,” says a damp-eyed Bubby Upton after the clear round inside the time with Cannavaro that secured her sixth place. “This is where I made my [five-star] debut, and I love it here.”

Her excellent finish — and the unique honour of being the first rider to make the time and jump clear today — is made even more special after a tricky year, which saw her and ‘Joey’ lead the dressage at Luhmühlen but fall on cross-country. Their redemption began inauspiciously, with an uncharacteristic 33.3 in the first phase for 25th place, but adding just 4.8 time penalties yesterday allowed them to leap up the standings to overnight ninth.

“The week started off great, and he felt fantastic, but Thursday, I was really, really disappointed; he does a fantastic test, and he did that with one big error, but I feel like he was really unfairly marked in the dressage, as do quite a lot of people,” says Bubby. “So obviously, in the back of my head I’m thinking about what could have been — but whatever! He’s been truly phenomenal all week, and I can’t fault him. He was unbelievable out there on cross-country — not many people know, but he had ten weeks off after Luhmühlen, so he’s only jumped four times since June! So for him to come here this week and do what he did just shows what a heart of pure gold he has, because he shouldn’t have performed like he has.”

Bubby Upton and Cannavaro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The gelding, who formerly showjumped, was perfectly suited to today’s tough track, which gave Bubby no end of confidence as she came in to tackle the final phase.

“Today, I wouldn’t want to be sat on any other horse. He’s a class act — I got on him and I just felt so at ease, because there’s not an eventer that jumps like him out there,” she says.

Now, she can enjoy a restored sense of confidence in herself and her system, too: “I let him down at Pau [last year], and we were a bit of a mixture of my fault and a little bit of bad luck at Luhmühlen [this year] when we lost the win, which was an incredibly tough pill to swallow on the back of Badminton. For him to get the result this week means the absolute world, and I just hope to go five better next year! I’ve learned this year to trust my gut and trust my horses, because I know them better than anyone else.”

Maxime Livio and Carouzo Bois Marotin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Maxime Livio didn’t quite pin down the clear round his enthusiastic fans were urging him towards, his one-rail round with the ten-year-old debutant Carouzo Bois Marotin still looked very impressive — particularly as the gelding hasn’t had many clear rounds yet in his FEI career, though not for lack of ability. Their rail dropped them just one place to seventh, and the son of Kannan out of a Flipper d’Elle mare looks set to take his rightful place in Maxime’s A team of superstars in the seasons to come.

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Like Bubby and Cannavaro, Emily King and Valmy Biats came to Pau with a point to prove after a tricky week at a five-star previously. Their wobble came at Badminton this spring, where the Selle Français impressed in his debut but had a late fall on the way home across the country. This week, they put Badminton to bed, taking eighth place after tipping one rail today.

“He’s shone in every phase, really — he’s been amazing,” says Emily, who has featured in the top ten after every phase this week. “He was exceptional today; he’s such a good jumper. One of the things that makes him a super cross-country horse is that he’s so scopey and so brave, so it’s just been about reining in that bravery over the knockable poles.”

Learning to do so has been one of the silver linings of that Badminton fall, Emily explains.

“He’s probably learned a lot from it, because the only thing that would be his hindrance is his boldness. It’s a quite exaggerated lesson to be learned, and I think you probably don’t want it to happen too often, but I think it has just made him respect everything a bit more and made it obvious to me that it was literally the only thing that I needed to guard him from in cross-country and showjumping. We’ve definitely used it to learn from.”

Though their rail today didn’t lose them any ground on the leaderboard, it did cost them the chance to move up to sixth — though on balance, Emily isn’t planning to waste time on regrets.

“I thought that line might be our one, and in hindsight, I just needed to work a bit more — but I was thinking just now that it’s easy to be disappointed, but he was amazing. If someone had said to me that we’d be eighth before we came, I’d have been like, ‘okay!’ It’s only my second time riding him in a long-format event, so actually, with all those things, you get to know them more. So I’m really chuffed.”

Luc Chateau and Viens du Mont. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Luc Chateau made it three in the top ten for the home nation with Viens du Mont in the thirteen-year-old Selle Français’s five-star debut, tipping just one rail along the way to put a cap on an exceptional week that has seen them climb from first-phase 44th place to a final ninth.

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto rounds out the top ten after a three-rail round with Brookpark Vikenti, which dropped him from overnight fourth but still kept him well in the mix as a result of the high number of faults amassed across the class today.

That’s all for us from Pau — for now, at least! — and so we bid adieu to the 2022 European season, to the south of France, and, for tonight, to you. Go Eventing.

The top ten after a nail-biting finish to the 2022 edition of Les 5 Etoiles de Pau.

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