Nobody could usurp our first day one-two, though plenty gave it a jolly good go today — but as we look ahead to tomorrow’s cross-country, it’s 23-year-old Brit Bubby Upton who reigns supreme with her former show jumper Cannavaro on 24.9, followed closely behind by US pair Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus on 26.7. The closest of today’s contenders, Tim Price and Tokyo mount Vitali, came late in the day, and put up a smart 27.1 to take overnight third place.
“He’s a talented horse, but for me it felt like he wasn’t concentrating everywhere,” says Tim, who finished sixth here in the CCI4*-S with the twelve-year-old last year. “He still does a nice job, but it was little things — like in the middle halt, he didn’t stand still. But as Jonelle said, it’s probably better to be hunting than to be in the front, where you make some stupid decision and crash and burn. We’ll just quietly chip away.”
Tim, who took the ride on the gelding on in late 2020, found Vitali a rather different ride today than he was last year — and different, too, to how he was in Houghton’s comparatively barren atmosphere a couple of weeks ago, where he earned a 22.1.
“This is the first time he’s had atmosphere since Tokyo, and maybe it hits them different when they’re a bit more seasoned,” he says. “He was definitely a juvenile last year, and found it a bit overwhelming, but it’s about building them into a five-star horse that knows the job, goes through the motions, and becomes consistent. This was him on not his best day, in my opinion, and if he can still pull in a good score, then it’s okay.”
Getting Vitali’s brain on side is the key to a truly sparkling test, as Tim explains: “He’s a bit of a neurotic; he’s always whirring, and so the more relaxation you can have in there, the nicer he is to ride, because then you can have him with you the whole way. With the really talented ones, you’re always honing in on their weaknesses, and sometimes you need to take a step back a little bit and realise how lucky you are to ride a horse like that. There are things he’s super good at — like cross-country, touch wood, I never have to worry about. Of course, things can happen, but he’s a really cool, fun horse.”
Vitali is one of two five-star debutant rides for Tim this week; his first round tomorrow will come with Spartaco, who sits thirteenth overnight on 31.4. For both, the aim will be to remain competitive, but also to fact-find around Mike Etherington-Smith’s twisty track.
“It’s about the trip, and whether they’ll have the stamina to make the trip around. There are decent enough things to give it a proper five-star stamp, but we’ll just take it as it comes along and hopefully come home full of running.”
Switzerland’s Felix Vogg will go into cross-country in fourth place with his fourteen-year-old Tokyo mount Colero, who earned a 29 despite some uncharacteristic tension in the lead-up to today’s test.
“For the last two days, he’s a bit nervous — yesterday I felt it, and then again today,” says Felix. “He’s usually really, really calm — I don’t even do familiarisation, because he’s so quiet.”
Felix and Colero’s partnership goes back to the start of the horse’s career, and has already seen them finish in the top ten at this level: they were sixth at Kentucky in 2019, in the midst of a stint basing in the US for the rider. That means that he’s well aware of the horse’s quirks — and, like most horses at the upper echelons of the sport, he certainly has a few of those.
“He’s a little bit special, like they all are. When he came to us, he was really spooky and really difficult, and he still is — he has ‘his person’, Claudia, who was in Tokyo with him. He loves her, and he has two or three people who are for him. With everyone else, he gets a bit difficult. But otherwise, he’s very calm if you leave him as he is and don’t try to change him; that doesn’t work,” says Felix with a smile.
At just eleven years old, Cooley Quicksilver has more stamps in his passport than most people: he’s competed at Le Lion d’Angers, split his time between the US and UK for several seasons, and journeyed back to France last year to tackle the CCI5* at Pau. Today, all that experience and education came together for Liz Halliday-Sharp, who was able to pilot him through a classy test for a five-star personal best of 29.1, securing a second spot in the top five for the American contingent here.
“He’s sort of a weird, wonderful, wiggly animal, which makes him not very easy to ride on the flat, to be honest, because his body parts are going 25 different directions at once,” laughs Liz. “But that’s what makes him such an athlete, too — and he tried really hard in there.”
“I’m happy to get him in the twenties, and I think there’s an even bigger mark in there for him, but he just needs to keep growing up and getting more training and doing all those good things we keep working on,” she says. “He’s like riding someone that’s triple-jointed — he’s not normal; he’s very bendy, and very goofy and quirky, and always trying to second-guess me, so I have to ride him very carefully in the ring, but he’s definitely improving. This was a far better test than he did at Pau [last year], and he’s definitely grown up a lot this year, which is exciting. He always fights for me.”
Liz first took the ride on the gelding, with whom she won Kentucky’s tough CCI4*-S this spring, as part of her partnership with Cooley Farm in Ireland, and now she rides him for her stalwart supporters, the Desino brothers of Ocala Horse Properties, who couldn’t be here this week.
“That was really exciting for him, especially because he’s a horse I produced from a five-year-old — and he was pretty feral when I got him. So it’s very exciting to then have a big win like that, and for the owners, as well, who’ve supported him for a while and will be watching on the livestream,” she says. Tuning in will have gifted them with a jolly sight: all the building blocks Liz has been stacking in his training looked positively cemented into place throughout his test.
“His changes are improving — he did hold the straightness for me on those, and they used to be really tricky on him because he’s such a wiggle monster. The centre lines have also been a massive challenge with him, because he’s thinking something all the time. He’s not one you can just kick on down, because if you do, he’ll stick his head in the air and gallop off down the centre line — but it’s all getting a lot better, and the extended work was good today, too. That’s getting more lift and more weight behind, which is the overall direction his work is going.”
Liz, who’s always had Luhmühlen in mind as ‘Monster’s’ ideal course, is as aware of the gelding’s quirks as she is of his exceptional talent, and that’s what’s helped her stick with him even when he hasn’t been the easiest — or, at some points, the most pleasant — horse to train.
“He wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but we do know each other very well and for all his goofiness, he does try very hard,” she says. “He has a lot of fight in him, he loves his job, and he’s very honest. He’s a good boy, and we’re good friends.”
Oliver Townend cracked the top ten with the second of his two debutant rides after a disappointing test yesterday put him in 17th place on a 34 with Lukas. Dreamliner, with whom he’s won CCI4*-S classes at Burnham Market and Chatsworth this year, certainly made up for it, though, delivering a 29.6 to sit sixth after this phase — though Oliver found himself on the back foot in the ring in today’s heat.
“He’s a big horse in the heat, and I gave him about ten minutes warm-up, which was probably about eight minutes too much,” he reflects. “He’s very easy in the cold, peeing down rain at Lincoln, with the wind up his backside, but when it’s warm and still it obviously affects them all, and he’s a big horse [on top of that]. But we are where we are, and I was happy enough. It’s kind of what we expected — and I’ve had a lot of luck out of being in sixth position before.”
There’s considerable buzz around Germany’s sole entrants in this class, Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, and not just because they represent the home side: the five-star first-timers won Boekelo CCIO4*-L last October in just their second run at the level, and led the dressage at Aachen last year, too, on an exceptional 24.5. They didn’t quite hit those lows today, but their tidy 30.6 was enough to see them sit seventh overnight, keeping them well in contention for the weekend ahead.
“She was quite concentrated, and she did very well and listened very well,” says Sophie, who was ruing a mistake in the second flying change, which prevented them from dipping into the 20s: “Normally this is her strength, so I’m a bit sad about that!”
But at this level, there’s not much time to spend regretting flying changes that could have been, and Sophie’s overjoyed to be here competing at the topmost echelon of the sport with the twelve-year-old mare, who she began riding as a five-year-old.
“It’s still a little unbelievable to be here,” she admits. “She’s the best horse I’ve ever had, and although she can be very sensitive and very excited, we know each other very, very well now. We’re a good team, and that’s the big thing with us: she’s a bit hot and wild, and she can be strong, and she knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want, but she’s fighting for me, and that’s great.”
Austria’s Lea Siegl, who formed part of yesterday’s top three, sits eighth going into cross-country with Cupido P on 30.8, while two Brits on debutant horses — Fiona Kashel and WSF Carthago and Tom McEwen on Bob Chaplin — round out the top ten in equal ninth on 30.9. If you think that sounds rather tightly bunched, welcome to the Luhmühlen leaderboard: once you get past our top three outlier scores, there’s scarcely any wiggle room to be had, which will make every second count tomorrow.
Our top-placed North Americans aren’t the only representatives from across the pond who produced tests today: we also saw some super work from Matt Flynn and Wizzerd, who sit sixteenth overnight on 33.4, and Canada’s Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes, who are 24th on 37.9.
“I was really happy with how he remained rideable in there — we maybe could have had a bit more presence in some of the movements, but I’m happy with where it’s going,” says Matt, who credits Tim and Jonelle Price for providing valuable support and training during his stint in the UK so far.
You can follow along with all the CCI5* action from 9.15 a.m. local time (8.15 a.m. BST/3.15 a.m. EST), followed by the CCI4*-S from 12.50 local (11.50 a.m. BST/6.50 a.m. EST) on Horse&CountryTV.
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