Started from bottom (March) and now we here (the tail end of the European eventing season, sobbing into a bottle of cheap red). But what better way to cap off a whirlwind season than at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau, that most truly, unapologetically weird and wonderful of events? Buckle up and settle in for four days of pâté-eating, vin-guzzling, foux de fafa-ing, and top horse-spotting, because this compact field is purpose-built to bring us all no end of excitement and fierce competition.
At just 42 competitors, Pau’s field is only half the size of what we see at Burghley or Badminton, but it delivers a mix of experienced pairings and promising first-timers that is just truly *chef’s kiss*. There are at least seven horses in the field that present themselves as obvious winners, so pity the betting man – a wiser tactic this week will be simply to sob with joy universally. Want to know who you’ll be shedding happy, slightly tipsy tears over? Dive into the comprehensive form guide and get to know the field…
Chris Burton and Quality Purdey
Thirteen-year-old Oldenburg mare (Quality x Lara). Owned by Dom and Claire Poole and Bek Burton.
It’s a long-awaited five-star debut for The Dragon, who hasn’t been out of the top ten in an international since the beginning of 2018, and who FOD-ed her way to a merry win in Saumur’s CCI4*-L last year. In fact, she’s becoming a bit of an FOD machine; she did the same at Aachen this summer, finishing third as a result. Competed through to CCI4*-L by Lauren Blades, she joined Burto’s string in 2017 and won in their debut together at Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S. She’s great on the flat – we’ll be looking at a mark between 26 and 29 – fast and careful across the country, and generally a very good showjumper, although she doesn’t run in many long-format events, so we haven’t seen quite enough to make a final judgment on her jumping prowess. Still, this is an almost certain top-five finisher – and a win wouldn’t be at all unlikely, either.
Isabel English and Feldale Mouse
Seventeen-year-old Connemara x Thoroughbred gelding (Domo Cavallo Praize x Zoe). Owned by Sarah English.
I met Isabel English for the first time in a crowded bar earlier this year, where several hundred sweaty teenagers were Vossy Bopping around us and a framed photo of Trevor Breen collected airborne condensation in the corner. I was working on the press team for a major showjumping competition, which meant that any eventer I saw – even if I didn’t actually know them – was suddenly my very favourite person. Three or four or eight gin-and-tonics down, I bellowed my love for Feldale Mouse at her.
“HE…IS THE BEST…PONY…AND I LOVE HIM,” I dispensed, my eloquence and erudite nature once again elevating me above the commoners in the room. “HE. IS. SO. SMALL. SO. COOL.”
Isabel, for her part, took it with aplomb, partly because she is much cooler than I am, and partly because she spent a few years training with Michi Jung, so she’s absolutely used to foreigners bellowing barely comprehensible things at her. And, for what it’s worth, even without the gins, I do love Feldale Mouse. He has small man syndrome in the best possible way; it’s like he’s spent his whole life thinking, “you called me MOUSE?! Oh, just you wait, pal.”
Isabel is only 24, but she’s accomplished an enormous amount in her career with the Connie cross. She went five-star for the first time basically the moment she turned eighteen; that resulted in a twelfth-place finish. The next two years, again riding Feldale Mouse, she finished eighth. Then, in 2016, she left her Australian hometown of Biddaddaba (yes, really) to move to Germany and work for a certain Herr Jung. Since then, the duo has tackled 16 internationals, only running into problems across the country on two occasions. This spring, they tackled their first Badminton, jumping a reasonably slow but classy clear.
Don’t expect them to blitz into the lead on speed – sorry Mouse, your legs aren’t that long – but do get ready to loudly cheer on this dynamic duo, who are basically the personification of every childhood daydream you ever had. They’ll score in the mid-30s, but who’s going to remember that bit when they’re jumping one – and perhaps two – fantastic clears?
Kevin McNab and Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam
Eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Quidam x Nairoby). Owned by Scuderia 1918.
Originally produced by Hannah Bate, Don Quidam is one of a growing string of exciting horses for Italian footwear company Scuderia 1918. He’s a worthy partner for Kevin’s first five-star since 2015, when he finished 25th at Luhmühlen: he was eleventh at Hartpury CCI4*-S, seventh at Luhmühlen’s hotly-contested CCI4*-S, which hosts the German national championship, and eighth at Sopot CCI4*-L. Though it’s a first five-star for the horse, and as such, a bit of an unknown, he should sneak sub-30 in the first phase, look professional on Saturday, and could well jump clear on Sunday, too.
Shane Rose and Virgil
Fourteen-year-old warmblood gelding (Vivant x unknown dam). Owned by Michelle Hasibar and the rider.
Isn’t it a treat to have Shane Rose back? We got so used to seeing him around the UK and European circuit in 2017 that we didn’t quite accept that one day he’d leave us to head back to his base in Australia, where he trains eventers, racehorses, and fighting kangaroos (Ed. note: please check this). While he was here, he and Virgil finished sixteenth at Burghley, seventh at Luhmühlen, and took the win in Blair’s CCI4*-S, and upon buggering off back from whence they came, they promptly won the CCI4*-S at Camden, finished second in the CCI4*-S at Werribee, and won CCI4*-S classes at Canberra and Camden once again. They popped over to Tryon for the WEG, although it didn’t go quite to plan: they had a sub-30 dressage but picked up a 20 across the country. Still, we can expect a mid-to-high 20s dressage to kick their week off, followed by what should be a quick clear. On the final day, they’re consistently clear – so watch out for these two to make the top five.
Marcelo Tosi and Glenfly
Fourteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Presenting x Dorans Glen). Owned by the rider.
There are a few things I’ve been accused of saying one too many times. “He’s earned himself a place on the FEI World Bum Rankings” is certainly one of them. “How hard is it to become a member of the ground jury? I’d like to be saluted” is another. But the most common offence of them all is the one I’m going to use to describe darling Glenfly – “he just looks like he’s been plucked straight out of a Munnings painting.”
But you know what? Je ne regrette rien. I’m absolutely right. And frankly, I couldn’t take my Thoroughbred-loving eyes off him when he was mincing around Kentucky, having a lovely time in his own lovely way, this spring. His first-phase score of 40.8 (robbed! Robbed, I tells ya!) precluded a competitive finish, and he wasn’t particularly fast, and okay, he had three rails down, but he did jump around clear on Saturday, tucking his improbably fine legs up by his pretty little face, and oh god, Marcelo, please just get bored of your lovely pony and send him to me, please!
That Kentucky dressage score was considerably above Glenfly’s norm, so we’ll be expecting a mid-30s score here. They were eliminated for a rider fall at Burghley, so they’ll be looking to pin down a completion on their reroute here, which is doable. A couple of poles will topple on the final day, and we’ll still be carrying some polos in our pocket for him, regardless.
Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration
Fourteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Inspired Prospect x Gentle Buck). Owned by Bruce Smither and the rider.
Thoroughbred fans, rejoice: there are two off-the-track Thoroughbreds in this year’s field, and the first of them is More Inspiration, the $2,000 racetrack flunky who upgraded to a very different trip to Kentucky. In fact, he’s made two of them now – he finished 26th on his debut in 2017, losing out on a higher placing after grease on the reins left Holly with little control, and although he was eliminated in 2018 for a rider fall, he’s been in the top fifteen in his three international runs since then. Two of those came at Bromont, in both the CCI4*-S and CCI4*-L classes, and one came in Plantation Fields’ CCI4*-S in September.
This won’t be the pair’s first time in Europe – they represented Canada at Aachen in 2015, finishing 30th. The experience served them well – in their next run, they finished fourth at Plantation Field. Holly will be looking ahead to Tokyo next year, so a qualifying result will be the main aim – anything else will be a brilliant bonus for this long-term partnership. Expect a low-40s dressage, a steady run across the country, and a one-or-none round on Sunday.
Gonzalo Blasco Botin and Sij Veux d’Autize
Thirteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Urban du Monnai x Novia d’Autize). Owned by Marta Botin Naveda.
The son of an eventing mother, Gonzalo has represented Spain at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, where he unfortunately withdrew Sij Veux d’Autize before the cross-country. They rerouted to Pau, where they took a tumble across the country, but they’ve since jumped clear around CCI4*-S tracks at Haras du Pin and Vairano. The Spaniard, who was a prolific championship rider in the pony, junior, and young rider divisions, balances his riding with his job as an investment analyst, and he has Masters degrees in mechanical engineering and international business, so if that ever comes up in a pub quiz, you are sorted, my friend. We’ll be looking at a mid-30s score and a gung-ho cross-country round this week, which will hopefully pay off for them – then, the horse might go clear, or he might have three rails. Who’s to Sij? (Sorry, not sorry.)
Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN
Fifteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Coriano x Lili Saincrit). Owned by the Institute Français du Cheval et de l’Equitation.
Arnaud was part of France’s first-ever gold medal-winning Olympic eventing team, who topped the podium at Athens in 2004 and now, we’re used to seeing him sneaking into four-star top tens across the continent with top horse Quoriano (Lignières ERM, for example, and Jardy ERM, and Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S). But his five-star record with the gelding isn’t quite so illustrious – they’ve started at this level five times, and only completed twice, when they finished third here on the horse’s debut in 2014 and again in 2017, when they finished 30th but had a 20. They likely won’t be the best of the home nation entries, despite their amassed experience – although that 2014 result certainly showed they can do it if it all goes right.
Mathieu Lemoine and Tzinga d’Auzay
Twelve-year-old Selle Français mare (Nouma d’Auzay x Danae de Turenne). Owned by Natacha Gimenez.
It’s nice to see Mathieu, who was part of the gold medal-winning team at Rio with Bart L, back at the top, and not just because he’s reasonably easy on the eyes. It’s been a bit tough for Rio’s victorious French in the years since – Mathieu’s partner was sold to the Japanese federation for Yoshi Oiwa to ride, while teammate Astier retired Piaf de b’Neville and similarly lost his WEG mount, Vinci de la Vigne, to Japan. But Mathieu has been working hard to get Tzinga on track for her five-star debut, which could be an impressive one. They were eighth at Saumur CCI4*-L this year, clear at Blenheim last year, and although she’s been sparsely run, Tzinga is starting to show some real promise for the future. She’s had her early blips across the country, though these seem to have been ironed out over the last two seasons, and she’s quick, too – so she’ll climb after her low-30s test, though her showjumping won’t help her. She’s prone to several rails.
Benjamin Massie and Ungaro de Kreisker
Eleven-year-old Selle Français stallion (Armitage 2 x Douce Platiere). Owned by Isabelle Dion and the rider.
This won’t be a first five-star for Benjamin, who finished thirtieth at Badminton in 2010, but it is for his horse, who sat the 2018 season out but has a five-strong top-ten streak on his international record. This includes ninth at Jardy CCI4*-S and second at Pratoni CCIO4*-S, and in his fourteen internationals, he’s never picked up a cross-country jumping penalty. He’s also proven super fast throughout his career, which should mean that this most French of tracks, with its demand for forward riding, should suit him well. He’ll score in the mid-30s in the first phase, but if he continues on his current trajectory, he’s certain to climb – then, on Sunday, he’ll likely have a rail as a souvenir.
Remi Pillot and Tol Chik du Levant
Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Volchebnik x Frimouce du Levant). Owned by the rider.
Both Remi and Tol Chik du Levant make their five-star debut here this week, and although Pau has a rich history of favouring French first-timers, they’ll need to fight for their finish: they’ve been top five in two three-stars this year, but have had problems in both their four-star runs. In 2018, they finished 16th at Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S and 4th at Saumur CCI4*-L, and in 2017, they were 13th at Waregem CCIO4*-S and 3rd at Haras du Pin CCI4*-L, so the tools are all there, they’re just not quite all in the box at the moment. Nevertheless, Remi knows his horse and his plan far better than any of us do, and he’ll have his reasons for making the step up now – so expect a mid-30s dressage, and we’ll all take it fence by fence thereafter.
Regis Prud’Hon and Tarastro
Twelve-year-old Anglo-Arab gelding (Sarastro x Loo Native). Owned by Nathalie Carrere, Earl Elevage de la Salaman, and the rider.
We’re used to seeing Regis with Kaiser HDB, his usual mount at the top level, but this week we get the treat of meeting two less familiar faces. The first of these, Tarastro, jumped sweetly around Bramham’s CCI4*-L this year, though picked up 11 penalties along the way for a frangible pin, and he was eighth in the CCIO4*-S at Haras du Pin, too, where he finished on his 37.4 dressage. A 20 in his last run at Waregem isn’t the ideal prep for a debut at five-star, but Regis has plenty of experience and will coax a confidence-giving first run out of the horse over a course that’s designed to suit the French way of riding down to the ground.
Regis Prud’Hon and Vanda du Plessis
Ten-year-old Selle Français mare (Leonardo Louvo x Giralda du Clos). Owned by Claire Lafuma, Jules Prud’Hon, Earl Elevage de la Salaman, and the rider.
Joing Tarastro is Vanda, who moved up to four-star in 2016, but had some teething problems along the way. Since then, it’s been a game of ups and downs – Regis moves her down to three-star to rebuild, steps her back up, and then moves her down again when the performances begin to waver. This season has seen her stick to three-star until Waregem CCIO4*-S, where she pulled a quick clear round out of the bag to finish just outside the top twenty. This is a big move-up for the young and slightly fragile – performance-wise, not physically – mare, who will deliver a high-30s mark in the first phase and a big question mark in the second.
Alex Bragg and Zagreb
Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Perion x Renera). Owned by Sally and Phillip Ellicott.
There are some horses who just set you to dreaming — somehow, they manage to open the floodgates and make their staggering trajectories a communal effort, something owned and coveted as much by the fans as they are by the rider and the team surrounding these brilliant animals. Tall, dark, and impossibly hunky Zagreb is one of those horses. When he made his Badminton debut in 2017 with the enormously likeable family man Alex in the irons, he stopped being “that nice-looking bay in the collecting ring” and immediately became something to take very seriously indeed, despite – or perhaps, even because of – the fact that he didn’t complete. Though the pair were sitting in fifth place after cross-country, Alex opted to withdraw his top horse before showjumping, spotting that he wasn’t feeling 100% himself and that there would be bigger things to come for the Dutch-bred gelding, known at home as Rhett. Yes, like that Rhett. Ugh, delish, right?!
Since then, Alex and Rhett have enjoyed top ten finishes at Aachen, Gatcombe, and Blenheim, as well as Pau five-star in 2017, a win in 2018’s Jardy ERM and third at Blenheim CCI4-L, and another clear around Badminton, though 40 time penalties and a knocked pin proved expensive. They took a tumble at Burghley but recovered well to perform beautifully at Blenheim, and Alex, who excelled in mounted games as a child and then started a successful farriery business, is a firm crowd favourite. They started at Badminton this year, but after a below-average dressage score of 31.7, Alex opted not to run, but a hop over to Tattersalls proved fruitful, and they made the CCI4*-S look like a Pony Club competition, finishing third. Then, they headed to Luhmühlen CCI5*, where they finished third, and they haven’t been out of the top ten in their three internationals since. A big win is on the cards at some point very soon – and it could well happen this week.
Sarah Bullimore and Conpierre
Twelve-year-old KWPN gelding (Con Air 7 x Pia). Owned by Chris Gillespie, Anna Ross Davies, and Brett Bullimore.
Despite his age, Conpierre hasn’t been run excessively – he’s had eighteen international starts since his debut in 2013. This is partly due to taking some time off: he was off games for much of 2015 and all of 2016, before coming back for busy 2017 and 2018 seasons. There have been some promising results along the way – he was 10th at Houghton CCI4*-S in 2015 on his level debut, and 10th again in Boekelo’s CCI4*-L in 2017. His best result, though, was eighth at Luhmühlen’s CCI5* this year, and though Sarah says he’s a very different ride to her top horse, Reve du Rouet, we saw her give him one of her typically nurturing rides across the country, getting the best out of him and instilling a huge amount of confidence. Hopefully, this should carry through here, where Sarah herself has great course form – she missed the win by a tenth of a penalty in 2017 with Reve du Rouet, and got all three of her horses home clear on a day when barely anyone even completed.
A high-20s score will stand her in good stead from the get-go here, and the showjumping is relatively good for this pair – it’ll just be the speed that stops them from threatening the leaders.
Ros Canter and Zenshera
Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Guidam x Telvera). Owned by the rider.
The World Champion would be forgiven for taking the bitter end of the season off after having a baby, perhaps to dash off to a 5* hotel in Portugal or something, but no — the irrepressibly hard-working Ros is heading back to Pau with Zenshera, who performed so well here in 2017, finishing 7th, and last year, finishing fifth. This will be his fifth attempt at the level, and rather impressively, he’s never been out of the top ten — he was 9th at Luhmühlen in 2017 and 3rd last year.
The 15-year-old, 15.3hh Guidam gelding is supremely talented, but he was a quirky youngster — Ros found him in Holland while doing a stint of work experience at the Dutch stud her former employer, Judy Bradwell, sourced many of her horses from. The owners of the stud had intended for him to showjump, but he didn’t show much promise in his formative years, and then he was broken to harness basically, as the kids would say, for the sh*ts and giggles.
“I rode him because he was something to ride, and I was gullible enough that they could sell him to me,” laughs Ros, whose 4,000 Euro investment has certainly come good. Zenshera has 25 international starts under his belt, and he’s only picked up cross country faults at one of them — Ros took a tumble in the Nations Cup at Great Meadow in 2016. He delivered a 26.4 dressage at Pau in 2017, giving Ros the lead on the first day, but a few time penalties and a pole ultimately cost them a shot at the win. With course form and Ros on a confidence-boosting high – she’s won three of her four international starts since returning from maternity leave – this could be a real shout for your 2019 Pau winner.
Felicity Collins and Just Amazing
Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Weston Justice x Preston Polly). Owned by Vicky Collins.
Felicity Collins makes her five-star debut riding not just one but two horses, and she’s certainly an impressive first-timer to keep an eye on. She’s gained a reputation since her pony years of producing her own rides, no matter how tricky they are, and although ‘Maisie’ wasn’t hers from the get-go – she was her mother, former 5* rider Vicky’s Novice horse – they’ve certainly logged some miles on the international circuit, moving up to four-star together in 2017. This year, they were third in the CCI4*-L at Camphire, 3rd in the CCI3*-S at Brightling, and clear around Burnham Market, although problems at Bramham, Houghton, and Waregem blotted their copybook slightly. This run, which will see them start in the mid- to high-30s, will be about experience and education, which Felicity will earn in spades with her two rides.
Felicity Collins and RSH Contend OR
Ten-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Nintender x Coulonia). Owned by Vicky Collins and Avrina Milton.
RSH Contend OR is one of Felicity’s self-produced horses, and easily her most impressive: he helped her win the under-21 national title at Houghton in 2017, and then partnered her to 13th place at that summer’s Young Rider European Championships. That autumn, she moved him up to CCI4*-S, and he finished 14th in the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim. In 2018, he was clear around Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, and this year, the pair finished 15th in the Young Rider Europeans, at which the team won gold and the dynamic duo were chosen as pathfinders. This week, we’ll be looking at a mid-30s dressage, a slow and steady clear, and a likely clear on Sunday – Mickey has only knocked two rails in 21 internationals.
Remarkably, Felicity has competed horses at each of the national age finals – and she ticked all those boxes as a teenager, which just proves her innate ability to produce a youngster carefully and considerately.
Eilidh-Jane Costelloe and Westmur Quality
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (OBOS Quality x Ruby Royale). Owned by the rider.
Both Eilidh-Jane and Westmur Quality make their five-star debut this week after jumping clear around Blenheim last season and around Burgham CCI4*-S this year. But their lead-up hasn’t been ideal – they picked up 20s at both Blair CCI4*-L and Bramham CCI4*-L. That said, issues in the run-up don’t always rule out a great debutante performance – just look at last year. On paper, no one would ever have put Thibault Fournier down as a cert to go clear, and he only went and won the thing. So Eilidh-Jane, like all debs, will come hoping to learn and improve for the future, and no matter what, she’ll do just that – even if it means taking a couple of long routes and keeping a sense of humour about the whole thing.
Charlotte East and King Albert
Seventeen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Mayhill x Kings Gem). Owned by the rider.
If King Albert sounds familiar – and his dam, Kings Gem, who he shares with Gemma Tattersall’s Chilli Knight, sounds even more familiar – that’s because he originally comes from Mary King’s own little breeding enterprise. Mary took him from two-star to four-star in just over a year, and then passed the reins to Jodie Amos, who competed him for the 2012 season. In 2014, then-junior rider Charlotte took over, riding him first in junior two-stars and then in under-25 classes, and you’ll have to excuse us a second, it’s time to apply our night creme to our crows feet.
This will be a first five-star for Charlotte, who was part of the bronze medal-winning junior team in 2015 with Clear Dawn, and for King Albert, who jumped clear around Millstreet CCI4*-L and Barbury CCI4*-S after an unfortunate elimination in this year’s hugely influential Bramham Under-25 cross-country. This week will be about building the foundation for the future for this talented young rider – a dressage mark around 40 and a slow run won’t allow them to be competitive, but that’s not really the point.
Sam Ecroyd and Wodan III
Sixteen-year-old AES gelding (Mr Concorde BJ x Tica). Owned by the rider.
It’s a second go at five-star for Sam and Wodan III who, despite his advancing age, still approaches life like an overadrenalised five-year-old in a candy shop. This is charming and endearing (possibly more so for those of us not actually riding him) until it stops working in his favour, as we saw in their debut at Luhmühlen, where they picked up a 20 as a result. But first five-stars – heck, all five-stars – are educational things, and they’ll have come back battle-hardened and with a plan of action to better their 20th place finish in Germany. In their seven internationals prior, they only finished outside the top ten once, and that was an eleventh place at Blenheim, so we can hardly count it against them. They can score in the high-20s, although at this level they’ll flirt with 30, and although they won’t be among the quickest in the field, we’re looking forward to watching them lay down a round replete with all the trappings of life lessons learnt. And on Sunday? Extravagant Wodan has only had one rail since 2016, and that was at Luhmühlen.
Louise Harwood and Balladeer Miller Man
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Stormhill Miller x Kintara Pride). Owned by Alli and Ian Haynes.
Harwood is known for piloting her homebreds around the upper levels, but Balladeer Miller Man bucks the trend. He was bought as a four-year-old from Ireland, but nonetheless, he grew and grew to fit in with diminutive Harwood’s stable full of oversized stars.
Miller’s 25th place finish at Burghley – his five-star debut – capped off a great 2018 season for the horse. He had jumped clear around Bramham’s CCI4*-L and finished twelfth at Camphire CCI4*-S in Ireland, proving his considerably ability. He’s finished in the top five at Blair Castle CCI4*-L, too – that’s generally considered one of the toughest competitions of the level, and it’s a real test of fitness.
Expect a high-30s to low-40s dressage, which will be off the pace competitively. That said, this pair should go clear across the country – they totted up a creditable 18.4 time penalties at Burghley which, all things considered, isn’t bad for a first-timer, and then jumped clear with 23.6 time at Badminton this year. They retired on cross-country in their next international, at Barbury, and then withdrew after dressage at Gatcombe, so they’re slightly short of match practice, but they’ve got all the goods. On the final day, they’re prone to a few rails – as many as six, in the case of Barbury last summer.
Ginny Howe and Undalgo de Windsor
Eleven-year-old Selle Français gelding (Lotus XV x Angelique Folle). Owned by the rider.
Ginny and her French horse both made their five-star debut at Burghley this year after two and a half methodical – but very promising – seasons at four-star. Ginny prefers not to over-run the horse, and tends to stick to three or so internationals per year with a big run at the end, and that method is paying off – Undalgo de Windsor hadn’t had a cross-country jumping penalty in an international since he was a three-star horse, way back in 2016. Unfortunately, Ginny took a tumble on cross-country at Burghley, and so they reroute here for round two.
His low-40s dressage scores still need some work – he can be a bit of a wild man in this phase (and in the horse inspections!), but a solid clear at Blenheim gives us every reason to believe that they’ll get the job done this week.
Kirsty Johnston and Classic VI
Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Calvaro x India Summer). Owned by the rider.
It’ll be a five-star debut for Classic VI, though not for Kirsty, who has ridden here – and at Badminton and Luhmühlen – with Opposition Detective. The last time we saw her at the level was in 2017, and she’s since had a baby, which generally means she’s probably about to win everything she enters.
Joking aside – although the post-maternity form of some of these gals is truly unbelievable – we’re looking at a pair on good, solid form. This year, they’ve jumped clear around Bramham CCI4*-L – a seriously tough iteration – Burgham CCI4*-S, Haras du Pin CCIO4*-S, and Ballindenisk CCI4*-S, notching up top-five finishes in the latter two. Though their season began with 20s at Bicton and Chatsworth, they seem to have turned them into something positive, and although they’ll start down the order on a mid-30s dressage, they could certainly climb. They’re not tremendously quick yet, but they’re reliable, and not too shabby on Sunday, either – they haven’t touched a rail in their last four internationals.
Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof
Fourteen-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Tauber van het Kapelhof x Damira van’t Herdehof). Owned by Barbara Cooper.
Like many Belgian men, Figaro van het Broekxhof is very tall and very good-looking, and cloaked in a very appealing aura of mystery. That is to say, nobody really knew a bloody thing about him until this season, when Tom put his foot on the accelerator and showed us all just how exceptionally good this horse is. A surprise win in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S saw him best a colossal field full of some of the best horses in the world, and since then, he’s been well-nigh unstoppable, and wasn’t out of the top five in five consecutive internationals since the latter half of 2018.
This will be his third five-star start: he went to Badminton in 2016 with former rider Jodie Amos, but was eliminated on cross-country. Speaking of former riders, he’s had a fair few – in his international career, he’s been ridden by Anthony Clark, Sarah Olivier, Sarah Bullimore, Jodie Amos, and now Tom. While he might be a bit of a late bloomer, he’s certainly making up for lost time now. Speaking of five-star starts, too, he came achingly close to winning Luhmühlen this year, though settled for second to Tim Price’s Ascona M. His last international saw him record a very uncharacteristic 20, which will have had Tom kicking himself – he’d been named as the direct reserve horse for Toledo de Kerser at the Europeans, but the proximity of the run meant that Tom had to sit it out entirely. Now, he’ll be on the hunt for redemption.
Expect a dressage score around 30 – he can get into the 20s on his day, but scored 32.2 at Luhmühlen – and, on recent form, a quick clear on Saturday. In his recent CCI4*-S he’s on even keel between clear showjumping rounds and four-faulters – but he was clear at Luhmühlen, which has a tough, square showjumping track not dissimilar to Pau’s.
Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser
Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Ariane du Prieure II). Owned by Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Inns, and Ali McEwen.
A freak of a horse, really: Toledo de Kerser is one of the hot favourites for a top placing in this year’s field, and for very good reason.
He stormed into the spotlight back in 2016, when he partnered Tom to a win in Bramham’s hotly-contested Under-25 CCI4*-L. Then, he jumped clear around his five-star debut at Pau that autumn, finishing 22nd because Tom opted to run him slowly. A jolly good tactic it was, too – they finished eleventh at Badminton the following spring, fourth at Burghley that autumn, and seventh at Badminton last year. Then, they popped over the pond to Tryon, where they helped the British team to a gold medal and finished 12th individually. At Badminton this spring, he finished eleventh despite knocking a frangible pin and picking up 8.8 time penalties.
Toledo is consistent and flashy in the ring, scoring in the mid-to-high-20s reliably, and he’s only faulted three times across the country in his 22 internationals. If we were being picky, we could have said he’s not the speediest horse – but then he went clear inside the time at Tryon, so really, what do we know anyway?! On Sunday, you’ll really see Toledo shine – he’s probably the best showjumper in this list, and has only ever knocked two rails in his international career. Don’t let this pair out of your sight – a five-star win is right around the corner for Tom.
Michael Owen and Jims Pal
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Ashleigh Dean.
We fell in love with 15.2hh Jims Pal at Tattersalls CCI4*-L, where he finished fifth in a tough competition – despite his rider having dislocated his shoulder on the previous day’s cross-country course. He’s a total mutt – “he could have been stolen from someone’s field as a foal, for all anyone knows about him,” says Michael Owen – and probably more pony than Irish Sport Horse, but all this means that he’s tough, and clever, and chock-full of squirrelled-away talent.
“He’s Irish-bred, but we don’t know his full breeding – we think he probably has a lot of Connemara in there, though,” he explains of the horse who came from a dealer as a ‘naughty’ four-year old with an untraceable history. Bought for a pittance, the youngster then went hunting with Michael’s girlfriend, who produced him to Novice. “I took over the ride when we realised he had a bit more potential, and the rest is history.”
We’re expecting a mid-30s mark, and for Jims Pal to cover the ground as quickly as his little legs will allow – he certainly made easy work of the open distances at Tatts, which is promising news for a Pau run. His showjumping can be a bit iffy, although he only had one down when Michael was jumping injured – but he can have four, or even six, down on a bad day. His last two international runs have seen him take just one, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this phase has improved.
Jack Pinkney and Raphael
Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Beveny). Owned by Julia Plaisted.
It’s a debut at five-star for both Jack, who cut his teeth working for Padraig and Lucy McCarthy and latterly Austin O’Connor, and for Raphael, who only started eventing at the age of ten. Prior to that, he had a busy career as a show horse, contesting working hunter classes before heading to Austin’s to learn how to tackle the proper stuff. The horse was ultimately too big for Austin, who passed the ride along to his talented stable jockey, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Now Jack has his own setup in Hampshire with girlfriend Léa Boulesteix, and he’s kept the ride on the talented Raphael, with whom he delivered a stonking clear at Blenheim CCI4*-L to finish just outside the top 24 this year, despite the fact that this is really only the horse’s second international season – he completed one two-star with Austin in 2014, and then didn’t contest another international until 2017, with Jack in the irons. He had moved up to CCI4*-S by the end of the season, making his debut at Hartpury, which is generally considered a prep event for tough autumn three-days like Burghley – but he made easy work of it, knocking a frangible but otherwise coming home clear and super quick, too. He had the 2018 season out, and then finished tenth at Chatsworth this spring. A 20 at Bramham CCI4*-L would set us on the fence, but he evidently learned from it – his Blenheim performance was professional and polished. We won’t see these two trouble the leaders – the first phase, which sees them fluctuate between the low-ish 30s and the mid-40s, will preclude that – but they’re here to smash out their first five-star and learn as much as they can, which Jack can then bring home to his next generation of horses. This is a very talented up-and-comer, and we love a horse with a slightly left-field entry into the sport – consider them EN official Ones to Watch.
Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight
Nine-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Chilli Morning x Kings Gem). Owned by Chris and Lisa Stone.
One of the youngest horses in the field, Chilli Knight makes his five-star debut after two impressive seasons at the four-star level. In 2018, he recorded top-five finishes at Barbury CCI4*-S and Strzegom CCI4*-L, and in 2019, he did the same at Bramham CCI4*-L, the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S, and Lignières CCI4*-S. He’s been a bit of a low-30s scorer, but now, we’re starting to see him sneak down into the high-20s. Although he’s prone to a pole, he’s proving to be something of a cross-country machine – he hasn’t had a single time penalty internationally since April, and in 20 international cross-country runs, he’s never had a jumping penalty. Gemma certainly thinks a lot of this horse, who she refers to as a ‘yes man’ – his five-star debut will be an exciting one to follow.
Gemma Tattersall and Jalapeño III
Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Chilli Morning x Maiden Voyage). Owned by Chris and Lisa Stone.
Gemma and Jala’s fledgling partnership has been one of the most exciting new unions on the British circuit this year – Gemma took over the ride from Belgium’s Karin Donckers over the winter, and spent the off-season getting to know her in sunnier climes on a showjumping recce in Vilamoura. It paid off – they were ninth at Chatsworth CCI4*-S, second in Bramham’s CCI4*-L, and they won the ERM finale at Lignières. The partnership has had its teething problems, too, with 20s at both Millstreet and Aachen, but if they can get it all right on the right days this week, they could do very well indeed. Expect a mid-to-high 20s dressage, a reasonably – though not exceptionally – quick cross-country round, and a likely rail on Sunday for a potential dark horse top-10.
Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May
Twelve-year-old KWPN mare (Hamar x Marijke). Owned by Sara and Tom Strong.
Maggie’s first five-star was at Pau last season, and she made it a good one: she finished eleventh, and was the only one of Izzy’s three rides to complete the competition. A result that becomes all the more impressive when you consider that Izzy doesn’t actually ride the mare every day. Instead, she lives with her owner, Tom, who produced her to Intermediate and still does much of the day-to-day schooling.
The shining star on Maggie’s international record was her win at Tattersalls CCI4*-L last year, which she accomplished with a 28.5 FOD. Pau aside, where she posted an uncharacteristic 37.5, she’s becoming a seriously strong performer in each phase – and now that she’s made her level debut, Izzy will know just how much she can push the mare. A slower-than-normal run and three rails pushed her down to 31st place at Badminton this year, but she’ll have learned plenty from the experience, and Izzy certainly won’t have travelled all this way just to say she completed another Pau.
Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Kate Willis and Mel Pritchard.
Mini Mouse might be the smallest entry in the field, but he’s got one of the biggest personalities – and once you’ve seen the pint-sized dun tear up a cross-country track, it’s hard not to become one of his fervent cheerleaders. He’s tiny, he’s golden, he’s what your childhood dreams were made of – and Dassett Cooley Dun is ready to go and show Pau who’s boss, in that delightful way that only small and golden things can. This will be his second five-star; he came here last year for his debut and finished in the top 30 after a solitary issue across the country. Since then, he’s jumped clear around both Burgham and Blenheim.
He’ll probably score in the high 30s, so won’t challenge the leaders, but he’s quick and ordinarily clear at four-star, so he’ll be really exciting to watch. Of course, a five-star track is always a big ask for a small pony, but Napoleon managed to conquer most of Europe at one point or another, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never doubt a short man. He usually has a pole or two, but let’s be real — we’re all here to watch the pony go cross country.
Oh, Mouse has a Facebook fan page, too – it’s well worth a follow.
Nicolai Aldinger and Newell
Eleven-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Newcomer x FRH Serve Well). Owned by Beate Hohnfeldt, Dieter Aldinger, and the rider.
This will be a second start at five-star for Nicolai – he went to Luhmühlen in 2017 with Tactic 4, though withdrew before the second horse inspection. Top ten finishes with Newell at Sopot and Waregem CCI4*-S, as well as a clear round in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L last year, certainly stand them in good stead for this week, although we won’t see them fight off the obvious contenders for a top spot – they’ll score in the mid-to-high 30s, should jump clear, and then will likely knock a rail. This horse’s showjumping can be a bit erratic: he’s clear as often as he plays pick-up-sticks, although his form has been improving over the last few seasons. It’s never a good idea to ignore a new wave of German talent, so let these guys slide into your radar this week.
Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon
Sixteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Heraldik xx x Karina-Andora). Owned by Manfred Giensch, Anne-Kathrin Butt, and the rider.
Three-time Olympian Dibowski has completed six five-stars with this horse, finishing second at Pau in 2014 and third at Luhmühlen in 2012. They attempted Burghley in 2013, but retired on course — and although the gelding has racked up some seriously impressive form in his time, he’s not had much luck at this level over the past couple of years. They were eliminated for a rider fall early on the course at Burghley last year, and then retired after a 20 in their reroute to Pau. Prior to that, they retired during showjumping at Luhmühlen in 2017. This year, they were eliminated at the same event for a rider fall across the country.
This year, they’ve had a season of ups and downs: there was the Luhmühlen fall, and also a 20 and retirement at Marbach CCI4*-S, but there have also been top-ten finishes at Kronenburg, Waregem, Strzegom, and Baborowko, as well as a win in the CCI4*-S at Strzegom’s October fixture. The form line is certainly looking up for the experienced pair, who generally deliver a competitive first-phase result and a couple of rails on Sunday, but for Dibo, the goal should just be to get his long-time partner home on a happy completion.
Elmar Lesch and Rough Diamond
Twelve-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Nobre xx x Woodsgirl). Owned by Heike Kikuth.
Elmar Lesch holds the unique accolade of being one of Germany’s first professional eventers – in the early 90s, when he was a mainstay on the team, he carved out a corner of the market for himself, working as a trainer, a rider, and, most profitably, as a sport horse dealer, launching the first auction for elite event horses in the country. These days, he keeps a finger in the pie as a member of the Trakehner licensing committee, as well as continuing to hold his well-attended sales days at his yard in Bavendorf, at which horses and buyers from around the country are united.
We haven’t seen Elmar at this level since 2015, when he finished 25th here with Lanzelot 113, but Rough Diamond has had a promising enough season: in eight international starts, he’s come home clear in six and not run in one, finishing in the top ten in a CCI4*-S at Baborowko and a CCI3*-S at Strzegom. We aren’t expecting him to change the world this week with his mid-30s dressage and a rail or two on Sunday, but he should go clear, and he could do so without too much time. But it’s prudent to remember that this is a five-star debut for the horse, so we’ll likely see a much slower time than normal.
James Avery and Mr Sneezy
Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Iroko x Starofdonickmore). Owned by Tiny Clapham and Ian and Heidi Woodhead.
Sometimes it feels as though we’ve been waiting for British-based Kiwi James Avery to go five-star for years – it’s easy to forget, somehow, that he only made the move up to four-star at the beginning of last season. But such has been his trajectory, which includes leading the first phase in last year’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-olds class with Vitali, leading the first two phases of the seven-year-old class at Le Lion with the same horse the year prior, winning Blair’s CCI2*-L with Seaflower, and taking a CCI4*-S win at Camphire with One of a Kind, that it feels like he’s been around all along.
Now, though, it’s time for James and Mr Sneezy, who possesses absolutely the best name of all the entries, to step up to the biggest league of them all. Previously ridden to CCI3*-L by James’ girlfriend Holly Woodhead, Sneezy has jumped clear rounds at Blenheim, Ballindenisk, and Bramham four-stars, but for an 11 picked up at the latter, and although he isn’t always the most straightforward horse, he’s certainly got the jump and the ability to make it all happen here. His first phase is frustratingly close to being rather good, and the atmosphere at Pau could push it to either end of the spectrum – he’s dipped down to the mid-20s, but he’s also visited the mid-40s, too. Realistically, we’re looking at a low-to-mid-30s score here, and then a couple of long routes across the country to ensure they complete the trip. On Sunday, he’s a pretty consistent performer – he took four down at Aachen, but that round, and that week, were indicative of a bit of an outlier performance for him. Ordinarily, he’s a clear machine, and at most, he’ll have the occasional single pole. We could see them pick up an educational 20 across the country, but if they can pull it all together on the day, they can sneak into the top twenty.
Tim Price and Ascona M
Eleven-year-old Holsteiner mare (Cassaro x Naomi). Owned by Suzanne Houchin, Lucy and Ben Sangster, and Sir Peter Vela.
She’s extremely talented, and sometimes she’s just extreme: or at least that’s how Tim describes feisty Ava, the powerhouse mare with whom he took Luhmühlen 5* this year. Reminiscent of stablemate Faerie Dianimo, who took the title the year prior, she’s a toe-flicking, superman-jumping, diminutive but dynamic bundle of opinions, and although she took a spill after overjumping into the water here last year, she’s on flying form and one of the hot favourites for the win.
You can certainly expect her to be up there after the first phase – she was in 2018 on a score of 25.3, and produced a 25.8 at Luhmühlen, too, to sit second going into cross-country. A year older and wiser, she’s learned to conserve her power and rein in her exuberance, which only makes her more catlike and economical than she’s ever been. It’s hard to foresee a situation in which she doesn’t perform brilliantly here – the only thing that makes her victory any less certain is the sheer quality of the field she’s up against. Our prediction? She’ll give Tim a run for his money in every ride leading up to the one that matters, and then she’ll spot her adoring public and throw out a 24. But she wants to make one thing very clear: that 24 will happen because she wants it to.
Tim Price and Wesko
Sixteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Karandasj x Kolien). Owned by the Windrush Equestrian Foundation.
It would be foolish to discount Tim Price, who recently relinquished the World Number One spot, in any circumstances, but when he brings forward two five-star winners, he’s a truly fearsome beast. We still haven’t quite got over the joy of seeing Wesko back out competing; he was benched for the 2016 and 2017 seasons after a string of impressive results. There was the Blair Castle CCI4*-L win in 2013, and a second-place finish at Hartpury CCI4*-S the same year, and in 2014, ‘Dash’ won both Tattersalls CCI4*-L and Luhmuhlen CCI5*-L, giving Tim his first win at the level. His strong form continued into 2015: he was second at Kentucky 5*, fourth at Aachen, and third at Pau 5*.
But his injury – and, as such, his inability to come forward for the Rio Olympics – set Tim’s 2016 into a bit of a downward spiral. Tim’s form has obviously recovered marvellously since, and so has Dash – and getting to watch him at his first five-star since 2015 will be a special treat this week. With wins at Arville’s leg of the Event Rider Masters and in a CCI3*-L section at Lignières under his belt this year, he’s certainly on form. His last international test saw him produce a 20.7 – at three-star, admittedly – and he popped a 23.8 on the board at Aachen. He’s a sub-30 horse every day of the week, and this week, he’ll be aimed at a sub-25 test. The rest? Absolutely made for him – he’s already FODed twice at this level.
Felix Vogg and Archie Rocks
Eleven-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Le Monde x Unbridled Diva). Owned by Phoenix Eventing SARL, Jürgen Vogg, and the rider.
With top horse Colero temporarily sidelined, Felix is focusing all his attention on second-string mount Archie Rocks, an American off-the-track Thoroughbred who was previously campaigned by Maya Simmons and latterly by Buck Davidson, before Felix bought him at the end of 2018. (For those ex-racehorses aficionados among you, he raced – not entirely unsuccessfully – as Smittys Messiah, winning over $30k in a 30 start career that ended in 2013. He was renamed by Maya, who bought the horse from Chris Talley and chose the moniker in honour of her grandfather, who had served as a pilot during World War II.)
It’s unlikely that Felix is coming to Pau with the intention of trying to win; the reasonably inexperienced gelding isn’t going to manage that in this company, because his first-phase results simply aren’t there yet. We’ll see him produce a test in the 32-36 margin, and then he’ll likely go quick and clear across the country to climb his way up the leaderboard. Whether he can stay there is debatable – his showjumping record is patchy, with just one clear in seventeen internationals. But a good run here will give him plenty of necessary experience and make him a valuable back-up for Felix’s Tokyo campaign next year.
Ludwig Svennerstal and Balham Mist
Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Mill Law x Rock Me Baby). Owned by Andrew Ayres and the rider.
Balham Mist reroutes to Pau after an early end to his Burghley campaign, which saw him among the many horses to falter at the tough Maltings combination, booting Ludwig straight out the moon door. Rather than let that be the final event of what has been a slightly frustrating season, with a retirement at Chatsworth, a withdrawal at Barbury, and two good performances at Vairano and Camphire, Ludwig has opted to give the experienced gelding a shot at redemption here.
It’ll be a third five-star start for the gelding, whose early education was installed by Ireland’s Sian Coleman, and who made his debut at Burghley in 2017. There, he notched up 40 penalties but went on to complete, and now, he’s turning his hoof to a competition that can only be described as the polar opposite of Burghley. Expect a low-to-mid-30s dressage, and then expect the unexpected on Saturday – Balham Mist has a bit of a chequered record, but Ludwig will be hoping to nurse a clear round out of him and nail down a Tokyo qualification.
Ludwig Svennerstal and El Kazir SP
Fifteen-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Capriano x Katella). Owned by the rider.
El Kazir SP, or ‘Elk’, as he’s known around the yard, has become a bit of an old faithful in camp Svennerstal. We last saw him in action at the European Championships at the end of the summer, where he helped the Swedish team to a bronze medal and Olympic qualification and finished eighth himself, adding nothing to his 31 dressage through the week.
Produced to CCI4*-S by Italy’s Paolo Belvederesi and then campaigned at three-star by British rider Chuffy Clarke, Elk moved to Ludwig’s string in mid-2017 after a year out of action. He promptly delivered a third-place finish at Hartpury’s tough CCI4*-S, though much of the rest of that season was peppered with withdrawals. In 2018, he had top-ten finishes at Wiesbaden’s ERM and in Tattersalls’ CCI4*-L, and although he’s been lightly campaigned this year, he’s certainly being aimed high.
This year, his scores have hovered just above 30, but we’ve seen glimpses of something really special in this phase: he earned a 25.5 at Tatts last year. While he won’t lead after dressage this week, he could well be in the top fifteen, and he’s ordinarily fast across the country, so we could see him climb as he did at the Europeans. He’s generally a good showjumper, though may have one down – and we’ve seen him have three on more than one occasion, though not since 2017.
Ludwig Svennerstal and Salunette
Ten-year-old Hanoverian mare (Numero Uno x Salü II). Owned by Ewa Kroon.
Everyone’s favourite Swede (well, top ten, at least) is going to be a busy boy this week: he’s brought nearly all the horses in Sweden to the Northern Hemisphere’s final five-star of 2019. His final ride is the relatively inexperienced mare Salunette, who stepped up to CCI4*-L this year. Her first attempt didn’t quite go to plan, and Ludwig opted to retire and try again another day – and that methodology paid off. She was fifth in the CCI4*-L at Camphire in July, adding just 6.4 time penalties to her 32.2 dressage.
Now, Ludwig is looking ahead to Tokyo with the talented mare, who was bought as a foal by his mother, campaigned through her first international season back in 2015, and then sold as a six-year-old. She was produced to CCI4*-S by Jamie Atkinson, and then Ludwig, realising how good she could be, teamed up with owner Ewa Kroon to buy her back. This season they reunited and gained their Olympic qualification by the end of July. Ludwig won’t bring her here to try to win, although she could certainly be reasonably competitive – instead, it’ll be all about the experience for the young mare, whose low-30s dressage will preclude a top placing.