It was all change across the arenas in Bramham’s roster of four-star classes today, and the newly crowned leader of the feature CCI4*-L is a familiar pairing: Ros Canter and Izilot DHI now hold onto the top spot on a score of 29, a year after taking the win in the CCI4*-S class here. Like this year’s CCI4*-S mount, MHS Seventeen, though, ‘Isaac’ is something of a spooky character, which required some careful management in the busy main arena, which closely abuts the hospitality tent.
“He really didn’t like the boards at A,” says Ros. “I don’t think it was the members’ area particularly, it was the boards at A — my other horse was a bit the same yesterday. I don’t know what it is — it’s funny because in our warm-up area they have the same boards, but when they get in there, they seem to react differently, which is frustrating. It makes him a little difficult to ride. We know the quality of his work, though — it’s just about pulling it off on the day.”
Even with that sharpness, though, Ros recognised a marked improvement in the impressive ten-year-old’s ride ability in the ring.
“I suppose even though he was very spooky, in other times when he’d been that spooky, he’d have struggled to do a test. Today he actually did the test, which was good, and the quality of work there is really exciting. There’s more to come; we’ve just got to keep exposing him to this environment. We know he’s capable, and we also know he’s a sharp and spooky horse, so these things are good for him.”
So far, his career trajectory has been very impressive, with wins at two-star short and long, three-star long, and four-star short – and as such, he came into this week’s competition as the firm favourite, even though this will only be his second run at CCI4*-L.
“We always wanted to bring him back here,” says Ros. “It’s a really good stamina test. He’s done one long-four now at Boekelo, but he needs some good hills, and a long course, and a big course to know what we’ve got underneath us.”
Pippa Funnell snuck into second place overnight with ten-year-old British-bred MCS Maverick, who posted a 29.3 to nail down a significant personal best and just his second-ever sub-30 in an FEI competition, and his first at the level. That came largely as the result of much improved walk work, a pace that the gelding has always found tricky. This is just his third international with Pippa in the irons, after steady clears at both Bicton and Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S classes: previously, he’s been produced and competed by The Billy Stud’s stable jockey, five-star competitor Helen Wilson.
New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell moves into overnight third with the former Jonty Evans ride Gambesie, with whom he competed for the Kiwi squad at Aachen last year. They posted a 29.4 – just a touch down from their 2022 Bramham CCI4*-S score of 28.6 – to put themselves into an enviable position, and just half a penalty ahead of day one leaders Izzy Taylor and Happy Days, going into cross-country.
“He’s got a little bit of personality and a good sense of humour, that one,” says Jesse with a grin, moments after disembarking from a merrily spinning Gambesie — known at home as ‘Kevin’ — at the in-gate. “But he’s super trainable, and to be fair, he has been to Aachen and stuff, so he’s seen a bit of atmosphere. He’s cool, he’s fun!”
This will be the twelve-year-old’s first CCI4*-L after some promising runs at the short format of the level, and Jesse was delighted to begin the week with a score that fell right within the wheelhouse of what he’d expected from the Dutch-bred gelding.
“I think all riders would say, if you can get 75% of the work you can do at home in the ring, that’s great — and I was pretty close to that, so there’s no complaints from me. It was really good,” he says. “He’s got a really beautiful walk, and we’d like the judges to highlight that a little bit more. It makes that test really easy to ride, because there’s a lot of walk, and you can really ride him.”
Part of Gambesie’s relatively steady progress up the levels has been due to the careful management required to keep him at his best: “He’s just had some soundness troubles, which has been a really hard road to manage — but so far, so good. He’s had all last year back and we thought, Bramham is such a great place to come, so we’ll take our chances in the long and see what we’ve got. He’s just got bad feet, so he’s on lots of hoof supplements. He used to be turned out at night, because I really believe in turnout, but he now stays in at night, because he obviously does a lot of walking out in the field and he’d just bust his feet up. That’s been quite a help.”
Yesterday’s leaders, Izzy Taylor and Happy Days, now sit fourth going into cross-country on their score of 29.9, while Wesko Equestrian Federation graduates Harry Mutch and HD Bronze round out the top five on 30.2.
There’s a new leader, too, in the under-25 CCI4*-L — and Bubby Upton‘s exceptional 26.5, earned with the British-bred Magic Roundabout IV, isn’t just the best in this class, it’s also the leading score of the entire competition by a not insignificant margin. That’s a start that’s making a long wait worthwhile: Bubby’s been trying to make her Bramham debut for three years running, and is making the best of it now she’s here.
“I was meant to come here two years ago for the under-25 Championships, but it was moved to Bicton that year,” says Bubby, who won that relocated edition with five-star mount Cannavaro. “And then last year, Magic Roundabout was meant to come here for the under-25 Championships, but then he had a freak accident in the field, so that put him out for the year, which was gutting. He came from Piggy’s yard and she’s always said to me, this is a Bramham and Burghley horse, so I’ve always had that in my head. He’s super blood — he really gallops, and he really jumps, so I guess that’s why I’ve always aimed for here. Really, the big goal for him is Burghley, and I guess this is probably the best preparation you can have for Burghley, so that’s why we’ve come here.”
Certainly, all of Magic Roundabout’s best qualities will be put to the test over tomorrow’s course, which Bubby says is “everything that you ever hear about Bramham — very big, very technical, very intense, and hilly, but I’m so excited to get out there on him and give it a crack because at the end of it, you know what horse you’ve got.”
What makes this an even more rewarding starting point for Bubby is the fact that even though her horse has plenty of winning attributes, the first phase would ordinarily actually be his weakest.
“He doesn’t like dressage at all,” explains Bubby. “He finds it so difficult, and he’s not made for it in his conformation whatsoever — he’s really long in the back. But he just tried so hard in there. In the past, in big atmospheres, he’s got really worried, but he only worries because he’s trying so hard. And then when he can’t do something, or he knows it’s not quite good enough, he just panics — and when he panics, he’s really difficult to ride. I just really took my time when I walked in, walked quite a few circles just so he relaxed, and I cantered round the outside and I couldn’t believe how good he felt. He was amazing in there.”
Yesterday’s leaders, France’s Morgane Euriat and Baccarat d’Argonne, now go into cross-country in second place, 3.2 penalties — or eight seconds — behind the leaders, while class pathfinders Richard Coney and Mermus R Diamonds are third on 31.3.
Tom McEwen now holds the first-phase lead in the CCI4*-S class after kicking today’s competition off with nine-year-old MHS Brown Jack, who scored a 28.7 and goes into tomorrow’s jumping phases as the only sub-30 scorer in this class. But even though he’s topped the bill in this phase, Tom, like many other riders, was critical of the very high trend we’ve seen in the judging at Bramham this year, which has seen just seven competitors from 129 across the classes go sub-30.
“It’s weird and it’s boring and it just makes the whole thing a bit dull,” says Tom. “But, that aside, he was brilliant. He did a really good test at Bicton and he’s just improved on it again this morning, so I’m delighted with him. Everything was smooth. It was what you could call definitely a clear round, with bits that could still be improved on. But now, we’ve really got a good warm-up plan and routine with him, and so he came in in a really great, relaxed mood.”
This will be MHS Brown Jack’s second trip around the CCI4*-S course here: he finished eighth last year on his debut at the level, and has spent the year since consolidating at the short format.
“He actually did a really good test here when he came — I think it was about the same mark, but they’re marking pretty differently today,” says Tom. “He missed a few things; it was a babyish, green test, but lovely. And then today, we tried to improve on it and he just got a bit tight and tense. He’s a big boy and it’s just been hard to put it all together, so it’s taken a bit of time to juggle that and work out how how’s best, really. Being a big horse, he’s still doing four-shorts, because I just don’t feel that he’s ready to go around a course like the long here and be able to be good enough in the show jumping the next day.”
Though having course form with a horse is always a positive confidence boost, resting on one’s laurels at Bramham would be a fool’s errand — even in this short-format competition.
“I think the influential combinations are bigger than normal, if I’m honest — especially the far water; I think you’d be really silly to underestimate that,” says Tom. “Maybe dimensionally it’s not the biggest track we’ve ever seen here — Ian’s concentrated a lot on low and wide oxers, which I think’s really clever. Like always, he’s got these positive distances, but you’ve got to ride what’s underneath you. Having been round a similar flow of course last year, it’s quite useful for me, as I roughly know where they’re going to be blowing a bit, and where you can get a little bit back.”
Australia’s Bill Levett moved into second place with the ten-year-old Sligo Candy Cane, with whom he scored a 32.4.
“[Dressage trainer] Ian [Woodhead]’s saying they’re four or five or six marks higher than what they normally would be, so if you put that into it, he’s on a 27 or something, so that would be a personal best, which is pleasing,” says Bill, who explains that this week is a stepping stone — to next month’s team competition at CHIO Aachen in the short term, and then, he hopes, to the Paris Olympics. “I’m thrilled with him. I’m hoping to get selected for Aachen after this weekend, if I can have a good run here. That’s been the goal all year — to try and get selected for Aachen and then get him into some bigger competitions, basically. Here, you’ve got a big grass arena, and it’s always a strong cross country, so I thought, if you’re going to want to go to Aachen, you might as well get him in the groove a bit by bringing him here.”
Though this is only the gelding’s third season of international competition, he’s already picked up some promising results: he was fifth in his CCI4*-L debut at Millstreet, Ireland last year, seventh in Blenheim’s prestigious eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S last autumn, and third in an early-season CCI3*-S at Montelibretti, Italy, this year.
“I bought him off Sarah Ennis as a young horse. He’d won a lot in Ireland, in the sense of early on in his career — he’d run his first few Novices at that point, and I saw a video of him and thought, ‘Wow! Sarah’s got another lovely horse. Where does she find them?!’,” laughs Bill of the gelding, who he describes as ‘probably the best show jumping event horse I’ve ever ridden’. “My owner [Elizabeth Murdoch] said, ‘Look, if you want a good horse, I’ll support you.’ It took a bit of convincing but eventually, Sarah agreed to sell him — and that’s been the journey from there, really. I’ve taken him slowly, but the goal was Paris because I’ve never been to an Olympics. I’m a bit outside the favourites, but it”’ be a lot of fun trying with this horse to stake my claim over the next eight months or so.”
Yesterday’s leaders, Ros Canter and MHS Seventeen, now hold third place going into tomorrow morning’s showjumping, which will be followed by the cross-country finale in the afternoon. They’re on a score of 32.6, which is closely followed by Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire, who’ve rerouted from Badminton and are fourth overnight on a 33.
The top five in this class is rounded out by 2021 Luhmühlen winner Mollie Summerland and her fledgling four-star mount, Flow 7. Though leggy, elegant Flow has only been eventing for two years – and is still learning how to use his excess of height and power, which is still frequently evidenced in the work-in-progress flying changes — the nine-year-old Oldenburg stepped up to the plate in the busy atmosphere of the arena today to earn a 33.1 and put himself in a very competitive position in what will be just his second four-star cross-country run. His first, at Bicton last month, saw him earn a very respectable tenth place.
“I’m really happy with his brain — he stayed really relaxed, and he’s never been in an atmosphere like that,” says Mollie. “I probably could have had a little bit more spur on — I have dummy spurs on, because I thought he’d be really hot in there. I think that’s why I didn’t get the first change — actually, my right to left ones are normally the good ones, so it was good that I got the not so good one! They’re just still a work in progress at home and he’s still young. We hopefully want to take him to Boekelo, and that’s why we brought him here, so I’m not expecting a world-beating result — it’s just mileage for him to see the crowds.”
Bicton’s tough terrain gave Mollie plenty of new intel on the young horse’s stamina, which will serve the pair well as they tackle the steep inclines and undulations of Bramham’s parkland tomorrow: “I think Bicton was good practice with the hills, and that gives me confidence coming here,” she says. “He’s still so green. He’s nine, but he didn’t start eventing ’til he was seven. He’s stepped up the levels really quickly and I’m not expecting anything from him — he’s just here to learn about life, and then hopefully next year will be really exciting for him. But this year is just about educating him on everything, really. “
Tomorrow takes us into a seriously packed day of cross-country and jumping action: the CCI4*-S will start the day off, with showjumping commencing in the main arena from 8.30 a.m. Cross-country will begin with the main CCI4*-L class, starting at 9.00 a.m. (4.00 a.m. EST), and the under-25 class will follow on after a twenty minute break with a scheduled start time of 12.04 p.m. (7.04 a.m. EST). Finally, the CCI4*-S class will take to the course from 13.10 p.m. (8.10 a.m. EST) and is scheduled to continue on until approximately 17.00 p.m. (12.00 p.m. EST), holds notwithstanding. Horse & Country TV will be broadcasting the entirety of the cross-country – head over to their website to confirm your subscription and tune in for all the action as it happens, check out the courses in full with designer Ian Stark here, and keep it locked on EN for a full report and a debrief with the frontrunners across the classes (and the CCI4*-S podium placers, too!) at the end of the day.