The 2019 Event Rider Masters series finale takes us to the heart of French eventing at Lignieres en Berry, where the door is wide open in the hunt for podium placings. And with over €100,000 on the line, nobody’s coming to play.
Nestled in the Berry province in the Center-Val de Loire region, in France’s most verdant countryside, Lignieres en Berry offers everything you’ve come to expect from the Event Riders Masters: a beautiful setting, a tough and influential cross-country course, and a host of familiar faces to battle it all out.
We’re on the final countdown to the biggest stage of them all. But the first phase of the competition? Making it through #ERMtheCut, in which our field of entrants is whittled down to the final selection. The result? Twenty-five of the biggest stars in the sport of eventing. Twenty-five riders, and 25 horses, who are ready to give everything they’ve got for a chance to get on the most coveted podium of the series. Here’s what to expect.
All three of our previous series champions come forward for the 2019 finale, as do 10 previous leg winners — but there are six riders in particular who stand to take the top honours in this year’s series.
Current series leader Chris Burton will be hoping to romp to a win on Quality Purdey, the fast and feisty mare with whom he made a podium appearance at Arville. But the Fastest Man in the World can’t afford to leave any marks on the table – the home nation’s surprise hero, Gireg Le Coz, is just five points behind him in the series rankings, and with his top horse, Jardy winner Aisprit de la Loge, he’ll be a formidable force to be reckoned with.
It’s never a two-horse race at the ERM finale, and this year is no different – just a solitary point behind Gireg sits Badminton and Luhmühlen winner Jonelle Price. After two top-ten finishes in ERM legs this season and a close second at Camphire’s CCI4*-L, Grovine de Reve comes forward ready to produce the goods. Can the relatively new partnership overtake the established combinations ahead of them? We recommend never underestimating the Kiwi phenom – though she be but little, she is fierce, indeed.
Sarah Cohen and Treason are mainstays of the Event Rider Masters series , and they nabbed themselves second place on the 2017 podium – but with 63 points to their names this year, they’ll need to put everything on the line to go one better. They’re not the only long-time partnership hoping to make one final leap up the board, either – Alex Bragg and the evergreen Zagreb will be aiming to capitalise on the 50 points they’ve earned so far. A win here could turn the leaderboard as we know it on its head.
And let’s not forget the 2017 series champion: Gemma Tattersall might not be at the top of this year’s rankings, but with a very respectable 44 points under her belt, she and Jalapeno — a new partnership, but second in Bramham’s tough CCI4*-L this summer – could just surprise us.
It’s not just a battle between the series podium candidates, though, and the series finale will be just as ferociously campaigned by its outliers. Michael Jung and Star Connection FRH took Wiesbaden – but can they take Lignieres, too? Or can 2016 champion Oliver Townend make the most of his brand new partnership with the ultra-talented Alcatraz? Or will World Number One Tim Price take the top prize, riding his Luhmühlen winner Ascona M?
Horse and rider combinations are seeded into three groups based on prior performance and dressage averages. Once they’re through the initial seeding process, our competitors’ numbers are randomly drawn by ERM presenter Nicole Brown who is joined by Emmanuel Legarde of the Lignieres organising team. The draw determines the order in which they’ll enter the ring — will they have the tough task of trying to impress the judges early on? Will they follow an Event Rider Masters champion? Or will they close out the day’s competition, leaving an impression on the scoreboard and the spectators, for better or for worse?
Saturday’s competition gets off to an exciting start with 2016 series champion Oliver Townend heading down the centreline as our pathfinder with new ride Alcatraz at 10.15 a.m. local time/9.15 a.m. BST. At 10.30 a.m., we’ll see our first home-nation rider of the day — and Jardy winners Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge have plenty to fight for. Gireg sits third on the series leaderboard, just five penalties from the top in his first year contesting the Event Rider Masters. Young rider Phoebe Locke wraps up the first session at 10.53 a.m. with Pica d’Or, at what has been a happy hunting ground for them — they scored a 24.9 at Lignieres CCI2*-S in their first international together last year.
The competition gets ever hotter as we head into the second session of the day, commencing at 11.15 a.m. local/10.15 a.m. BST. The home side brings forward some of its fiercest competitors, with Maxime Livio leading the way aboard Api du Libaire.
Tom Carlile, the two-time winner of the ERM’s Barbury leg, follows at 11.23 a.m. riding Atos Barbotiere, while Arnaud Boiteau concludes the session at 11.53 a.m. with Quoriano ENE HN. And between them all? Indomitable Kiwi Jonelle Price (11.30 a.m.), who sits in fourth place on the series rankings and will look to climb onto the podium with Grovine de Reve this week. Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto (11.38 a.m.) has swiftly become one of the most formidable competitors in the world – and with the former Astier Nicolas ride Vinci de la Vigne JRA, he hasn’t been out of the top six in an international this year. Watch them closely.
The final session of the day, commencing at 12.15 p.m. local/11.15 a.m. BST, is where things really start to get interesting. Michael Jung and Star Connection FRH whet the palate as the first to go – and the previous winners of Wiesbaden and Jardy are expected to throw down the gauntlet with a mid-to-high 20s score. Though they’ll be hot in pursuit of a win in this leg, they can’t quite catch up with the series leaders – but Sarah Cohen and Treason, who follow them into the arena at 12.23 p.m., certainly can. In fifth place on the current rankings, Sarah sits just 10 points behind the leader.
And what a leader he is. You won’t want to miss the Australian sensation Chris Burton (12.45 p.m.), our 2018 Event Rider Masters champion, who leads the way for 2019. Riding Quality Purdey – his fast and ferociously clever dragon of a mare – he’ll be one of the hottest topics at this weekend’s competition. But if there’s one rider who can threaten his grasp on the Lignieres title, it’s fellow Antipodean Tim Price. Coming in strong at 12.53 p.m., the World Number One rides his Luhmühlen CCI5* winner Ascona M – and according to EquiRatings, this is the pair with the best chance of winning here.
Our last combination of the day is a real crowd favourite – but will Alex Bragg and Zagreb deliver a mark in their usual upper 20s, or will they show off the precision and panache they had when posting their PB of 23.6 to win Jardy last year? In seventh place on the season rankings so far, Alex has a chance to step onto the biggest podium of them all – but he’ll need to risk it all to have it all. Don’t miss their test, at 13.00 p.m. local time/12.00 p.m. BST.
With the best riders in the world heading up a truly global 11-nation field, the competition is guaranteed to sizzle until its final seconds. Join us as we crown the 2019 Event Rider Masters series champion. Once more unto the breach, eventing fans. Are you ready?