Day One dawned bright and glorious. I had to queue to get in before 8.20 am, pretty unprecedented on a Dressage day! If they don’t have record attendances this year, I’ll eat my HS1. Might need lots of ketchup and a new set of teeth…
First in was Oliver Townend on the much-admired Armada, former ride of Andrew Nicholson. Their test was fluent and expressive, but with a very tense rein-back followed by an incorrect strike-off to canter, for 51.7.
Jock Paget and Clifton Lush threw down the first NZ gauntlet with a 48.2, a lovely test with no errors. Always tough to go early on the first day of dressage.
Mary King and Imperial Cavalier did a super test. He was tense before going in but she settled him beautifully and they got fantastic scores for their trotwork, scoring 8s across the board for the medium and extended trots. The canter work wasn’t marked quite as highly and they scored 47.3.
Michael Jung and Leopin FST’s test was absolutely beautiful to watch, calm, expressive and harmonious, so the 6 that one judge awarded him for submission was rather puzzling! Leopin doesn’t yet have the wow-factor of La Biostheque Sam but is a very worthy second string. The commentator (was it Mike Tucker? I think it was) informed us all that Leopin is a Thoroughbred, which made me boggle slightly, especially as his next words were “out of a registered Westphalian mare”. Hmmmm.
William Fox-Pitt and Oslo completed the first session with a super test to finish on 45.8 and go into the lead for a short time. A low-flying aircraft near the arena during his test did make one of the watching grooms wonder aloud whether someone might have paid the pilot to do that, but fortunately Oslo did not bat an eye at it!
In the next session the cold wind really got under some horses’ tails, including the naughty Sir Percival and Toddy’s Major Milestone, always more of a jumping machine than a dressage diva spoiling their chances of top scores, unfortunately.
Sam Griffiths flew the flag high for Australia, having Happy Times expressive and powerful for 43.3, and only one could better him today, Christopher Burton and Holstein Park Leilani, whose lovely flowing test netted them 43 penalties and the lead. The judges are not being particularly generous, especially Sandy Phillips at C, who marked almost every test lower than either of the other judges.
Vittoria Panizzon’s test on the much-admired Borough Pennyz left her in touch on 47.3, equal 7th overnight with Mary King and Lucy Wiegersma. Vittoria recent sparkling form at Belton means that she is just one of the riders with a real chance of upsetting the odds at the top.
The buzz when Opposition Buzz came in was considerable, and he looked chuffed to bits with himself, but Nicola did her usual fantastic job with him, and their 48.2 was well deserved, and leaves them very much in touch with the leaders. As soon as the test was over he expressed himself a little more, wonderful to see, he really is such a huge favourite with the crowd, and we hear he now has his own range of drinks mats for sale… if we find the link we will post it!
The last of the day was another fabulous test, Aoife Clark had Master Crusoe going beautifully and gained 45.8 to tie with William Fox-Pitt in 4th place.
Keen Bean of the day was Beanie Sturgis’ Lebowski, who having made things tricky for her in the test, escaped in the collecting ring afterwards and was seen disappearing off to Huntsman’s Close on his own, obviously desperate for a crack at the XC and not able to contain himself until Sunday, with Chris Bartle in hot pursuit on foot.
The top 3 at the Press Conference in the Media Centre were asked about their tests, and then asked questions about the XC course. Although Mark Todd has played it down, describing it as being like a 3* course with some 4* combinations in the middle, these 3 were not quite so confident.
Andrew Nicholson said that he expects Nereo to do a better test than Avebury, and that he blamed Avebury’s incorrect strike-off today totally on himself. He is not underestimating the course, saying that the 120 degree turn back to the fence into the Lake will make it difficult to ride forward to it, and that usually the tight turn is after the fence, so easier than this year. He intends to take one stride fewer than most people to the “hollow with boxes.”
Sam Griffiths, lying second, said that the long gallop then turn back to quite a big fence into the Lake is a big test of horse and rider, and that there are a few fences out there that make him a bit nervous. He thinks the time will be quite achievable due to the ‘hard & fast going’. (They have been watering the course, which is particularly ironic considering that this time last year it was all underwater, so the going will be fantastic, not really ‘hard.’)
Christopher Burton, leading the field at this stage, praised his mare Holstein Park Leilani, saying that she’s fabulous but not the most expressive mover, so the answer is for him to make no mistakes in the test. Asked how the course will suit his horse, he says she’s 17 now and very experienced. When he first sat on her in Aus he said she was a Badminton horse, so he’s very excited to be leading the dressage on her.
He expects there to be lots of problems towards end of the XC course. He’s not playing it down the way Toddy is, it seems!
Dressage recommences at 9am tomorrow morning, can’t wait!