What a day, I’ve been absolutely mesmerised. Dramas, superlative riding, saves, more dramas.
We had “why NOBODY uses bandages on the XC any more” courtesy of Tiana Coudray, who had a front bandage start unravelling dangerously after brushing through the Lake fences, but fortunately it fell off completely before it could trip her magical Ringwood Magister up. They completed a fabulous clear round, with just 2 time penalties.
We had Michael Jung’s living legend Sam leaving a leg at the Lake and then locking on to the brushes from a seemingly-impossible place, HOW Michael reacted so fast and got him back on line I genuinely have no idea. That was truly awesome riding, and yet at the Press Conference Michael gave his horse all the credit.
Michael and Sam’s round, apart from that one heart-attack-inducing moment, and diving over the first brush of the Mirage Pond with his shoulders canted sideways (Michael, of course, not moving a mm) was poetry in motion. Rolex Grand Slam duel and drama aside, he would be THE most worthy winner. Nationality Schmationality, what an awesome horseman he is. I used to think he was boring to watch (sorry, heresy, I know) but I have finally seen the light now that I’ve seen him react so brilliantly in extremis. Actually, I think I’m in love.
Young Tom McEwen is bidding to be another such. I can’t remember seeing such mature riding from a kid who looks to me as if he shouldn’t be out of school yet.
There were lots of awesome rounds. 23 clears inside the time, 2 inside the time with a stop. The perfect fast going had a big effect.
There were some hairy rounds. Vittoria Panizzon’s hugely admired Borough Pennyz was getting absolutely wild in her jumping. Her launch through the Owl Hole to the bottom of the bank drew audible gasps. She nearly jumped them into jail a few times, and then blithely jumped them out again. She was fighting for her head and making things difficult for Vittoria, it wasn’t as smooth as usual.
Stefano Brecciaroli was hurrying Apollo along to stay up the leaderboard, and it showed. Ingrid rode as if her tail was on fire, but it worked. Apart from a slightly tense trip through The Lake, where the Ghost Of Their Fall showed, Tina Cook and Miners Frolic were fabulous.
The brushes in the Lake were, as I expected, really forgiving. After Sir Percival II and Francis Whittington’s early bounce-ish dive through them (momentarily terrifying, but still clear), we saw two others bounce them, Ingrid and Andrew. But afaik nobody got wet, which has to be a record, doesn’t it?
The Staircase punished those who jumped up too exuberantly, including Michael Jung on his fantastically impressive first ride Leopin (who was penalised with 20 pens while Clark Montgomery, who did the same thing on Universe but reacted faster to go to the long route at the top, was not.)
The Mirage Pond rode weirdly, horses backing suspiciously off the water splash before it, obviously expecting it to have more about it at this level, and then not making the long 1 stride distance easily. Many did it on 2. Very few did it perfectly.
The HSBC Market Place was the most influential complex on the course, claiming WFP on his first ride, Mark Todd in identical fashion, and 4 others.
There were too many superlative rides to list. I did list them, then realised there are so many that you’d probably get bored and wander off. Both The Usual Suspects and some slightly surprising names conjured truly fabulous clears out of their horses.
Hugh Thomas’ XC tested the best without annihilating the rest. Although many made it look easy I don’t think there were any for whom it was easy out there. They really had to work for it, with so many fences requiring different approaches, stride lengths, and reactions. There were a few falls but no really bad ones, and the frangible pins, which featured on far more fences than usual, did their job marvellously. The frangible-replacing team got enough practice that one onlooker told me they even managed to accomplish one change without stopping horses from running, and that it was as slick and fast “as a Formula One pit stop”.
Tomorrow… Rolex should send Michael Jung a watch for saving them a fortune if he pulls it off and denies either William or Andrew the Grand Slam. La Biostheque Sam is unquestionably THE best event horse the world has ever seen. We truly are immensely privileged to watch such a partnership in action. I heard in the Media Centre yesterday that they haven’t finished out of the top 3 in any FEI event they’ve contested since 1 in 2008. That is shockingly consistent. Maybe Michael will go for the Grand Slam himself next, if he wins.
Much as I revere both William and Andrew, much as I really really wanted to see one of them win the Rolex Grand Slam, Michael and Sam’s partnership is so incredibly special that, now that I’ve (finally) had my epiphany, I don’t want to see them beaten.
Good Luck tomorrow, Michael and Sam. I’ll be rooting for you.
All photos by Katie Mortimore