There is an air of anticipation at this year’s Equitrek Bramham International Horse trials as in four weeks time Team GB’s selectors will make the announcement of which eventers will be heading to the Rio Olympics. Bramham is realistically the final chance for combinations in contention to positively influence the selector’s decision as the announcement date falls prior to Barbury, which has traditionally been the final viewing trial.
Temperatures soared in Yorkshire for the first day of competition on Thursday as the CIC*** and the two CCI*** competitions got under way. All competitors in the ‘normal’ CIC*** section performed their dressage on Thursday infront of the dressage jury of Sue Baxter, Ernst Topp and James Rooney. Nine combinations broke the 70% barrier but only one of those, Pia Munker of Germany riding Louis M, was able to achieve a sub 40 penalty score, posting 39.3. GB squad member at last year’s Blair European championships Holly Woodhead aboard DHI Lupison was hot on her heels though, finishing on 40 penalties, with James Rooney (Judge at B) putting her ahead of Pia. Finishing in 3rd after dressage on 42.6 is Kitty King on the hugely impressive Ceylor LAN who will be keen to prove to the selectors that Ceylor’s starting issues at Chatsworth, which cost them the win, were a one off.
The top 10 is a distinctly British affair with the on form Gemma Tattersall sitting in 4th and 5th with Olympic prospect Chico Bella P and Quicklook V. Kristina Cook (6th Billy the Red), Pippa Funnell (7th Billy the Biz) and Flora Harris (9th Bayano) are all on 70% scores as well. Paul Tapner (8th Yogi Bear VII) and Tim Price (10th Bango) and of course Pia, ensured the top 10 wasn’t a total British whitewash though at this early stage. Several other potential team GB contenders are currently sitting within the top 20, but they will need to produce outstanding jumping performances to impress the selectors considering it is expected that all the main German team contenders will produce 70%+ scores at the Olympics never mind strong jumping performances.
The CCI*** line up is much more of an international affair with competitors from 13 nations taking part. Thursday’s dressage competitors enjoyed the glorious sunshine with Australian Sammi Birch defying an early draw to take a commanding lead overnight aboard Hunter Valley II on a score of 38.7. Lauren Shannon produced a personal best score at the level from her ride Quality Purdey. The 10yo mare achieved three top ten finishes at CIC*** level last season but has yet to complete at CCI*** so will be looking for a good run tomorrow. Third overnight was Oliver Townend riding the Ekstein sired 11yo gelding Sandiman II on 43.1. e-Venting blogger Charlotte Brear was able to produce a personal best test of 59 at this level from Siren (Manors Missile), and now looks forward to giving their best shot at the cross country.
As a new day dawned the weather changed with the local area even coming under a met office weather warning for rain. Although the cooler temperatures were preferable for some the heavier showers left many somewhat on the soggy side! The higher scores though still came through thick and fast with Nicola Wilson producing an impressive result early this morning to sit in eventual 3rd place going into the cross country on Baluna on a score of 40.4. Nicola is particularly excited about this 10 year old mare who is constantly gaining in strength. The pair won the CCI*** at Boekelo at the end of last season, but Nicola isn’t resting on her laurels as she describes tomorrow’s XC test as a serious challenge with questions around every corner. Sam Griffiths was the next to slot in to the final dressage top 10 aboard Angelo IV for eventual 7th position on 42.5.
There was then a notable wait for another top 10 score until Oliver Townend entered the arena on MHS King Joules and produced by far a personal best for this horse a score of 37.9 to take the lead. MHS King Joules has a somewhat mixed history at Bramham, in 2014 with his breeder and producer Mary King on board, he was retired mid XC after narrowly escaping a rotational fall saved only by a frangible pin. Mary gave up the ride at this point as the gelding as she struggled to achieve the level of control she wanted from him at the level and he was sent to Andrew Nicholson. In 2015, with Andrew having come to an agreement with King Joules regarding braking they finished 13th here in the CCI*** with a solid double clear, but with Andrew’s fall at Gatcombe leaving him out of action for some time King Joules moved to Oliver. They have obviously gelled well with strong results this season especially, if they can produce a strong jumping performance combined with the dressage improvement they could well have an outside chance of a team place. Speaking in the press conference Oliver was pleased that MHS King Joules was able to produce the test he knew he was capable of, but echoing other competitors was clear that he doesn’t believe it will be a dressage competition saying Ian Stark is testing the boundaries of 3* questions.
Soon after Oliver, Sammi Birch (The Court Jester), Andrew Nicholson (Jet Set IV) and Ibby MacPherson (Ballingowan Diamond) all produced 70%+ scores to slot into eventual 3rd, 5th and 9th places respectively. Best placed Irish Rider is Aoife Clark who currently sits in 16th on Wasting Light.
Running alongside the senior competition is the U25 CCI*** which is well known for highlighting future senior talents. The leader after dressage is Tom McEwen aboard the talented 9yo Toledo De Kerser on a score of 40.4. The horse is apparently a ‘complete fruit loop’ at home to the point he can’t be jumped at Tom’s base but is a superstar away from home and always rises to the occasion. Emily King aboard Charlemagne sits in second on a score 43.9 whilst Bert Bolton riding Purple Sands is in third on 46.6.
Last but by certainly not least of the sections running at Bramham is the second leg of the innovative Event Riders Masters CIC***. The event is streaming all three phases live on the Event Masters Website and has once again attracted a top class field from ten nations. It was most likely not a surprise to most that American Clark Montgomery aboard Loughan Glen finished the day in the lead on 36.5 despite an error of course in the walk. Loughan Glen’s dressage is always impressive and 2015 saw a particular purple patch for the combination which included three international wins. Bill Levett riding Shannondale Titan was Clark’s closest rival after dressage and the only other combination to achieve a sub 40 score this time of 39. Alex Hau Tian who sits in third on Don Geniro on a score of 40.1. Alex will be hoping for a better showjumping performance tomorrow than at the first leg at Chatsworth where they picked up 24 penalties. Although not the most careful showjumper, Don Geniro has previously jumped clear at three star level so is capable.
The top ten continues the international theme with French rider Maxime Livo and Pica D’or who will be hoping to repeat Astier Nicholas’ French victory in the first leg at Chatsworth. The French won’t though be able to repeat the podium whitewash of Chatsworth as their only other representative this time is Astier who this time rides Carole Broad’s Molakai. The British are well represented in the top ten with Nicola Wilson (Annie Clover) and Pippa Funnell (Mirage D’Elle) joint 6th on 42.3. Izzy Taylor (Be touchable) is in equal 8th alongside New Zealander Caroline Powell on 42.9 and Ros Canter on Allstar B sit in 10th on 43.3.
The showjumping for the Event Riders Masters starts tomorrow at 8:30am and can be watched live on eventridermasters.tv/watch/bramham-park . The results after showjumping will then determine the cross country order where the top 20 ride in reverse order with the leading rider starting last to ensure a nail-biting finale.