Would anyone have predicted a Jock 1-2 after the XC, and quite such a NZ whitewash, with 5 of the top 6 places, and Andrew Nicholson with 3 in the top 8?! Jonelle Richards and Sir Mark Todd are also in the top 10 for NZ, after clears with some time penalties, giving the All Blacks a hugely impressive domination of the very top of the leaderboard.
Jock’s day was not without incident: he was stopped on both horses. The first, Clifton Lush, was flagged down after doing an awkward jump at fence 6 and bashing his nose with his knee, so the Ground Jury had him stopped so that they could see where the blood was coming from. Assured that it was just a scratch, he was allowed to continue, and went clear inside the time, the only one to do so other than Andrew Nicholson on two of his rides.
On Clifton Promise, almost unbelievably, he had another blood problem, and was stopped while really motoring – in fact the horse had bitten his tongue, not for the first time. The Fence Judge at the Cottesmore Leap was waving a red flag and trying to stop him, but he didn’t see her, having come round the corner focussing totally on the fence and his stride, so he got rather close to her (or perhaps jumped her… the photos will tell the tale!) before pulling up for the horse to be examined. Again, the Ground Jury were satisfied and he was allowed to continue, finishing just one second over the time. At the Press Conference he said that the longish hold (waiting for the next rider, Buck Davidson, who fell later, to pass) had not helped the horse, as he’d lost his focus.
As so often is the case, it was left to William Fox-Pitt to fly the flag for Team GB, cruising round assuredly on Parklane Hawk for a clear with just 0.8 time penalties, for 4th place, slightly breaking the NZ stranglehold at the top. He pulled up his first ride, Neuf des Coeurs, after pulling off a shoe. Nicola Wilson, whose dressage of 43.3 on Opposition Buzz was the best he’s ever done at 3* of 4* level, did their trademark clear, including a breathtakingly huge launch over Cottesmore Leap, which made the packed crowds there gasp.
Their 7.6 time penalties have them in 9th place, now we just have to hope that he uses his awesome scope to leave the show-jumps up! Ingrid Klimke is the only other non NZ rider in the top 10, but she had an eventful round, missing her stride a couple of times and diving almost through the Cottesmore Brush in a heart-stopping moment, and their 9.2 time after these rhythm-disturbances have dropped her from 2nd place to 7th. He is not the best show-jumper, so whether he will leave all the coloured poles up tomorrow to put pressure on the top 6 is up for debate.
There were dramas and falls all day. Paul Tapner’s Kilronan fell foul of the second skinny triple brush at the Dairy Mound, his 20 pens there plus time pegging him back to 32nd place, as did Oliver Townend and Armada, down in 26th. This fence was, as predicted, influential, and quite a few riders went the long route.
Overall there were 10 Eliminations, and 6 retirements, and 46 completed out of 62 XC starters, the lowest for a very long time I suspect, the Europeans and the presence of Pau as an alternative taking their toll on entries.
With a hugely impressive 1st and 2nd placing overnight, Jock has set himself up very nicely to claim the second leg of the journey to the Rolex Grand Slam. Let’s hope that both horses are fine overnight and show-jump well, since there would not be a more popular or deserving winner, and the prospect of a Grand Slam winner gives the sport an enormous added dimension.
All photos by kind permission of Will Baxter apart from the Nicola and Buzz photo, taken by me. (Kerry Weisselberg)