It was another superb day of competition at The Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe. Today was the culmination of the Smith & Williamson Intermediate Championships and the British Eventing Open Championships.
The result of the Intermediate Championships was not decided until the last possible moment as William Fox-Pitt riding Catherine Witt’s lovely grey Luxury FH were the last combination to go on the cross country. William had a cushion of 7 penalties and he used most of that cushion when coming home with 5.6 time penalties in front of Ian Wills on Say I Do to finish on a final score of 32.
William Fox-Pitt described his winner as a clever horse, one who could work things out and went better if he was given time to think. Luxury FH, by Vechta, was originally a Fernhill horse, sourced by Carol Gee as a 4yo and started by Duarte Seabra. Luxury FH arrived with William two years ago and last year he did a one star in Ireland and then did not run in the Young Horse Championships at Le Lion due to William’s bad back. This year he was 2nd in the two star at Tattersalls.
When describing this horse William said ‘he’s a winner but because he is a big horse he has taken time to grow up and there is still more to develop.’ He thinks the horse is still ‘a bit babyish’ though he always tries. Luxury FH thinks ‘life is a laugh’, is spooky and will buck and play – ‘he still tends to buck after warming up over the cross country fences, overall he is a cheeky horse.’ William said that it was good for him to come into the imposing Gatcombe arena to show jump and that he probably looked at every spectator while jumping. Luxury FH has not done an advanced so today was a step up but William felt he was ready. Luxury FH ‘was good at Tattersalls and keeps making the step up’. William explained that his owner Catherine Witt has been very understanding about this horse needing the time to show his ability.
He thinks the horse is still ‘a bit babyish’ though he always tries. Luxury FH thinks ‘life is a laugh’, is spooky and will buck and play – ‘he still tends to buck after warming up over the cross country fences, overall he is a cheeky horse.’ William said that it was good for him to come into the imposing Gatcombe arena to show jump and that he probably looked at every spectator while jumping. Luxury FH has not done an Advanced so today was a step up but William felt he was ready. Luxury FH ‘was good at Tattersalls and keeps making the step up’. William explained that his owner Catherine Witt has been very understanding about this horse needing the time to show his ability.
William Fox-Pitt admitted that he was concerned on Friday about the state of the ground, but the rain which came on Saturday meant the going was good. William thought that the Gatcombe course was a good track but that the Folly did not jump as well as it should have, and that the road crossing is always tricky. When asked about Chilli Morning, William said he was pleased with him at Aachen and that it was a good outing, and the biggest atmosphere that Chilli had seen since Malmo. Chilli has come out of Aachen well and he will look either at having a quiet prep run or cross country school, depending on the ground and weather. Bay My Hero and Parklane Hawk also feel good. Parklane Hawk was due to run at Hartpury, but with no rain being expected he will probably only do the dressage and the showjumping. Finally, when asked about medal chances at WEG, William admitted that they are going to give it a good go and that they are definitely not going in as favourites.
Second place went to Ian Wills on Say I Do by Obos Quality. Say I Do is a 10yo who Ian has had since he was five years old. Ian admitted he was entertaining and challenging at times. This was the first clear round he had done this year in the show jumping and Ian conceded it was good timing. Ian said that you always hope you are going to be competitive enough especially as the horse has become more consistent on the flat and he is a good jumper but you need luck even though the horse has previously done a 27 in an advanced. The only slightly iffy moment came at the Landrover Folly but Ian said that in the end it paid off because it set him up to be quicker coming down the hill. Ian said he has too many horses of his own and ‘breeds like a fool!’ The aim for this horse will be a 3*, hopefully Blenheim.
Third place went to Tim Price on Bango by Garrison Royal. Bango is owned by a syndicate and Tim first met the horse when he was doing some breaking for Donal Barnwell. Tim really liked the horse and persuaded the syndicate to buy him. Bango has taken a while to mature but Tim feels he has ‘tipped the balance now’. The horse is a bit of a character but felt great and Tim thinks he is a ‘proper one for the future’. The horse will now probably go to Hartpury as he is young and still needs the mileage.
Surprise of the day was Andrew Nicholson falling off Urma BK at the last element of the Landrover Folly. The horse looked as if it wanted to chip an extra stride in, and they ended up wrong at the corner with Andrew Nicholson coming off.
There were a couple of horses who impressed. Sula Blue is a 12yo stallion by Sula Bula. Sula Blue is a full Throughbred and looks like a stallion who would add blood to warmblood or heavier mares. We do not have many good thoroughbred sport horse stallions who are actually out there and doing the job well.
The Winter King, by Weston Justice, ridden by Ruth Edge looked very impressive round the cross country and is capable of a good test, but had two fences down show jumping, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to improve as he looks a great prospect, and Pamero looks an exciting ride for Laura Collett.
The finale of the day was the British Eventing Open Championships. The showjumping was held in the morning with the cross country being run in reverse order. Showjumping clears were rare with the biggest drop down the leaderboard being that of Mark Todd on Oloa who had four fences down. The two best placed after dressage were Francis Whittington on Easy Target and Andrew Nicholson on Avebury , who both jumped super rounds to keep the pressure up before the cross country.
Unusually on a cross country where so much pressure is placed on the last few riders, the only one who seemed to make a mistake was Andrew Hoy on Cheeky Calimbo who picked up a 20. All the other riders were cool under pressure, and apart from Beanie Sturgis’ fall the course caused very few problems for this experienced field. In the end Andrew Nicholson picked up the win on Avebury for owner Rosemary Barlow, ahead of Francis Whittington, by virtue of the time faults that Francis accrued. Louise Harwood continued with her good season in 3rd with a strong showing on Whitson, justifying the reserve place she has been given for WEG. Lucy Wiegersma was 4th on the continuing to improve Mr Chunky, and Paul Tapner was 5th on Indian Mill.
Andrew Nicholson thought on Friday that the ground seemed hard, but after the rain yesterday he made the decision that it was good enough to run on. Andrew was sporting a black eye courtesy of his fall earlier in the day on Urma BK. Andrew admitted it did feel like it was a heavy fall. When talking about Avebury he said he was a very consistent horse but he is cheeky so you never trust him 100%. Today he added an extra stride at the Landrover Folly just to help this and popped the box and had five strides to the corner. The horse felt secure throughout his run and is a very economical horse who does not waste any time. Andrew was reasonably confident about making the time. Andrew also had a good result finishing 7th on his preferred WEG ride Nereo who he described as a very different horse who you think you are going fast on, but the canter often gets rounder.
In second place was Francis Whittington on Catherine Witt’s horse Easy Target. He was ruing the time penalties he picked up cross country.
Francis admitted he was over the moon with ‘Smokey’ as he was focused and listening particularly in the dressage, and he believes he is closer to getting a dressage score in the early 30s at FEI level. Francis said he was disappointed that over the whole course he lost a few seconds here and there which ultimately added up to his 4.4 time faults. One of these places was a stumble up the step at fence 3. Francis says he can pinpoint where exactly he lost those few seconds. Francis said that ‘Smokey has a gallop and it’s my job as his rider to sustain that as he does not have a sprint. You have got to manage the rhythm and look to conserve the seconds.’ Francis said he was pleased with how consistent the horse has been and cannot fault him. Francis said ‘Badminton was the correct decision for the horse (he pulled up at Huntman’s Close while still clear) and he has come out of the experience in flying form which has been shown in the last few runs’.
Francis was asked about not being selected for the reserve list for WEG and he admitted that he was disappointed especially as there are horses on that list who have done less.
Easy Target will now go to Blenheim and consolidate with the hope that he can be seriously competitive.
Louise Harwood was in 3rd with the incredibly consistent Whitson. Louise said she was enjoying an excellent weekend at Gatcombe and was enjoying the season with Whitson, who has not been out of the rosettes this year apart from a blip at Salperton which Louise blamed on rider error. Whitson is a lovely horse who was bred by Roy Baker who started him out hunting. Louise described him as being like a big armchair to ride. When asked about being on the WEG reserve list, Louise said she was thrilled and that this was what every rider aimed for even though the horse had not actually gone 4* yet.
The prize for the best under 25 rider offered by the Horse Trials Support Group and went to Becky Woolven on LB the Phantom. This rider is in her first season at 3* and had an impressive round. Becky said that her good run at Barbury gave her the confidence before coming along for the Open here at Gatcombe. Becky said the course was filled with lots of skinnies and corners but the horse never gave her a minute’s doubt as he stayed straight at everything. Becky was thrilled with her result and is looking to aim LB the Phantom at Blenheim. Becky had a good weekend with a strong showing in the Intermediate Championships as well on her other horse. Both of them are over 17hh and Becky herself is not that tall, so a testimony to the partnership she has with both horses.
Special mention goes to Opposition Buzz who looked incredible. He skipped round the cross country to be inside the time and Nicola said it is very likely that he will go to Blair CIC3* for his next run. Nicola admitted that they take it day by day with him but she looked thrilled with how well this very special horse had gone at Gatcombe.
Paul Tapner had the best timed ride of the day on Indian Mill and managed to stop the clock bang on the optimum time.