Friday sees the start of 3 days of hot competition at The Festival of British Eventing presented by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA). The main class, the CIC*** British Open, will see Andrew Nicholson return in attempt to defend his crown with a string of 5 horses. Four time Barbury winner Avebury and previous open winner Nereo head the challenge, and they are joined by Hickstead Eventers’ Challenge winner Cillnabradden Evo and up-and-coming horses Ulises and Perfect Stranger. Fellow countryman Jonathan Paget aboard Clifton Lush provides an interesting statistical scenario. In 2011 in the Open, Nereo triumphed, with Avebury second and Clifton Lush 3rd. The 2012 Festival was cancelled due to bad weather but in 2013 it was Clifton Lush’s turn to head the leader board with Avebury in 6th. 2014 was Avebury’s year as he clinched the title for Andrew. Could one of these three fantastic horses win again?
The majority of the international contingent hail either from New Zealand or Australia with Sir Mark Todd, (NZB Campino), Jonelle Price (Classic Moet), Sam Griffiths (Paulank Brockagh and Happy Times) and Paul Tapner (Kilronan and Vanir Kamira) all coming forward to bid for the title. Non-British European riders are notable in their absence with only Jonty Evans (Double Dutch V) and Pietro Sandei (Inistioge Ohio & Rubis De Prere), but with the upcoming Longines FEI European Eventing Championship at Blair Castle in September, selected and short listed riders will be under strict final preparations. The British squad is well represented with seven of the twelve riders with rides in the British Eventing Open Championship, although the majority of those will be riding their second string horses that have not been selected for Blair or are direct reserves behind their top rides.
Competition in the Smith & Williamson British Intermediate Championship will be no less intense, and reigning champion William Fox-Pitt will be bidding for a hat trick following wins in 2013 and 2014 with Fernhill Pimms and Luxury FH, who both contest the British Eventing Open Championship this time. His hopes will rest in this year’s Intermediate Championship with the 10-year-old Ramdam De Mons, the winner of Tattersalls CCI2* earlier in the year. Olympic team member and two-time winner of this title, Kristina Cook, will have high hopes for Billy The Red and DHI Zancorgino, while Laura Collett will be aiming for a good performance from her two seven-year-olds, Mr Bass and Cooley Again.
The Dodson & Horrell British Novice Championship, now in its 13th year, is firmly established as a pointer towards future fame and there will be no-one keener to defend his territory than Oliver Townend, who has won this title on three different occasions. This year he has Ridire Dorcha and Sonic De Sermentol lining up. Gemma Tattersall brings the exciting 7 yo mare Santiago Bay, who finished 3rd at Barbury in the CIC** after a win in the Intermediate at Nunney and has finished only once outside the top 10 so far this season.
On Friday the first riders start in the brand new Corinthian Cup – otherwise known as the Novice Restricted National Championships, supported by Topspec. Sixty nine amateur combinations come forward, having achieved direct qualification for the finals. The Corinthian Cup, in appreciation of the late Richard Meade OBE, who was Britain’s most successful equestrian Olympian, is kindly donated by Desi Dillingham MBE in memory of her aunt, Barbara Kemp. Barbara designed and built the 1976 Summer Olympic three-day-event cross country course in Bromont, Quebec. She was the first woman in the history of the Olympics to design a course for the Games.
Stoke-on-Trent-based Cathrine Taylor (Lorelei), who finished third in this year’s BE100 Badminton Grassroots Championship, and veterinary nurse Louise Hinckley (Interlude II) are among those hoping to add their name to The Festival of British Eventing’s prestigious roll of honour.
The Festival is a spectator favourite with a good proportion of the cross country action taking place in the bowl area in front of Gatcombe House. Aside from The Festival Championship action, visitors can watch equine and human stars of the future including The Pony Club Inter Branch Team Show Jumping and this year’s arena attractions, which include the prolific Australian stunt rider The Kangaroo Kid, a dressage to music display and the ever-popular Shetland Pony Grand National.