Sarah Wells-Gaston reports …
An action-packed weekend of eventing at the Magic Millions Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park saw two British riders reclaim their championship titles and three new champions crowned.
The Festival of British Eventing is a key fixture on the British Eventing calendar. From the Topspec Challenge for the Corinthian Cup – a Novice championship for amateur riders, all the way through to the Magic Million British Open Championship at CCI4*-S level, the event is a real showcase for eventing and attracts the world’s best riders.
Francis Whittington produced an accomplished performance on Sarah Arrowsmith’s Brother Bertie to defend his Dodson & Horrell British Novice Championship title, the first to be awarded over the weekend.
Brother Bertie has won at all levels up to Intermediate, and is now competing at CC13* level, and was competed at The Festival in the 2017 TopSpec Challenge for The Corinthian Cup by his owner, who decided to hand the ride to Whittington due to pressure of travelling for work. Whittington first competed the horse at Eridge last July with the pair making a strong start to their partnership with a win at Novice level. The pair were one of two combinations to make the optimum time which saw them finish on their dressage score of 30.2.
“He covers the ground like no other He’s balanced and you don’t have to fight him; he thinks quickly and adjusts.”
William Fox-Pitt came close in second placed with Grafennacht with Vittoria Panizzon taking third with Gebaliaretto.
Tom McEwen reclaimed the Smith & Williamson Intermediate title he won 12 months ago leading from start to finish with Dreamaway II. Adding just 8.4 time penalties to their dressage score of 27.2 they finished on a score of 35.6 – 6.4 penalties ahead of their nearest rival.
McEwen, who is based at Gatcombe, commented of Dreamaway II (who is owned by Ken and Barbara Cooper): “He’s a beautiful horse. I didn’t push him on the cross country too much as this is a big step up for him, but he is very balanced and can change his stride quite quickly. It was amazing to win last year and to come back again and win I didn’t think was really possible.
There was a poignant presentation made in memory of one of the sport’s most dedicated grooms, Karen Hughes, who spent part of her career at Gatcombe Park, working for Australian Olympian Andrew Hoy. The Karen Hughes Memorial Grooms Award went to Lucy Seddon, who looks after Dreamaway ll.
Harry Meade came close to winning his first national title, finishing second in the Intermediate Championship on Red Kite, an eight-year-old who has been with Meade since he was four-years-old and is wwned by Alexandra Robinson and Nigella Hall.
“He’s a bit spooky, but has an amazingly rangy gallop. I have to play a bit of a mental game with him and count to ten when he spooks, but I think he is a proper horse for the future.”
Third place went to Tom Rowland and Very Good Tempo, owned by Naomi Watkins. It was a solid performance from the pair who have recently moved up to competing at Advanced classes, coming third at Aston le Walls.
In the feature Magic Millions British Open Championships, Izzy Taylor had set the pace in the dressage with Monkeying Around 23.3. But the small field of 19 was closely packed behind her and when she decided to withdraw before the show jumping, any faults incurred would be influential.
When it came to the cross country, New Zealand’s Jonelle Price set the pace running early on in proceedings of the 15 who started out. The pair, who won Badminton in 2018 and were seventh after the first two phases, were just 10 seconds over the optimum time and only adding four-time faults Price set the benchmark for everybody else to beat with her score of 35.6.
Ben Hobday and Shadow Man II won the Novice Championships here in 2017, and were the penultimate combination to go cross country. They came close to Price finishing 29 seconds over the time but with 11.6time faults, they dropped in behind Price with a three-phase score of 37.8.
Funnell looked like the title was within her grasp, having a superb round with Billy Walk On. But a run out at fence 23 ended her chances of victory. She was not the only rider to have problems around Captain Mark Phillips Course. World Number One Tim Price incurred two run-outs with Luhmühlen winner Xavier Faer at fence 6a, and Oliver Townend, retired Ulises after a refusal late on in the course. Australia’s Sam Griffiths and Britain’s Francis Whittington both had falls, although both riders and their horses were none-the-worse.
Of her victory Price commented;
“It’s a quintessential British event. I’ve never won here before. It is Classic Moet’s cup of tea and vital Burghley preparation. I’ve had a quiet year with her so I’m delighted to have her here, to put in such a good performance in all three phases and to nab the win. I was kicking myself about having a rail down in the show jumping and I wanted to have a cut. Mark Phillips is getting very clever at slowing us down. I knew that fast riders like Oliver, Burto and Tim were coming next, so I had to crack on. I thought there was a chance that somebody might get it. Classic Moet showed all of her experience and speed to do what she did today. Classic Moet feels better than ever – this has been the perfect preparation for Burghley.”
In taking second place Hobday claimed his first British National title. He commented:
“I’m very proud of the horse. I’ve always thought he was a world class horse. You really have to know your horse because the terrain is tough. I could hear that a few riders had had run-outs and that took the pressure off me. He’s a fantastic horse and does everything I ask of him. It was a bit of a surprise that we were national champion but it’s an absolute bonus.
Nick Lucey and Proud Courage finished in third place, also collecting a saddle from the Worshipful Company of Saddlers as the best under-25 rider. This result is one of his most notable to date. Lucey commented: “It was a great weekend. He was spectacular cross country – it was one of the best I have had on him, and to come third in the Open Championships is just a phenomenal result.”
Prior to challenging for top spot in the British Open, Funnell dominated the Advanced class with Majas Hope, winning by eight penalties. The pair have been named as a reserve for the European Championships but are also entered for Burghley next month. Funnell looked determined on the cross country finishing with 14.8 time faults.
“I often take too many pulls and ride like a 50-year-old, but he’s such a fantastic horse that I felt I must give it a crack. Cross country courses like this are what eventing is all about – they teach you to sit up and the horses to balance and are invaluable experience as well as being the perfect fitness preparation for Burghley.”
Ashley Harrison finished second on Zebedee lX – having the fastest round on the cross country – with Emma Hobday third on Shadow Puppet.
Kristina Cook won the RoR/NTF Retrained Racehorse Event Championship on David Cricket. This marked Cook’s first championship win at the Festival with the pair leading from start to finish. David Cricket ran three times for Alan King before Cook took on the job of giving the horse a second career. She hopes to take the young horse to the World Young Horse Championships at Le Lion.
The RoR/NTF Retrained Racehorse Event Championship runs as an Intermediate Novice meaning combinations undertake an intermediate dressage and show jumping test but run at Novice cross country height.The top 10 after cross country are invited back to show jump again the following day.
“He loves his new life. I think the fact that he hasn’t run very much on the racecourse has meant he is much more straightforward. His only weakness is learning the correct show jumping technique, but that is only to be expected. I’m thrilled with him.”
Jodie Amos was second on Ballyvaughn with Harriet Colderick third on Watergate Bay. Fifth placed Tom McEwen, riding Dream Big, won the Mike Tucker Memorial Trophy as the highest-placed local rider.
Saskia Davies led from start to finish to take victory in TopSpec Challenge for the Corinthian Cup on Singing Usk, who she has owned him for seven years. The pair finished on a score of 30.3.
This means everything to me. Having been sixth here last year I thought I have to come back and do better. To be leading after the dressage was a dream for me. I was pushing for the time and my horse just flew. He didn’t question anything. It’s very special being here at The Festival, to gallop along the same track as the four-star horses. This competition really gives us amateurs something to aim for and look forward to.
Anna Stillwell finished second on Rhode Island 19 and Sophie Byford was third on Handsome.
The Dodson & Horrell Arena Eventing at gave more amateur riders the chance to compete at the same prestigious event. The 90cm class boasted 47 entries and victory went to Anna Wiles and Ryan. Second went to Anna Dunford and My Spirit. Third place was Lily Clarke aboard Camills Muriel. Twenty-eight competitors took part in the 100cm class the winner was Emma Horton-Smith riding All About Albert, second place went to Anita Brackstone aboard Ballylusk Star Rebel and third position was taken by Alice Sandiford riding Sandstone Scalpings.
Eventing superstars of the future were also in action during the Festival of British Eventing in the Dubarry Burghkey Young Event Horse qualifiers. Tom McEwen was the winner in the Five-Year-Old class with MHS Popstar, who is now competing at Novice level. Owned by Mr and Mrs Fred Barker, the 17.0hh bay gelding by OBOS Quality had a winning score of 92. Annabel Scrimgeour, judge of the final phase, said “he is a big mover with a lovely loose action.”
The winner of the Four-Year-Old qualifier was Steve Heal riding Klabatsoe, a young horse only just starting out in his eventing career. Heal also finished in second place in the Five-Year-Old class with Quidam De Lux – who has five British Eventing wins to his name this season and has qualified for the British Young Horse Championships at Osberton, and now heads to the final at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials with both horses, owned by CG Eventing.
Images courtesy fo Hannah Cole Photography