Sarah Wells -Gaston reports..
In a dramatic climax to the fourth leg of the Event Rider Masters French rider Girog le Coz rose up the leaderboard to take victory by the narrowest of margins with Aisprit de la Loge.
With seventeen horses and riders delivering sub-30 scores, it was going to take something seriously special to take the lead. And that’s exactly what Thibaut Vallette and Qing du Briot ENE HN delivered.
Riding the enormously experienced gelding with whom he took the team gold medal at 2016’s Rio Olympics, Vallette delivered a score of 23.2, equalling their own career personal best, produced at the same venue in 2017.
“He’s a very good horse for this test,” said the French rider. “He has really good paces and he’s very quiet to ride – it’s very good. It’s very nice to be here – I was here two years ago, and I hope this will be our last round before the European Championships this summer.”
Though Vallette’s score put him well in the lead, the ground jury of Eric Lieby, Christina Klingspor, and Les Smith were happy to reward work done well across the board.
One of those combinations expected to top the leaderboard was Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Quicklook rose to the occasion with a score of 25.1 for second place.
“She came into the warm-up and she was pulling my arms out – I was like, ‘excuse me, let’s not do that!'” laughs Tattersall. “She thought she’d be sassy and feisty, but we managed to have a few little conversations – we understand each other really well, so I could get her back in the box and then release her in the ring. She’s such a show-off, and she knows her job really well,” said Tattersall.
Australia’s Bill Levett andShannondale Titan a delivered a personal best in an ERM leg, scoring a competitive 25.3 to sit in third place after the dressage.
“He’s very solid now,” said Levett. “It’s nice to go in there, and I’ve got the set-up right as I know the horse so well. He doesn’t need more than ten minutes, and he’s such a genuine horse. It’s nice to be in the mix – we’re right up there with the leaders.”
Germany’s Felix Etzel and Bandit 436 struck a fine balance in the arena, with the up-and-coming rider allowing his horse to soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the main arena without letting him bubble over. The result was a nearly foot-perfect test that earned the pair a score of 25.4, putting them in fourth place.
“He did a couple of good tests this year and this is another one,” he commented. “In the warm-up he was tense and hot, and in the beginning he was quite nervous, but I got him calm enough for the test, and he did his best. As you saw after the last halt, he’s really fresh and wants to go forward, so he’s motivated for tomorrow.”
Switzerland’s Felix Vogg rounded out a truly international top five. His impressive test with Colero earned the duo a mark of 25.8. “I didn’t expect that – it was a bit difficult in the beginning, and he spooked a bit at the camera,” he said afterwards. “But he did his best and I’m really pleased with him. He can do a really good test – he’s shown that a few times. But my feeling is still that there’s a lot more that he can do. Even his scores now, where he’s doing well – I think there’s a good future for him in this phase.”
The top 20 combinations going into the show jumping were covered by two rails meaning there was no margin for error.
Eleven combinations produced clear rounds inside the time over the poles, sending some well-placed combinations tumbling down the leaderboard and opening the door for others to begin their ascent.
Among those major movers was Germany’s Felix Etzel, who toppled two rails with Bandit 436 and dropped from fourth place to 20th. New Zealand’s Jonelle Pricedelivered a clear round just outside the optimum time to move from 14th to ninth with Grovine de Reve.
But at the conclusion of the influential show jumping phase, the top of the leaderboard remained untouched: Thibaut Vallette and Qing du Briot ENE HN had added just 1.6 time penalties to their dressage score of to end the phase on 24.8 – just 0.3 penalties ahead of Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook Vwho jumped clear.
Jardy’s course featured classic French design by Pierre Michelet.A master of creating tough and technical tracks over flat landscapes, he created a track with questions that didn’t relent until competitors had crossed the finish line.
Time proved to be one of the most influential factors on the course, which saw twenty combinations come home clear but just two finish inside the optimum time.
The two-phase leaders Thibaut Vallette and Qing du Briot ENE HN, who were last to tackle the course, dropped to tenth in the final standings with a steady round that added 12.4 time penalties, with the French rider undoubtedly having the European Championships in mind.
Britain’s Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V stormed round the cross country adding just 3.2 time faults to their score to finish on 28.3. But this wasn’t enough to snatch the win, which went to France’s Gireg le Coz, who rode Aisprit de la Logeby the narrowest of margins – just 0.1 of a penalty. Having been 11thafter the dressage, this was only the horses second attempt competing at this level having made their debut at CCI4*-S at the ERM event at Arville. And they were the only combination to finish on their dressage score – 28.2.
“I can’t believe it,” said le Coz of his victory. “My horse was amazing, from the dressage through to the end of the cross-country – he’s been so good. He’s only a nine-year-old, but he’s so honest.”
That honesty, and the horse’s careful production, allowed the pair to make light work of what could have been a sticky moment at the water: “I didn’t have the stride that I wanted, but he was very honest. He feels much more experienced now in jumping between the flags.”
Of her second place Tattersall commented “Quicklook has put in a great performance this weekend, and I’m so proud of her. There was a lot of determination on course, to be honest. She gave me a bit of a heart attack near the end of the course – I lost my steering for some reason, but we managed to stay inside the flags.”
Felix Vogg showed off his considerable experience, partnering Colero to third place after a classy, quick round saw them add just four-time penalties to their 25.8 dressage.
“I think I have a pretty good horse – it was his first outing again after a big event,” explains the Swiss rider. “I didn’t expect this result when I came here – there are so many good riders and good horses, so I’m very happy.”
Last year’s winner Alex Bragg delivered one of the two double-clears of the day to finish fourth, with Alcatraz.
After the fourth leg of the series Jonelle Price heads the leaderboard with 67 points – who was sixth with Grovine de Reve – ahead of Bill Levett – who finished in ninth at Jardy – on 60 points and Chris Burton on 54 points. The fifth leg of the series heads to Millstreet (23rdand 24thAugust).