A foot-perfect cross-country round kept 24-year-old Bella Innes-Ker at the head of the standings in the CCI3* at the Ssanyong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials going into the final day.
Bella, who was 15th last year on the Duchess of Roxburghe’s mare, Carolyn, was particularly thrilled because she had achieved the optimum time for the first time at three-star, long-format level.
“It’s a dream come true – in fact, I’m speechless,” she said, revealing that she has been working hard with British team trainer Christopher Bartle. “Carolyn was catlike and helped me out and the combination fences just came up like a dream.”
However, she does not have a fence in hand over two vastly experienced riders in Pippa Funnell, a record four-time winner at Blenheim, who is in second place with Jonathan and Jane Clark’s MGH Grafton Street, and world number one Oliver Townend on Paul and Diana Ridgeon’s Ulises.
Oliver said: “He’s very fast and has endless gallop, like half-brother Armada – he made it feel very easy; he could have gone round twice. If he comes out of this well, he’ll be ready to step up to CCI4* next spring.”
William Fox-Pitt, another former winner, is in fourth place on the strapping dark bay Oratorio, a horse he describes as “pure class – he doesn’t know the meaning of tired, which is exhausting for my age!”
Kitty King has been third after the dressage with Ceylor LAN, but retired on cross country having had 20 penalties at the second element of Fence 4.
Australia’s Amanda Ross, the only overseas rider in the top 10, on the ex-racehorse Koko Popping Candy, who lie in fifth place.
Riders were full of praise for the footing on David Evans’s track, which rode well with 64 clear rounds, 20 inside the optimum time, and 78 completions. A thrilling day is in store tomorrow, as the price of one fence covers the riders placed second to eighth.
Laura Collett holds first and second places on Dacapo and London 52 in the CIC*** for eight and nine year olds. Two clear rounds boosted her from fourth and fifth after the dressage. Pippa Funnell jumped in to third place with Maybach having been in sixth after dressage. Time tomorrow will be decisive as 0.5 penalties covers the top three placings.
First phase leaders James Avery and Vitali slipped to seventh place after hitting the middle part of the treble and incurring two time faults.
Images courtesy of Hannah Cole Photography