Great Britain’s Piggy French jumped two spectacular clear rounds to finish first and third in the principal CCI4*-L class at SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials on Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry’s Brookfield Inocent and Susanna Paybody’s Castletown Clover.
She had already show jumped clear on fifth-placed Castletown Clover when she entered the arena, to a tense hush, on Brookfield Inocent, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Inocent x Shalies Pet), knowing that she could not even be one second over time, let alone have a fence down, if she was to beat Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto, who had jumped a masterful clear round on Brookpark Vikenti.
“Everyone keeps saying how well I’ve been doing this season, but I still couldn’t jump a clear round when it matters,” said French, who last won at Blenheim in 2011. “Now I’ve done two! I was wondering what I should do differently but in the end I just tried to stay in my bubble. Both horses were in amazing form.”
French won Badminton earlier this season, finished second at Burghley two weeks ago, and was part of Britain's silver medal-winning team at the recent European Championships.
This is the second time in three years that Kazuma Tomoto has been runner-up at Blenheim, by the tiniest of margins, but he was sporting in defeat.
“Piggy is the best rider in the world so I knew I could never catch her,” he said, “but having results like this really does give me confidence for the Olympics in 2020.”
Australia’s Sammi Birch, whose clear round on Direct Tullyoran Cruise elevated her five places to ninth, could also have an Olympic possibility on her hands.
“I’ve only had the mare for six months and she’s a funny little thing – she can be really feisty, but she is a proper competition horse,” said Sammi. “I came here thinking a top-10 finish might be possible, so to be fourth is fantastic.”
New Zealander Andrew Nicholson also benefited from a clear, rising from 11th to fifth on the Spanish-bred As Is.
“He is amazing for an 8-year-old – I’ve never had one like him before. He’s so settled in his temperament as well as talented. I’m lucky to have him.”
Four-time Blenheim winner Pippa Funnell just hit the penultimate fence on the impressive Billy Walk On to drop from fourth to sixth place.
There were 14 clear showjumping rounds from the 57 finishers, but the time was tight and only eight were completely penalty-free. The top three horses – two of them Piggy French’s – finished on their dressage scores.
None of the U.S. contingent managed to show jump clear. Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico, her own 10-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Monte Bellini x W-Sally), dropped two rails and picked up 1.2 time penalties to fall from sixth to 17th place.
Buck Davidson and Carlevo had one rail down and added two time penalties. The Carlevo LLC’s 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Euroxommerce Caresino x Ramatuelle) actually moved up the leaderboard though to finish in 27th.
Cornelia Dorr and Sir Patico MH, her own 13-year-old Zweibrucker gelding (Sempatico M x Queen’s Little XX) finished in 42nd place with two rails and two time penalties.
Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF Z, the 9-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Chico’s Boy x Chardonnay Z), added a total of 19.6 show jumping penalties to end in 55th place.
CCI4*-S 8/9-year-old class
The brilliant Australian horseman Christopher Burton joined an elite group of riders to have twice won the prestigious SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials CCI4*-S class for 8- and 9-year-old horses.
On the last occasion, in 2017 on Cooley Lands, he won by a 10th of a second; this time Burton was untouchable by a nearly seven-penalty margin, finishing exactly on the optimum cross-country time on a horse he was competing for the very first time.
He was quick to thank Dr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Guy who just a month ago purchased the 9-year-old Clever Louis by Cyrkon from Germany, where he had been produced by young rider Ben Leuwer in Dirk Schrade’s yard.
“I’m absolutely delighted to have the horse,” said Burton, who is aiming to secure an Olympic qualification at Boekelo next month. “He’s got a lot of Thoroughbred blood, which is why I wanted him, and he’s very honest across country.
“My good friend [New Zealand rider] Tim Price told me that, with the rain, I would need to add a few strides at some fences and that proved really useful advice.”
Gemma Tattersall, 23rd after the first two phases on Chilli Knight, was the only other rider to achieve the optimum time and headed the leaderboard for a long time before being eventually pushed into third place by Christopher and the runner-up, Tom McEwen on Dreamaway ll.
McEwen, who had show jumped clear on the handsome grey, winner of the British Intermediate national title at the Festival of British Eventing last month, could afford 5.6 time penalties to slip just ahead of Gemma.
“I’m hugely excited about this horse,” he said. “He’s got all three phases in spades and has shown me he’s got the heart for the job. He now loves the cross-country, he looks for the flags and enjoys the crowds. Being runner-up in a competition like this is a real accolade.”
William Fox-Pitt, who has won this class twice before, was joint leader after the first two phases with Christopher Burton, but decided to withdraw Georgisaurous.
Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver, the Monster Partnership’s 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Womanizer x Kylemore Crystal, added 16.8 time penalties to finish the weekend in 35th place.
The competition, an innovation from 2009, has often been a pointer to great things: three former winners – Land Vision (Mark Todd), Oslo (William Fox-Pitt) and Quimbo (Andrew Nicholson) - have gone on to five-star victories.
That concludes a highly successful SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials 2019, most of which was conducted in glorious sunshine.
Event Director Mandy Hervieu said: “We’ve had bumper crowds all weekend, fantastic weather and a really exciting competition. I am very proud of the volunteer team, who have worked their socks off to pull off an amazing event. The outside officials couldn’t praise enough the efforts of the different teams here in all areas, which is great to hear.”
Find the final scores here.
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