A day, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, of triumph and disaster for sure. Triumph for the 30 that actually finished the cross country and disaster for the many eliminations, retirements and withdrawals for the other 34 dressage completions.
Tim had to head out with very little information on the track other than the scant scraps that Jonelle could pool together from the few that went ahead of him. Fiona Cashel jumped into a ditch and brush instead of over and her horse was lame so a hold on course meant Tim was held at the start. 20 minutes is a long time to hang around at the start box but Vitali had Megan and Kerryn plus two Beaufort hunt horses who were more than happy to hack around beside him and in fact Vitali became quite attached to them and behaved impeccably! Finally Tim got underway and he gave him a peach of a ride with Vitali eating up the fences and dealing with the soft and tacky going in his own incredibly brave way. Vitali never looked left or right, jumped a really super round and whilst Tim did go long at the lake to avoid the pin problem he finished looking one of the best of the day with his ears pricked and happy at the final fence. The initial disappointment at having some 24 time became somewhat irrelevant when he rose from 11th after dressage to 4th after cross county.
And that set the scene for the day. Undoubted star of the day was dressage leader Ros Canter on Lordships Graffalo who rode a fabulous round to come home with 11.6 time and put herself on 33.7 with Austin O’Connor some 9 points behind her on 42.7. Such a lead is unheard of in modern day eventing but it was a beautiful round. As was Austin’s and the very experienced Oliver Townend on Ballagmore Class rose to 3rd on 45.9.
The scenes on the screen were a bit misleading as the track looked very green and smooth but in reality, despite the green, the footprints were going in some 4 to 5 inches. It was a tough day at the office and some horses coped better than others, some got tired very quickly and some just hated the going. There is always an element of luck at 5 star and there were some unlucky falls, some not so great riding and some near misses amidst the gung ho rides and it was a day that was anything but boring for the spectators. The pins at the lake were actually not so much of a problem but two horses tried to bank the table preceding it and collapsed them leading to an automatic 11 penalties. The ground jury pulled up a clearly exhausted Swallow Springs (Oliver Townend) which was a move that certainly went down well in the riders tent but on the whole the riders abandoned the stopwatch and the minute markers and just went out and rode what they had underneath them. There were withdrawals from riders that knew today would be a step too far and some incredible rounds from horses that just showed what 5 star stalwarts they really were.
Coup de Coeur Dudevin ( Joker) didn’t get to start which was a massive disappointment for Tim but as always, Tim puts his horses first and Joker was not destined to tackle Badminton today. Vitali has proved himself yet again as one of the best cross country horses in the world and as World No. 1 Tim gave a classic display of brilliant riding in testing conditions.
And a massive shout out to the team behind him. Megan and Kerryn of course, Jonelle’s unwavering support, and the entire staff at Chedington for the build up. There was a really great Team NZ buzz today and we still have 6 to jog tomorrow which is pretty impressive!