Six rides for Tim over the weekend and just one for Jonelle at The Festival of British Eventing. It has been missing from the calendar for the last couple of years so it felt even better than usual as it is an event with a unique feel to it and one of those events that requires talented riding and a ‘special’ type of horse. Riders and horses alike either love it or hate it but on a weekend like this with plenty of hot sunshine around nothing symbolises English summer more than Gatcombe!
Jarillo ( Milo) was in the Novice Championship and he was very early on in the draw and did dressage on Friday which Tim was delighted with. He said that Milo felt on brilliant form and that he was possibly penalised for going early in such a big class as it was a lovely flowing test and he though high twenties but his score of 30 was just a little disappointing.
Viscount Viktor was in the Intermediate Champs and that is run as an advanced class so he had to contend with things like canter half pass in a test situation for the first time. Tim was happy with him too and said he tried very hard and only made one mistake but felt the judges were really hard on him! He scored 33 which was a little frustrating but there is plenty more to do.
Saturday started early for Tim with a busy day in store. Milo jumped an immaculate round in the Novice Champs and then flew up and down Gatcombe’s steep and challenging track with consummate ease. He picked up just 3.2 time to slot into 8th place in a very competitive field and clearly declared himself a Gatcombe lover. It was great experience for him and he really did put up a great performance in his first major event with proper crowds….Houghton isn’t quite on the same level for spectators as they are usually too cold to hang around.
Viktor had the tough showjumping track…just Tom McEwen, who was the eventual winner of the class, and one other finisher jumped clear in Gatcombe’s notoriously difficult main arena. The warm up is fairly cramped and on the side of the hill and the main arena is a proper championship arena with a slope and undulations and a huge crowd swirling around. It’s really atmospheric after the quiet of the lorry park and the dressage arenas up at the top and Viktor did well to just topple the two rails which much of the rest of the class did as well. For most of these horses its also their first advanced track so add on a couple of extra inches as well and its quite the test.
Viktor is a true out and out classy cross country horse and unsurprisingly he ate up the testing track and loved his first advanced. Tim had a super ride and having added just 3.6 time he shot up some 10 places into 5th spot. That’s a pretty special Gatcombe debut and I think Viktor has ticked the “I’m loving it” box as well.
The third Championship horse for Tim is the very experienced Vitali who is running in the British Open. He did his dressage this afternoon and literally ponced around to take the lead with a well deserved 23. He leads a select field of 19 horses with the jumping phases to come tomorrow.
Jonelle’s sole ride this weekend is Classic Moet (Molly) who has an incredible record at Gatcombe…she won in 2019 and was second in 2015. Several pre rides came and went before her test and then she executed a very nice one until the last two changes weren’t clean and then she decided to bolt down the centre line and just get the job finished as fast as possible. She sits on 32 in 13th position and was as happy as Larry gazing into the middle distance of one of her very favourite events.
Tim had three OI rides as well today and it was a slick team of staff headed up by Kerryn Edmans that kept his horses coming to all the phases in the correct order and turned out beautifully. They were all on song as well and Tim was enthusiastic in his praise for the work done on the ground and said ‘they have dropped tonnes of water on it and it really shows”.
Polystar (Nero) is 17 and he is heading to Burghley and Tim is notoriously careful about when and where he runs him. He felt Burgham was too much on the firm side and was hoping for a start here this weekend as they have so much experience between them but so little together! Strzegom 4L is a very different kettle of fish to Burghley and after leading the dressage in his section on a 26, a simply immaculate show jumping round in the main arena ( Tim describes him as being “like liquid mercury he’s so smooth”) he decided to let him run and despite adding 15 time faults he still wound up 5th. Chris Burton won the big class with him here in 2018 and watching him today was just pure class. He is a beautiful horse and a class act and he could be the one to watch at Burghley this year for sure. A 5 star win is something a horse like him deserves.
Total Belief (April) and Tim are still forming a partnership and a 32.3 in Nero’s section left them a little down the order but a great showjumping round with just the out of the double down moved them up the field. She seemed to decide that she was suddenly over bitted and got a bit tricky in the hand but she is a powerful scopey jumper and found the track very easy. She scooted around the cross country with her big gallop stride eating up the ground to come home just 1 second over for 4th spot and edged ahead of her stable mate Nero.
Star of the day award goes to Gurtera Jimmy Clover. Not only did he bag a win but he did in in style with a 27.5 dressage, a clear round in the showjumping and just 2.4 time to add. It’s nice that owner Michael McGrath was over from Ireland to see it and you just have to hand it to Jimmy for being a total grafter. He isn’t a flashy warmblood, he isn’t the first horse you pick out in the field but his attitude to work is worth ten times all of that because he just puts his head down and gets the job done. He is turning into the yard banker and Tim has done a fabulous job of training him but you cant give them the attitude to win… they have to be born with that.
Tomorrow sees Molly and Vitali go head to head in the British Open in front of what will be a huge crowd. It’s full on summer with brown grass everywhere but that ribbon of green around Gatcombe Park will be very welcome to the horses and riders in the big class.