Lead image: Classic Moet and Jonelle. Credit Sally Spickard https://eventingnation.com
Wow it was a day packed with excitement from the off and when Jonelle set out as trailblazer on Grappa Nera ( Grape) we knew it was a tough test as Grape went pretty green on her, despite a really positive ride, at the first water which comes up real quick at fence 4 and then for a couple of combinations afterwards. But Grape is nothing if not tough and to her immense credit she got better and better the further she went. No doubt that Jonelle gave her a peach of a ride, using all of her experience to help Grape gain her own insights into 5 star and by the last third of the course Grape was cruising with an ” I so have this” attitude which is the prerogative of only the very young and precociously talented. They crossed the line with a clear and just 7 time on their card and it was so incredibly impressive.
USA’s best were crashing and burning with both Will Coleman and Boyd Martin ( who are both such talented riders) hitting the deck as the next two out and it took until Buck Davidson piloted Jak My Style round with 13 time as the next finisher. That would prove Buck’s best round of the day as his 2nd and 3rd horses both incurred problems.
The promised rain held off and Tim and Bango (Uno) were our next NZ starter. Uno seems to have a thing about open parkland and it was apparent early on that he was on a mission. Tim had a double handful from the start and as Uno busted through every combination with foot perfect jumping it was only the sight of Tim increasingly having to swing off his head on the approach to combinations that signalled he was in a bit of trouble! Tim is a master at balancing his horses almost invisibly but there was nothing subtle about this balancing! But the also amazing thing about Uno is not just that he has such scope but that for a big horse he is incredibly fast on his feet and even at the troublesome late on double of logs which caused the downfall of several including Boyd Martin and William Fox-Pitt he was as neat as a cat through it before powering off again. He galloped like a Champion Chase horse, jumped like a 5* eventer and was unbelievable but how Tim managed the runaway to come home just a few seconds over time is actually a legendary act. He is a brave man indeed. Uno just thinks it was a great spin and is resting up for tomorrow.
Jonelle and Classic Moet ( Molly ) were next and the gurus at Horse and Country were massively unkind to show endless footage of Oli Townend at the start and we saw very little of her round. We did see two combinations of Molly and Jonelle simply on fire and her being pulled up when a rider demolished a triple bar in the process of trying to splat herself and her horse which needed some considerable re building. Jonelle and the judges on the ground had a disagreement about the restarting point and as I write Jonelle is appealing the 1.2 time she was given as it is simply not possible for the fastest girls in the world to be within a whisker of the fighting Uno! Held time is almost always an issue but since the scores are so close it makes a difference. As it is Molly climbed from 46th to 13th which is just SO Molly. Jonelle said she was pure class everywhere, so bold into the first water, was loving every second of it and bolted off after the hold as she was so keen to be at biggie again. She added that she is simply the most talented 5 star horse ever and loved every minute of her round.
Lets take a moment for Molly. She is actually quite amazing. She arrived at Maizey Manor as a bit of a cast off…. not problems jumping but a bit tricky on the flat in 2011. She won, against all the odds, Badminton in 2018. She was the 4th at her inaugural WEG in Caen in 2014 when no-one had any expectations of her. In 2015 she was runner up at the British Open at Gatcombe and was 5th at Burghley. 2017 was a light year but in 2018 she also went to WEG where she was at her flying best cross country. She has been so light of starts since then with just a win at the British Open at Gatcombe in 2019 which was to be her warm up for Burghley but a splinter in her knee kept her out of that. 2020 was a dismal year and with no Kentucky, Luhmuhlen or Burghley nothing for her to do apart from a couple of OI starts. Pau was never deemed to be her event so she stayed home and quietly turned 18 in January of this year.
Today she looked like a 12 year old. She jumped and galloped and was on cloud 9 as she did her favourite ever thing… go fast at 5 star with Jonelle. They are a unique partnership and I am not the only one hoping and praying that Burghley runs this Autumn…. they deserve a chance of adding this to their tally. I may be biased but Molly.. we love you!
Tim was next out on Xavier Faer ( Hugo). I have perhaps in the past been a tad rude about Hugo but My God he stepped up today. It was almost like he was like ” Hey, Tim, now that that pesky Wesko has stepped down from 5 star long its my turn to shine” and he was simply the coolest horse on the block today as he nailed it from start to finish. Rarely in a tough 5* do you have a copybook round but so did Tim and Hugo who oozed scope, rideability ( take note Uno) and an incredible gallop stride which Hugo has always possessed. In his early 5* days Hugo was a bit hesitant into water but now he just powers in and he is such a super cool professional I may even have to ditch my Faerie Groundhog Day tagline and just stand in awe of him. It was some ride to watch and we think he lies in 2nd but due to certain appeals the leaderboard is a bit confusing right now. In fact, a leader board has been much missed all day long!
Finally, as the rain started to fall in earnest and the 3 handed riders started XC Jonelle and Grovine de Reve appeared in the start box. They picked up exactly where they left after Pau 5 star last year with an inspired and determined clear with just 1 second over time. Jonelle asked, Reve answered. He tackled every question with verve and aplomb and they looked a real team with both of them loving it and Reve galloped his heart out with a smile on his face.
As a sidenote Jesse Campbell piloted his debut 5 star Diachello into a clear with 9 time….we sent out 6 NZ horses and they all went clear with less than 10 time. Now that’s what I call a result.