A cold night meant a cracking morning of sunshine and big crowds expected ( and arrived!) as Pau continued to dry out on the second day of warmth and late October sunshine which is always so welcome at this time of year. It was actually hot by lunchtime which is what we expect of Pau!
We had Pau billed as probably the hottest 5 star of 2023 in terms of the quality of the field so no one expected the drama that played out today and it was Kiwi Jesse Campbell who was first out on Cooley Lafitte (Henry) that set the stage for much of the day. Henry was going brilliantly until he guessed at a skinny going direct in the second water and, in leaving out a stride, clipped the back and came down. Not many went the straight route after that but it was big price to pay for the duo.
Tim and Viscount Viktor were not far behind him out of the start box and Viktor was very green over the first couple before settling down and getting into a remarkable rhythm for a 9 year old at his first 5 star. Viktor made a mistake at the corner in the water at Blenheim but in the first water here he read the corner perfectly and jumped it beautifully. He went from strength to strength as he went further round the track and Tim took him his planned slightly longer route through the second water beautifully. He was galloping, jumping, listening, turning and looked on song for a class debut until he got unbalanced going down the hill to the skinny in the B element of the last ABC combination at 28 and all but crashed into the side of it. Tim got unseated but did an admirable job of staying in the plate and signalled to the fence judge to put the flag back in place whilst he reorganised his irons and reins and fair play to Viktor, he popped it sweetly at the second time asking. There was some confusion over Tim’s route to the C so he picked up 60 jumping which Viktor has no idea about and its pretty ineffectual as once you have had a 20 you are out of the picture anyway. Tim did say that if he had ridden the fence later in the day with the benefit of hindsight he may have tackled it differently but that’s the tough thing about going out early at 5 star. Viktor cantered home through the main arena looking like a superstar 9 year old and he can thank Tim for the experience! From going a bit green at Blenheim to fronting ups to his first 5 star just a few short weeks later….it’s impressive.
Jonelle and McClaren (Mac) headed out looking feisty and fast. Great footing at Pau with the fast draining ground which Mac loves and they were flying in the early massively twisty first part of the course which is tough on the big striding horses but perfect for little Mac. Then they came out onto the racecourse and Jonelle asked Mac to open up and boy, did he respond! It was fun to watch, they skipped though the rarely tried direct route at the second water and flew off and it looked as though they were set for a great run home. They jumped in well at the third water over the drop and looked to have the three nailed to the Swan until Mac twisted violently as he got a little deep and simply spat Jonelle out of the tack and half into the water and half onto the bank. Mac then went for a’ look see’ at walk in the water, having a little nosy around the (frigging) Swan, mooching along the fence line and Jonelle waited on the bank for the wellington booted steward to fetch her horse. Mac obligingly allowed himself to be caught ( if any horse appreciates the value of staff it is Mac) and, reunited with Jonelle, they walked a little forlornly off course. Well, to be fair, Jonelle looked little forlorn (or insert a myriad of emotions here including absolutely not happy) and Mac looked quite proud that he, at least, didn’t hit the deck.
Jonelle says it’s the weirdest thing….she can sit most cross country ‘moments’ but when Mac leaves a leg or twists, she’s on the deck before she knows it. To be fair it was some back end throw away twist ( I’m assuming it would be called a treble pike or something in pure diving or gymnastics) and I’m sure his little frame gives her nothing to help her make a save but she did say that she was so impressed with the way he had gone. They had a 20 on the board at the C of the coffin but Jonelle said it would have been a flag that they could have appealed….the middle element was a ditch filled with blue stones which no one knew how the horses would react and Mac, in particular, not being a fan of coffin ditches, was a real unknown quantity here. Jonelle said he barely acknowledged it and that left her a way off the skinny at C and he drifted right as she went for a big stride at it.
All this drama and we are less than 6 horses in. It continued for most of the day and we saw Boyd Martin and his horse be the only combination all day to make time (slightly suspicious after a massive hold on course!) although that luck was tempered by a pin for 11 penalties. Ros Canter and Kirsty Chabert benefited from a lengthy hold when Jesse Campbell’s day of nightmares saw him and second ride Diachello (Danny) hit the deck and superb rides from Tom McEwen and Piggy March shone through. Muzi Pottinger had a clear with 20 time on her first horse and was blazing towards a clear in time on her second when she fell foul of the same skinny as Tim and Viktor and parted company to her immense disappointment which was totally understandable.
Late in the day Jonelle headed out with Hiarado (Jools). Just 14 months together, allot of negotiating, bonding, training and belief make up this partnership and Jonelle said she headed out with no great expectations but just a feeling that she would trust her instincts that Jools was ready for this. And wow, was Jools ready for this! She answered every single question, she was brave, careful, fast and listened and turned and quite simply repaid Jonelle’s huge belief in her. They came home without a single sticky moment with just 12 time and in fine form to sit in 8th position overnight. Jonelle said she could have gone faster in hindsight but hell, it was a day when a dollar could have turned into dust in your hands so she had to set off with a little on the safe side. Jools was a total unknown quantity at this level and Jonelle used all of her skills to set her up for the fences and Jools responded with a clear and simple “Yes ma’am”.
Happy didn’t get to start today as he wasn’t 100% on form this morning and that’s no way to tackle your first 5 star. It’s been a frustrating year for the Boekelo winner of 2022 as he got travel sick on his debut 5 star at Luhmihlen and did’nt get to start either. Clearly he is saving himself for something big! But we have 2 brand new 5 star horses to add to the crew in Viktor and Jools. And we can add current student Cosby Green to that group as she and Copper Beach (Sean) went clear with just an 11 jumping for a pin and some time to lie 15th and ex student James Avery sitting in 11th with MBF Connection (Louis).
And then tomorrow what is traditionally the biggest 5 star show jumping track of the year awaits them in the main arena. Just the jog to get through first…..the fat lady is singing somewhere but she’s not quite here yet.