Ireland’s Aoife Clark has to go clear in the final phase to win her first CCI*** after jumping into the lead on Saturday’s cross-country at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.
Clark, seventh and best of the Irish team at the London Olympics last year, put up a dashing display of cross-country riding on PJ Hegarty’s Irish Sport Horse Fenyas Elegance to take a 1.5 penalty lead after dressage leader Sarah Bullimore had an unfortunate run-out.
But scores are so tight at the top of the leaderboard that Clark does not have a fence in hand over the veteran French horseman Jean Teulere on the experienced Matelot du Val nor third-placed American rider Clark Montgomery on Loughan Glen.
“She tried her heart out,” Clark said of her mount, a nine-year-old Irish-bred chestnut mare. “I just tried to ride the accuracy fences positively and she’s a super jumper, really powerful.”
This is the first time Clark, who lives locally to Blenheim, at Middle Barton, has been in the lead at a three-star competition, but she said she planned to “ride as I normally do”.
Jean Teulere, 59, the world champion in 2002, is hoping that the 13-year-old Matelot du Grand Val will put him back into the French team when next year’s World Equestrian Games are held on his home soil.
“It was a tough course but quite straightforward for me and my horse, who is really fast.”
Clark Montgomery, who is based near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, with senior judge Christian Landolt, was delighted at how well the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse Loughan Glen finished. The horse had a wind operation earlier this year which seems to have helped him gallop more easily.
“It wasn’t the smoothest round I’ve ever done, but the horse has a ton of heart,” Montgomery said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, I will consider this to have been a massively successful year with him.”
Eric Winter’s cross-country course, beautifully presented by David Evans and his team, proved influential and only Gemma Tattersall, the highest-placed British rider in fourth place on Arctic Soul, achieved the optimum time of 10 minutes 10 seconds. The weather stayed dry and a large and enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a day full of suspense and bold riding.
Sarah Bullimore, leader after the dressage phase on Lilly Corinne, had an unfortunate glance-off at the influential fence 21b, a skinny brush at the Ariat Dewpond.
William Fox-Pitt was another to have a bad day, although he is leading the 8/9 Year Old Young Horse Championship. First out on course with Before Time, he fell at the second of the Cotswold Life Stone Houses (23b), two angled spreads and then retired Running Order after a run-out at the Ariat Dewpond.
Pippa Funnell, the only rider who could have snatched the lead from Clark, had a frustrating run-out on Or Noir de la Loge at the Ariat Dewpond.
There were 33 clear rounds from the 83 cross-country starters. “It’s been a proper cross-country day,” Winter said. “I was surprised that there were quite so many run-outs, but they were spread out around the course, which is a good result.”
Young Horse Championships
William Fox-Pitt has moved up into first place in the 8/9yo CIC*** after a clear jumping round on Fernhill Pimms, the horse on whom he won the British Intermediate title last month.
Australian riders Christopher Burton, riding Graf Liberty, and Emma Dougall (Belcam Bear) are second and third, with the cross-country phase to come on Sunday.
Fox-Pitt had been in third place with Freddie Mac, but was eliminated for contravening an FEI rule on the style of hindleg boots allowed in a young-horse championships.
Australia’s Sam Griffiths and Favorit Z were also eliminated under the rule (Ref. Art. 257.2.4), which states that: “for all international Young Horse competitions, all hind leg protections must have a maximum interior length of 16cm and minimum exterior width of 5cm. The inside of the protection must be smooth. Only non-elastic Velcro fasteners are permitted: no hooks or straps may be used. The rounded rigid part of the protection must be placed around the inside of the fetlock. No additional elements may be used in conjunction with the protection.”
Local rider Michael Jackson, who is a field-master to the Heythrop Hunt, and Alice Dunsdon, joint-master of the Surrey Union, shared the honours in the popular Gate-Jumping competition. They both cleared 5ft 8in.
Sunday’s Fun Ride has been cancelled due to weather conditions, but entrants can use their passes to watch the horse trials action.