Aoife Clark stayed clear to win her first three-star event and became the first Irish winner of the CCI*** at the Fidelity Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.
With not even a fence in hand when entering Sunday’s show jumping phase, the 32 year-old held her nerve, and guided PJ Hegarty’s Irish Sport Horse Fenya’s Elegance to a zero penalty round, clinching one of Ireland’s first victories in many years at this level of international three-day eventing.
Clark, who finished seventh at the London Olympics last year, produced a dazzling display of cross-country riding on Saturday to edge into the lead, but had France’s former world champion Jean Teulere (Matelot du Val) and top US eventer Clark Montgomery (Loughan Glen) both just 1.5 penalty points behind her.
Teulere finished as runner-up with Montgomery third. Both were on 45.5 penalties, to Clark’s 44.0.
“I knew I had to go clear,” Clark said. “We’ve only had one showjumping rail down all year, but there was still pressure.
“To win here means a huge amount. This mare is just at the right stage to be looking at the (2014) World Equestrian Games and then Rio.”
Fenyas Elegance, a former showing winner at Dublin, jumped boldly and cleanly and, although the chestnut mare became progressively stronger, Clark kept control, punching the air with relief as she cleared the final fence.
“I had to try not to listen to the cheering, but she’s been a star this week and is usually a good jumper,” said Clark, whose sister-in-law Polly Stockton won Blenheim in 1998.
“She tends to be quite feisty and is disappointed if you try to control her too much.
“This means a huge amount. It was a big disappointment that I couldn’t go to the European Championships [her top horse was lame] but she is just the right age for the next championships and for the Olympics in Rio.”
Gemma Tattersall finished fourth and best British rider, on Philip and Iona Kerr’s Arctic Soul.
“I certainly never expected to beat the likes of William Fox-Pitt and Pippa Funnell,” Tattersall said.
“I’m really chuffed. The horse is an absolute Ferrari across country, but it took me a while to get the brakes sorted out. He’s 17.1hh and I’m only 5ft 5in at best.
“He finds the atmosphere of a busy arena difficult so I took him in at the last minute and cantered him straight to the first fence.”
Tattersall revealed that she is trying hard to get a syndicate together to buy the ex-racehorse by Luso. Her next goal is to ride him at Badminton in the Spring.
The next best Brit, Richard Jones, scored his best ever CCI*** result, fifth on Highland Ford, and Nick Gauntlett was seventh on Grand Manoeuvre.
Former Blenheim winner Rodney Powell, ninth after cross-country, had the terrible luck to fall off Happy Go Lucky when the horse stopped abruptly.
In an international line-up – seven nations were represented in the top 10 – Jonelle Richards was best Kiwi in sixth on Faerie Dianimo; Germany’s Kai Ruder was eighth on Gryffindor and Canada’s Jessica Pheonix was 10th on Pavarotti.
Harry Dzenis, ninth on Xam, won the Horse Trials Support Group’s £500 cheque as best British rider under 25, and Mary Edmundson, 12th on Sonny Eacrly, won a set of dressage bandages from Bates Saddles for the highest rise after dressage – a staggering 60 places.
The USA’s Meghan O’Donoghgue won a pair of Ariat boots as the best first-timer at Blenheim, 11th on Pirate.
Irish eventing is clearly on a roll – Ireland’s Junior team won their European Championships in Jardy, France, with the Young Rider team claiming bronze.
After the weekend’s exceptional performances, the Irish Eventing High Performance Manager Nick Turner said: “”I am absolutely delighted with the Irish eventing successes this weekend.
“Congratulations to everyone involved and thanks to all of the owners, sponsors, support staff and team managers for all of their hard work and dedication that helped to make this possible.
“The young horses in the 8/9 year old classes also put in some very good performances which makes the future of Irish Eventing very exciting.”