Captain Mark Phillips describes the St James’ Place Wealth Management Barbury International Horse Trials as a “premier destination” on the eventing calendar — and it is difficult to disagree.
One glance at the entry list for this year’s event, when New Zealand star Andrew Nicholson will bid for a fourth successive CIC3* victory aboard his triple Burghley champion Avebury, tells you everything you need to know about Barbury’s status.
The three-star field, alone, features eventing household names such as Nicholson, his fellow Kiwi Mark Todd, current Badminton champion William Fox-Pitt, plus the likes of Pippa Funnell, Tina Cook, Paul Tapner, Jonathan Paget, Jonelle Price and Laura Collett.
Add in three sections of CIC2* eventing and several novice classes, plus family entertainment that ranges from a ‘jump jockeys versus eventers and hunters’ challenge starring A P McCoy to a sheep show, multiple shopping facilities and stunning Wiltshire countryside, and Barbury is pretty much the complete package.
But perhaps its biggest attraction is unhindered viewing of Phillips’ cross-country course, which is sited on hillside terrain and offers spectators a chance to watch every single fence being approached and jumped without moving an inch.
“Barbury Castle provides wonderful viewing for spectators,” Phillips said.
“It gives horses and riders the opportunity to gallop and jump on unparalleled turf, and really enjoy this prestigious mid-summer outing. It has become one of the country’s premier destination events.”
As it happened before the London 2012 Olympics and the Malmö 2013 European Championships, this year’s Barbury takes on added significance in terms of the British team selection.
The team and the eight individual riders that will take part in September’s Europeans at Blair Castle, in Scotland, will be named next Wednesday, and the debate is well and truly under way as to which combinations will represent their country at the first European Eventing Championship on home soil since Blenheim 10 years ago.
Fox-Pitt will unquestionably head the British challenge in Scotland — Bay My Hero is his likely ride, with, I understand, Chilli Morning already pencilled in for next year’s Rio Olympics, following his memorable Badminton triumph two months ago — and it is then a case of which riders will join him.
Current form should merit calls for Nicola Wilson and Gemma Tattersall — it would be Tattersall’s senior championship debut — while 2009 European champion Cook could complete the quartet.
That then leaves the individual riders — Britain has several more than usual, given its host nation status — and the selectors are likely to opt for a blend of youth and experience.
Sparkling displays at Bramham in June could open the door for Flora Harris and Holly Woodhead, while others that have undoubtedly attracted close attention include Collett, Kitty King, Nicky Roncoroni and possibly Dani Evans. There should also be a place for ultra-consistent Oliver Townend.
The Yorkshireman, a member of Britain’s 2009 European gold medal-winning team in Fontainebleau, is currently campaigning the former Nicholson ride Armada as his top four-star horse, but it could be recent stable addition Fenyas Elegance that gets the nod.
Previously ridden by Irish Olympian Aoife Clark, Fenyas Elegance is a proven performer, winning with Clark at Blenheim, Bramham and Gatcombe’s Festival of British Eventing, and Townend’s display in the Barbury three-star aboard the 11-year-old mare could decide either way their European hopes.
My GB team and individual rider predictions for the 2015 European Championships at Blair Castle, Scotland, September 10-13 are:
Team — William Fox-Pitt, Nicola Wilson, Gemma Tattersall, Tina Cook.
Individuals — Kitty King, Flora Harris, Holly Woodhead, Laura Collett, Oliver Townend, Nicky Roncoroni, Dani Evans, Pippa Funnell.
Image: Team GB hopeful Gemma Tattersall made her senior level debut at Badminton Horse Trials in 2007 by Henry Bucklow / Lazy Photography / CC BY SA 3.0