What a great weekend of sport at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials; two great competitions providing two extraordinary results with both posting pillar-to-post winners.
American Clark Montgomery fulfilled his dream of a big win, taking the CCI3* with the Irish-bred Loughan Glen. It was a big win in both senses of the word: in status and in the result.
The combination finished where they started, with the commanding lead of 8.2 penalties, built up after cross country still intact. The pair had no need for the safety net of two fences in-hand as they jumped clear to finish the event perfectly on their dressage score.
Montgomery now has hopes for the Olympic Games in Rio next year.
“It’s the biggest win of my career and it feels fantastic and I couldn’t have done a better job to get selected, but you never know,” said Montgomery, who has been based in the UK for the past three years. “The reason I’m here is that it’s so much more competitive.”
Montgomery becomes the third American to win at Blenheim following Bruce Davidson in 1994 and Kim Severson in 2001. It was in fact a great event for the Americans – four, including the winner finished in the top 11 – and sixth-placed Lauren Kieffer (Veronica) won the prize for the ‘best first timer’.
Australian Christopher Burton added another success to his continually growing CV with second place on the German-bred Nobilis who, although contesting his first CCI3* and having only previously competed in one CIC3* (which he won), looks to be another that could be added to his string of hopefuls for the Australian Olympic squad.
As last week at the European Championships at Blair Castle, where she was the best of the silver-medal team, Kitty King was again the highest placed British rider. This week she was aboard Ceylor LAN, another to finish on his dressage score, who has proved a prolific winner from the start; he won both four and five-year-old Burghley Young Event Horse finals as well as the BE five, six and seven-year-old young horse championships.
“It’s been a dream season,” said King, who lives near Chippenham, Wiltshire. “This was a big test for this horse because he’s not full thoroughbred and is only eight, but he galloped all the way to the end and he show jumped beautifully.”
A clear round promoted Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V to fourth while Somerset based Dani Evans, ninth on Raphael ll, won £500 and a rug from the Horse Trials Support Group as the ‘best British rider 25 and under’.
New Zealander Jonelle Price became the first rider to score back-to-back victories in the CIC3* for eight-and nine-year-old horses this year with the syndicate-owned Cloud Dancer ll.
The pair had such a formidable lead going into the final cross country phase that they had more than 10 time penalties in hand – a situation which suited Price as she knew the Dutch-bred eight-year-old was not the fastest. She cleverly used up 8.8 of them to remain unbeaten.
“He’s a very different type to Faerie Dianamo (her 2014 winner) but it’s horses for courses,” said Price. “He’s got so much quality in the dressage and jumping and he’s genuine and brave so I think he’s got a future in the sport.”
The flying Frenchman Astier Nicolas was one of the nine riders to achieve the optimum time and moved up from fourth place to second on Helen and Paul Fearn’s Spes Addit Or, while Cotswold based Irishman Jonty Evans was thrilled to finish third on the Irish-bred Cooley Rorkes Drift, even though they dropped a place with two time penalties.
“This horse is so good that I’ve had to raise my game. We’re not a big yard, so to have one like him means a lot,” Evans said. “I think he’s going to be competitive. I want to go to Rio!”
On face value, the outcome might look like it was a dressage competition yet a closer look at the results sheet proves otherwise. While the winners both took commanding leads from day one, proving the advantage of being able to ride quality dressage tests on well trained horses – it is probably no coincidence that they have benefitted from training with pure high-profile dressage riders – they then also both jumped immaculately in both following phases.
In the CCI, of the 78 that completed from 101 starters, just seven combinations (7%) finished on their dressage score – and five of them subsequently finished in the top ten: Kevin McNab (AUS) and Dustman came up from 33rd to 10th while American Will Coleman jumped OBOS O’Reilly from 35th to 11th and British rider Flora Harris was back on form after their elimination and disappointment at Aachen, jumping a double clear (albeit with 2.4 time penalties) to move up from 19th to a final 8th place.
In the CIC3*, of 68 starters, 54 completed and just three (4%) finished on their dressage score; double clears moved Ian Wills up from 21st to fourth place to be the highest British rider with the British-bred Hartpury Sky is the Limit while local rider Michael Jackson came from 32nd to seventh with Treloar another British-bred horse.
There were plenty who went the other way, too. Yes, few actually faulted on the cross-country course but the time was a factor and made a difference to final placings and there are always those who fall back down after showjumping – even William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain caught a snake here, sliding back down from fourth to a final 12th place.
Clark Montgomery with the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough by Adam Fanthorpe, courtesy of Blenheim Horse Trials