French riders made a flying start to the inaugural Event Rider Masters series by filling all three podium places at the Dodson & Horrell Chatsworth International Horse Trials in Derbyshire.
The series comprises six three-star events — Chatsworth International Horse Trials, Bramham International Horse Trials, Barbury International Horse Trials, the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe, the Blair Castle International Horse Trials and the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials — with five-figure prize money, and a powerful French contingent certainly cashed in on its opening weekend.
In-form Astier Nicolas (pictured below) won the class with Riaf De Bneville on a score of 45.0 penalties, just 0.9 ahead of Thibaut Vallette and Qing Du Briot, with Karim Laghouag third aboard Entebbe De Hus.
Gemma Tattersall, who was third at Badminton last week, continued her impressive run by guiding Quicklook V into fourth spot, but the only other British rider in the top 12 was 11th-placed Izzy Taylor, riding KBIS Briarlands Matilda.
Wiltshire-based Kitty King dominated the class in dressage and showjumping aboard the likely Rio Olympics-bound Ceylor LAN — he posted a personal-best dressage score at three-star level — but they lost valuable cross-country time when the horse initially would not leave the start box.
King ended up in 17th, but the Great Britain selectors will have noted an impressive cross-country round once Ceylor LAN got going. Other Rio hopefuls like Tina Cook and Zara Tindall delivered solid displays, but Emily King and Flora Harris were among those who had cross-country falls.
The Dodson & Horrell Challenge in CIC three-star section B went to Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy, riding Mr Chunky — the horse was previously competed by his wife Lucy Wiegersma. Their score of 52.7 proved enough for a comfortable win ahead of runner-up Bill Levett (Alexander NJ) and third-placed British prospect Holly Woodhead on her 2015 European Championships ride DHI Lupison.
“The plan was for Lucy to ride him at Badminton, but he’s always been quite a strong horse, and at Belton (in April) Lucy found she couldn’t go fast enough on him to be competitive,” McCarthy said.
“I am incredibly fortunate to have the ride, although I do feel that my arms are now six inches longer! I don’t think I’ve ridden a better horse.”
Meanwhile, Woodhead, reflecting on her performance, said: “He (DHI Lupison) has been brilliant across country this year, and I wanted to run him competitively at Chatsworth. I changed my technique over the winter, and I have been riding him on a looser rein. He was totally amazing.”
Arnaud Boiteau won section C with Quoriano, and he said: “It was a deliberate move for the French to come here, to see a very different style of course and to compete against the best in the world. The French team looks strong for Rio, and we have at least three riders who could win individual medals.”
Elsewhere at Chatsworth, New Zealand Andrew Nicholson and Teseo won the advanced class, while the four CIC one-star sections went to Ludwig Svennerstal (Silver Skymaster), Katherine Cross (Romeo Z), David Doel (Cracker Jack II) and Lizzie Baugh (Quarry Man).
Images: The all-French podium (top) and Astier Nicholas during the cross-country phase at the Chatsworth International Horse Trials, both courtesy of Event Rider Masters