The rain fell unrelentingly on Blair Castle today and produced thrills and spills galore on cross-country day at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship in Scotland.
Ian Stark’s track proved as influential as predicted and, as the day went on, a gripping competition unfolded, characterised by some exceptionally gritty, bold riding in less than ideal conditions.
Germany still lies in first place and the reigning champions look unstoppable, with a 47-penalty lead going into tomorrow’s final showjumping phase.
Having won Burghley last week with FischerRocana, Michael Jung produced yet another masterclass of inspired cross-country riding on the youngest horse in the competition, the eight-year-old FischerTakinou, to finish on his dressage score of 33.5, clear and inside the time.
“He is a fast horse with a lot of thoroughbred blood. I set out quite slowly and helped him a bit, but then, towards the end, I said to him, ‘go faster’ and he did, which was a wonderful feeling,” said Jung.
Overnight leaders Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo dropped down the order with 11.2 time penalties, while Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob provided the third counting score for Germany, finishing just over the 10 minute 14 second optimum, having gone round in some of the worst conditions at the end of the day.
“The only ‘moment’ we had was at rail and ditch combination [fences 23 and 24ab], where he chipped in a half stride and I tipped forward. Luckily, he galloped away from the fence and it was OK,” said Klimke. “He finished full of running having really enjoyed himself. He’s so smart and bold; such a good fellow!”
The Brits retained their silver-medal position despite suffering mixed fortunes. Pathfinder Kitty King rode to orders and brought the classy 10-year-old Persimmon home clear with 8.4 time penalties, having taken one long route at the third water, the First of Forth Crossing.
“I’m so relieved because I was feeling the pressure this morning,” said King, who revealed that the team physio has been acting as her “psychiatrist” and “listening to all my worries.
“It was a good fun track to ride and it’s great to feel that I haven’t let anyone down,” she added.
The pressure was on after the next rider out, Nicola Wilson, had an uncharacteristic error when One Two Many glanced off at the second of the corners in the arena, but former double European Champion Pippa Funnell pulled a fantastic performance out of the bag with the relatively inexperienced Sandman 7 to boost the home side’s morale. The nine-year-old visibly grew in confidence all the way round and their clear with 9.6 time penalties left the pair 10th on the individual leaderboard.
“I was very conscious of not over-facing this lovely young horse but I knew I couldn’t go quietly because of the team,” said Funnell. “The horse was really classy and I’d love to think we could go to Rio.”
Anchorman William Fox-Pitt, usually the lynchpin of British championship efforts, saw his fortunes tumble still further when Bay My Hero followed a below-par dressage test yesterday with two run-outs at the narrow triple brush at fence 17.
“I can’t blame him. He’s a genuine horse who never normally runs out, but he wasn’t going on the ground, which was deep and holding by the time I went,” said a despondent Fox-Pitt, who retired the gelding at this point.
Individuals Izzy Taylor and Gemma Tattersall were the two standout performers in the British camp, finishing clear and inside the time – the only two riders to do so other than the overnight leader.
“She’s a very good cross-country horse and she was superb the whole way round,” said Taylor. “I was a little bit down on my minute markers and I didn’t want a few sloppy time penalties, so I pressed for home at the end and she responded.”
Wills Oakden, flying the flag for the Scots, produced a superb — albeit slow — clear, but there was disappointment for Holly Woodhead, whose dreams were shattered when DHI Lupison slipped and stopped in the first combination at fence 4. Sarah Bullimore and Oliver Townend both racked up 20 penalties apiece, while Francis Whittington was forced to call it a day when a tiring Easy Target stopped at the influential Haggis, Neeps and Tatties fence (at 21ab and 22). The middle element of this fence had already been removed after three horses in a row fell while negotiating the haggis at the top of the steep precipice.
France, currently lying in the bronze medal position, enjoyed a successful day, posting three clear rounds. Their best-placed rider is championship first-timer Thibaut Vallette, who rode an accomplished round on Qing du Briot to lie fourth individually.
The Netherlands, Sweden and Spain lie fourth, fifth and sixth, but there was disappointment for Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Russia, which failed to get three riders home.
1. Michael Jung (GER) and fischerTakinou on 33.5
2. Sandra Auffarth (GER) and Opgun Louvo on 42.6
3. Izzy Taylor (GBR) and KBIS Briarlands Matilda on 44
4. Thibaut Vallette (FRA) and Qing de Briot ENE HN on 45.2
5. Kitty King (GBR) and Persimmon on 45.3
6. Ingrid Klimke (GER) and Horseware Hale Bob on 46.6
7. Gemma Tattersall (GBR) and Arctic Soul on 47.3
8. Dirk Schrade (GER) and Hop and Skip on 48.3
9. Laura Collett (GBR) and Grand Manoeuvre on 48.6
10. Pippa Funnell (GBR) and Sandman 7 on 50.6
1. Germany on 122.7
2. Great Britain on 169.3
3. France on 179.7
4. The Netherlands on 209.3
5. Sweden on 247.8
6. Spain on 253.8
Michael Jung and FischerTakinou jumped clear and inside time during cross-country, helping shore up Germany’s lead at Blair Castle, by Jon Stroud, courtesy of the FEI