Nicola Wilson was crowned national champion for the first time as this year’s Festival of British Eventing reached a dramatic conclusion at Gatcombe on Sunday. North Yorkshire-based Wilson finished third aboard Beltane Queen in the headline British Open class, but took the national title as highest-placed home rider behind Australia’s Christopher Burton (TS Jamaimo) and New Zealand’s Jonelle Price (Classic Moet).
Oliver Townend, winner of the British Novice and British Intermediate sections on Saturday, finished fourth on Armada after withdrawing his other challenger Mr Hiho, who is only just back in work following a lay-off and was never intended to run cross-country.
Surrey-based Burton triumphed on a score of 43.7 penalties, but his fellow Australian Sam Griffiths fell from his 2014 Badminton champion Paulank Brockagh when in pole position to challenge for silverware, while New Zealand’s former world-number-one Andrew Nicholson ended his afternoon in hospital.
Nicholson fell from Cillnabradden Evo at the final cross-country fence and was unable to compete on his other ride Perfect Stranger. He was later taken to hospital in Swindon for further checks.
Wilson looks set to be a pivotal member of the Great Britain team at next month’s Longines FEI European Championships in Scotland, and her outstanding form shone on the Gatcombe terrain, with her other ride Bulana finishing ninth.
“My horse was phenomenal,” said Wilson, who added her name to a roll of honour that also includes William Fox-Pitt, Ginny Leng, Mary King and Pippa Funnell.
“I am really pinching myself, and I am so incredibly proud of her. She just keeps getting better and better. Her dressage on Saturday was mistake-free, and she just gave her all again. She is a pleasure to ride.
“I was incredibly grateful to her at the double of corners on cross-country. I just slightly overshot my turn, but she is such an honest, brave horse. She is a horse that just keeps giving. She is so kind and willing and such a tryer. I am totally thrilled.”
Burton, though, took the £5,000 winner’s purse, with the top 10 completed by fifth-placed Louise Harwood (Whitson), Georgie Strang (Cooley Business Time) in sixth, seventh-placed Olivia Wilmot (Cool Dancer), Paul Tapner in eighth with Vanir Kamira, Wilson again in ninth and 10th-placed Alex Postolowsky (Islanmore Ginger).
“I was a little bit cross when I had a rail down in the showjumping, but he is a fast horse and we had a real go today across the country,” Burton said. “It is very exciting to win here, and something that I have always wanted to do at some stage in my career.”
It was also a highly-satisfying weekend for 32-year-old Townend, who was the only rider of 30 starters to go clear inside the time, giving brilliant cross-country exponent Armada another stunning ride.
“I had hoped we would have a winner here this weekend, and it has been a big team effort behind it,” Townend said.
“It is special to win here at Gatcombe. It is the British Chammpionships, and Britain is the place to be to event. It is like National Hunt racing, and to a certain extent this is our Cheltenham.”
Image by Kit Houghton, courtesy of Gatcombe.