Britain’s William Fox-Pitt riding Chilli Morning has regained his first day lead after a flawless cross-country round at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
The 35-fence course proved extremely testing with 63 competitors of the 90-strong field completing the challenging Pierre Michelet-designed cross country and none finishing within the optimum time. Two fences were removed from the final competition before the start in deference to the testing ground conditions after torrential rain earlier in the week.
Of the starters, 13 were eliminated, 11 retired and the remainder withdrew. Just 10 points now separate the top 10 placings, and one penalty fence in tomorrow’s deciding show jumping phase covers the top five riders.
Fox-Pitt ended the day with his chestnut stallion on 50.3 penalties. Hot on his heels are German guns Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo with 52.0, and reigning world champion Michael Jung on Fischerrocana FST with 52.3.
Fox-Pitt said he could not be more proud of Chilli Morning. “He just tried really, really hard. The ground conditions were tough – every stride tough, but he worked hard. I took him easy in the first part because the most important thing that Yogi Breisner (GBR Performance Manager) said was “just get home – it is no good looking amazing for eight minutes and not getting home”, so I did waste a little time, but I certainly didn’t have much petrol in the tank at the end. I am so proud of him as he kept on trying. He deserves what he achieved today and there is nothing I can do now – we will have to see what happens but I am very relieved! ”
But his joy was shadowed by the loss of Wild Lone, who collapsed and died after being ridden by team-mate Harry Meade to a clear round.
“Harry is a close friend of mine and it’s hard to celebrate much,” Fox-Pitt said. “It was the hardest terrain I’ve ridden, because the ground was very soft and the course demanding, but Chilli gave me a lovely ride. There are not many Eventing stallions who would keep trying for you like that and I’m very proud of him.”
Jung is now third on 50.3 and could easily become the first rider to win back-to-back world titles since Bruce Davidson (USA) in 1974-78.
“She did a wonderful job,” said Jung of his gallant mare. “She was very focussed. I gave her a little more time in between fences, but her energy when she saw the fences and lit up was fantastic.
“It was hard work for the horses, with the soft ground my horse lost a lot of energy between the fences, but Fisherrocanna is a fantastic horse, she was fighting from the beginning to the end. The last water [Rolex combination] is really tough and I am very happy about my round. Everything was very good on the fences and my horse gave me a great feeling – just the last water she was a little bit tired but she was good.”
The next two finishers are the only members of the New Zealand squad left in with a chance, with individual rider Jonelle Price fourth on Classic Moet and Andrew Nicholson and Nereo fifth, both on 52.5. Price has the higher place for finishing closer to the optimum time.
Nicholson is within touching distance of becoming his country’s fourth world champion, following Blyth Tait (1990 and 1998) and Vaughn Jefferis (1994).
New Zealand’s team chances started to evaporate when Mark Todd fell when Leonidas ll tripped on landing up the step out of the water at fence 30, which was the most influential obstacle.
“It is very disappointing,” Todd said. “We knew that was a fence we had to respect . . . but he still had plenty of running in him.”
Jock Paget, third after Dressage on Clifton Promise, was left to go all out for an individual medal, but pulled up after a run-out at the second corner at fence 5 and plans to re-route to Burghley next weekend. “I was here to represent New Zealand but it was just not my time,” Paget said.
Tim Price’s tiring Wesko had already been stopped by the ground jury two fences from home. “There was just nothing left,” said a very disappointed Price.
Kiwi individual Lucy Jackson crashed up the step at the influential final water, the same fence that undid Leonidas, her horse Willy Do slamming into the narrow wooden fish and necessitating a hold on course for fence repair. “I am just gutted,” she said. “You can’t get away with even the smallest mistake at this level. Willy Do deserved to be in the glory house, and I am so proud of his heroic efforts.”
The USA, too, has lost its quartet, Buck Davidson and Phillip Dutton (Trading Aces) both retiring on course, although Boyd Martin continues to fly the Stars and Stripes for his nation in the individual contest. He is currently lying ninth with the former Ludwig Svennerstal ride Shamwari 4.
Martin said: “I came here expecting the toughest competition in the world and I got it. But I’m well mounted. Shamwari has the heart the size of Ayers Rock. He is also as honest as the day is long. If I could point him in the right direction I knew that he would try his hardest to get through the flags.”
The Swedes, too, no longer field a team and the action was held for 20 minutes as medics attended to Anna Hilton after a fall from Matrix W.
Jonelle Price, who was a late call-up to the Kiwi team after the withdrawal of Caroline Powell, was the fastest of the day, coming in only 10 seconds over the 10:30 time. Andrew Nicholson was the next fastest, completing in 10:48.
Price said: “I didn’t go out with too much of a plan. I have only had the mare for a few months and she has only done one other four-star [Luhmuhlen], which wasn’t a patch on this. I just wanted to see how she responded and make my plan from there but she just kept answering the questions. There wasn’t one point where I thought she wasn’t going to stand up after a jump.”
Price said she ried to find new ground to run the petite black mare on, and her only somewhat hairy moment came when she lost a rein and had to take the longer option at the last water jump.
“I haven’t had her long and I was just planning to go out and keep asking the questions,” said Price. “She is a small blood horse, who is light on her feet, very courageous and with a big heart.”
Fox-Pitt, individual silver medalist in 2010, said afterwards that “Watching this morning did not make good viewing. Every line and stride pattern we thought would work just wasn’t [working], so I just went out and rode what I had.”
All eyes were on dressage leader Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo, who were the last to negotiate Pierre Michelet’s taxing cross-country course, and although they looked to be on target for a fast clear round, like so many before them, the chestnut gelding ran out of steam over the final fences.
Nicholson confessed to a ‘sticky’ moment on the track, at the fourth last fence.
“It was the smallest fence on the course. I just didn’t get a good stride to it. It says something about the horse that he got himself out of it, Nicholson said.
“Nereo is the most experienced horse here and even he struggled. He’s not the ideal sort for deep ground anyway but this is the worst ground I’ve ever ridden on. It makes wet spring going in England look nice. He’s a big, powerful horse that prefers the top of the ground so I’m very proud of him,” he said.
“It was quite a slog out there,” he said. “We all like to ride on proper ground, so this is a bit of a shame, but that is outdoor sport. You just have to grit your teeth and do it.”
Karin Donckers, seventh after the dressage, coaxed a copybook clear round from her nine-year-old Belgian Warmblood Fletcha Van’t Verahof to rise one slot on the leaderboard. The bay gelding, who is out of a Thoroughbred mare, added just 13.6 time faults to slot in front of German individual Andreas Ostholt (So Is Et), seventh.
The best of the French, Maxime Livio and Qalao Des Mers gave the vocal 50,000 strong crowd, many of them locals from this lovely region of Normandy, a real boost when they galloped through the finish line with only 13.2 time faults to add for eighth place after two phases.
“I’m very happy because my horse is making such progress in the competition,” said Livio who was contesting his first four-star.
Britain’s Zara Phillips showed all her skills as a previous World Champion in by far herbiggest test since giving birth to her daughter Mia in January, by riding High Kingdom to a stunning clear round. She survived an alarming moment at the bounce of hedges after the water at fences 17-18 and found herself hanging perilously out of the back of the saddle, but recovered well and is now in 15th place.
“I really enjoyed it [going out first for the British team] as you can just go out and ride it, and go straight, and get on with it. I know how good my horse is and to go out and get a clear round for the team is great. You’ve really got to be sensible out there and just get them home. You’ve got to look after them and just make sure you keep jumping.”
Germany keeps team lead
Germany is in gold medal position with Auffarth’s, Jung’s and Ingrid Klimke’s scores all counting. The latter’s round with FRH Escada JS, however, was less than tidy in places and the pair relinquished their fifth dressage placing and have now slipped to 21st. Dirk Schrade is Germany’s discard score after two run-outs on Hop and Skip.
Britain has four cross-country jumping clears in the clubhouse and has risen into silver position in the team standings, Tina Cook (De Novo News), 14th, and Zara Phillips and High Kingdom, 15th, the next best of the Brits after Fox-Pitt. Australia is in bronze position, their best team rider Paul Tapner currently 13th with the grey Kilronan.
Australia’s fourth team horse, TS Jamaimo (Chris Burton) was withdrawn before the cross-country after suddenly developing colic on Thursday which was successfully treated by team veterinarians.
However he later developed a fever and despite constant monitoring and treatment did not made a full recovery in time to run cross country.
Burton was devastated by the turn of events. “I just can’t believe what bad luck we’ve had. I’m particularly disappointed for all the owners of this horse who have been so supportive throughout this campaign. I also want to thank my support crew as well as the Australian team management for everything they have done for me and Jamaimo.”
TS Jamaimo will continue to receive intensive treatment and is expected to make a full recovery.
Australian team rider Tapner said he had “never ridden so slowly at a four-star before but there was extra pressure as there were only three of us so safe clears were team orders. Kilronan is such a trooper and he just keeps galloping even when he’s tired.”
The French team is fourth, with their youngest rider, Maxime Livio, the highest-placed in eighth on Qalao des Mers. “I have never ridden with such patriotic support, not just for French riders but for every nation,” he said.
Ireland is in sight of Olympic qualification after finishing in sixth place. The top five nations after the final show jumping phase on Sunday will automatically obtain qualification for the Rio games, and Ireland is now just 55 points adrift of overnight fifth-placed Netherlands.
A strong cross country performance from the Irish quartet of Sam Watson, Sarah Ennis, Joseph Murphy and Aoife Clark lifted the Irish team six places from their 12th position after dressage.
Sam Watson, 23rd on Horseware Bushman and pathfinder for Ireland, summed up the day. “You had to combine looking after your horse with remembering it was a world championship and riding for your life. For me, it feels like a great day’s hunting in Ireland when you’ve jumped fences you’d never dreamed of and you’re now in the pub recovering!”
Irish individual rider Camilla Speirs with the diminutive Portersize Just a Jiff was best of the Irish at the end of the day with just 20 time faults leaving them in 21st place, but second individual rider Clare Abbott and Euro Prince were eliminated on the difficult Haras du Pin course.
Canada moved up to seventh place after admirable performances. After three of the first six horses failed to complete the course, Peter Barry and Kilrodan Abbott was the seventh rider to set out, and gave the Canadian team heart by putting in a positive ride and negotiating the entire course. Thanks to his solid ride, Barry shot up 25 spots from his dressage placing to take over the 49th position on a two-phase total of 131.1.
Technical Advisor for the Canadian Eventing Team, Clayton Fredericks was proud of the team’s performance overall.
“The course was pretty gruelling on the horses today, but our horses have pulled up exceptionally well, so we are very pleased. Our riders went out there and gave their best, and tried very hard,” he said. “Just to finish three team members is a pretty impressive feat over this course, so we are very pleased with that.”
Nine teams remain in the contest. All horses will be trotted up at Le Pin National Stud before they are transported to d’Ornano Stadium for the afternoon’s show jumping session.
There were more than 50,000 spectators at Haras du Pin for the cross country. It was a colourful array of flags and caps and country colours, and the weather held off until the last runner was home.
1. William Fox-Pitt/Chilli Morning (GBR) 50.3
2. Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER) 52.0
3. Michael Jung/FischerRocana FST (GER) 52.3
4. Jonelle Price/Classic Monet (NZL) 52.5 =
4. Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 52.5 =
6. Karin Donckers/Fletcha Van’t Verahof (BEL) 55.9
7. Andreas Ostholt/So Is Et (GER) 56.7
8. Maxime Livio/Qalao Des Mers (FRA) 58.5
9. Boyd Martin/Shamwari 4 (USA) 59.9
10. Peter Thomson/Horseware’s Barny (GER) 60.3
1 Germany 177.9
2 Great Britain 186.8
3 Australia 226.8
4 France 235.5
5 Netherlands 238.8
6 Ireland 294.3
7 Canada 324.0
8 Brazil 347.7
9 Spain 363.8