Time was of the essence on the cross-country phase at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, with a shuffle up of the leaderboard following Saturday’s phase.
There were 79 clear rounds and 88 completions from the 98 cross-country starters – but with just 13 inside the optimum time.
Dressage leader Clark Montgomery set himself up for the biggest win of his career after retaining his lead in the CCI3* with a confident cross-country round on Loughan Glen.
The US rider now has a commanding lead – more than two show jumping fences – over his nearest rival, Australian Christopher Burton on Nobilis 18.
“This would mean a lot to win here as we have made the decision to come and live over here in Britain and it would be recognition that it’s paying off,” said Montgomery, who is based with Capt Mark Phillips in Gloucestershire and has an excellent chance of being the third American to win at Blenheim following Bruce Davidson in 1994 and Kim Severson in 2001.
“It gave me confidence that the course was riding well and I set off as quickly as I could. He got a little fast coming home, but was jumping really nicely and got me out of trouble,” he said.
Chris Burton was the first to show that the optimum time of 10min 51 seconds was possible when he finished 10 seconds under on Nobilis 18, who was bought in Germany from the Olympic champion Michael Jung.
New Zealander Tim Price is just 0.2 of a penalty behind Burton after a blistering round on The Court Jester – the pair beat the clock by 16 seconds.
William Fox-Pitt, fourth and best of the home side, was a happy man as he came through the finish flags with no penalties to add on the experienced Cool Mountain.
“I didn’t go the wrong way and I managed to finish!” said Fox-Pitt, referring to an accident-prone couple of weekends at Burghley and Blair.
A five-time winner at Blenheim (of both the CCI3* and CIC3*), Fox-Pitt brought the 2010 world silver medallist Cool Mountain for a fun spin. “He’s had a few blips and blots and time off in recent years and, at 15, he doesn’t owe us anything,” he said.
Dressage runner-up and world champion Sandra Auffarth dropped down the order with 15.2 time penalties on Ispo but, as team trainer Chris Bartle pointed out, the idea was to give the horse a happy run before campaigning him more seriously next year.
Pippa Funnell, a record four-time winner of the CCI3* at Blenheim, lost her chances of a fifth win when Billy The Biz, ninth after dressage, ducked out at the brush skinny after the water at the Anniversary Steps (fence 14).
“I think it’s been a good day for the sport,” was the verdict of course-designer Eric Winter.
“Last time I ran the course in this [clockwise] direction there was only one horse inside the time, so this time I lengthened the track by 30 seconds to give provide more galloping on the flattest part. But the main reason that there are so many inside the time is that this is a very strong field – there was some lovely riding.”