Dressage completed in the Bramham sunshine: new leaders all round

In glorious conditions, Bramham’s second day of dressage provided visitors with an exciting display as the leaderboards across the three four-star competitions saw plenty of change between the white boards. 

Canter holds the advantage in pursuit of Bramham double
In Bramham’s showcase CCI-L 4*, the first combination to make their mark was a familiar one – Pippa Funnell has made the journey north with just a single horse, Sarah Ross’ MCS Maverick, who’s a new ride for her in 2023. They’ve had a few good runs this spring, despite the wet weather, but Bramham will be the gelding’s toughest test to date – in Pippa’s words, “I will definitely know more about him at the end of the week!”. The super smart 10-year-old gave his rider plenty to be happy about by staying relaxed and attentive for the seven minutes of the test, and Pippa looked happy with the performance. As they exited the arena, the commentator delivered the score – a personal CCI4* best of 29.3, which was good enough to claim the lead. 

Pippa held pole position until after lunch, when it was the turn of Ros Canter with last year’s CCI4*-S winner, Izilot DHI, owned by Alex Moody and Ros. All the credentials, coupled with Ros’ correct training and ability, means that Isaac has all the ability to shine between the white boards, but the 10-year-old is known for being very sharp. The Dutch-bred gelding was certainly on his toes today, but Ros expertly piloted him round, picking up good marks along with a few spooky interludes for a final score of 29.0, toppling Pippa and Maverick from the top spot. 

“He really didn’t like the boards at A,” was Ros’ verdict on the test. “I don’t think it was the members area – it was the boards. My other horse was a bit the same yesterday, and I don’t know what it is because they have the same boards in the warm-up area, but when they get in there, they must seem to be different! It’s frustrating – it makes them a little difficult to ride – but we know the quality of work, so it’s just a matter of pulling it off on the day.

“On the whole, even though he was spooky, at other times when he’s been that spooky he’s struggled to do the test. He actually did the test, which is good, and the quality of work there is really exciting and there’s more to come. We’ve just got to keep exposing him to this environment – we know he’s capable, but we also know he’s a sharp and spooky horse, and these things are good for him.

“We’ve always wanted to bring him back here [to Bramham] – it’s a really good stamina test and he’s done one long four-star now at Boekelo, but he needs some good hills and a long course, a big course, so we know what we’ve got underneath us.”

The first rider in after the final break was Jesse Campbell for New Zealand with Gambesie, who he jointly owns with Sarah Moffatt. Their score of 29.4 slotted them in just behind Pippa, relegating yesterday’s leaders, Izzy Taylor and Happy Days, to fourth.  

“He’s alright, he’s just got a bit of a personality!” laughed Jesse afterwards. “He’s got a good sense of humour, that one! He’s super-trainable, though, and he’s been to Aachen and stuff, so he’s seen atmosphere before – he’s cool, he’s fun.”

“I think all riders would say that if you can get 70 – 75 percent of the work you can do at home in the ring, that’s pretty good, and I was pretty close to that, so no complaints from me. His walk was a highlight – he’s got a really lovely walk. I’d like the judges to highlight that a little bit more, but it makes this test really easy to ride because there’s a lot of walk and you can really ride him in it, which is good.

And the Kiwi’s thoughts on the course? “I love the course. Ian always builds a great track, I’m really looking forward to getting out there and jumping it. They’re both really great jumpers, so I’m really looking forward to having a crack round there. I think all riders love Ian’s courses and we hope he keeps going with it. We’ve just got to go out there and do the course justice as riders, and do our best job,” he said.

Bubby and ‘Zebedee’ spring into the lead
In the other CCI4*-L, exclusively for riders under the age of 25, the pre-competition form book played out to expectation when Britain’s Bubby Upton – surprisingly, a Bramham debutant – got the judges reaching regularly for their seven and eight buttons thanks to a sparkling performance with the Zebedee Syndicate and Rachel Upton’s Magic Roundabout IV. They posted a 26.5, the lowest score of the day across all the sections, to topple last night’s leaders, Morgane Euriat and Baccarat D Argonne for France with a 3.2 penalty advantage.

Max Warburton came closest to challenging the top three with a score of 32.3 with Rosemary Butler’s Monbeg Exclusive, but it wasn’t quite enough to overtake our pathfinders from yesterday, Richard Coney and Mermus R Diamonds.

“I’m so chuffed!” said a delighted Bubby. “To be honest, he does not like dressage at all – he finds it so difficult. He’s not made for it in his conformation whatsoever, he’s very long in his back – but he just tried so hard. In the past, in big atmospheres, he’s just really worries, like Chatsworth last year, but he only worries because he’s trying so hard. When he can’t do something or he knows it’s not quite good enough, he just panics. Then, when he panics, he’s really difficult to ride. I just really took my time when I walked in, walked quite a few circles so he relaxed, and then I was cantering round the outside and I couldn’t believe how good he felt. He was amazing in there.”

She then explained: “It’s my first time at Bramham. I’ve obviously heard all about it over the years, and I walked the course and it’s everything that you ever hear – very big, very technical, very hilly, intense – but I’m so excited to get out there with him and give it a crack because, at the end of it, you know what horse you’ve got. Hopefully, we have a good spin.

“I was meant to come here two years ago for the U25 Championships, but it was moved to Bicton that year, then last year he was supposed to come here but had a freak accident in the field, which put him out for the year, which was gutting. He came from Piggy March’s yard and she always said he’s a Bramham and Burghley horse, so I’ve always had it in my head. He’s super blood, he really gallops, he really jumps, so I guess that’s why I’ve brought him here. The aim is Burghley, so I guess this is the best preparation you can have for Burghley, so that’s why we’re here.”

McEwen dominates in the DEFENDER CCI4*-S section
Olympic team gold and individual silver medallist Tom McEwen always gives 100% – he never rides any other way – and bright and early this morning was no different. First in with Fred and Penny Barker’s talented nine-year-old, MHS Brown Jack, Tom rode for every mark. The Irish-bred gelding was relaxed and attentive to his rider… it all looked good, very good. The final halt brought plenty of pats for Jack and a huge smile from the Gloucestershire-based rider. As they walked out on a long rein, the marks for the last few movements flashed on the huge digital board and it was clear that it was going to be a top score – the final tally of 28.7 rocketed Tom and Jack into first, with a commanding 3.9 penalty lead ahead of overnight leader Ros Canter with Lady Milnes Coates and Deirdre Johnston’s MHS Seventeen. The duo sat atop the leader board all day, with nobody able to better their score.
Experienced Aussie Bill Levett came closest to toppling them. Riding Sligo Candy Cane, who he jointly owns with Elisabeth Murdoch, Bill conjured a great round with a horse who was clearly relishing the challenge of Bramham’s main arena. Their final mark was 32.4, so not quite enough to overtake Tom and Jack, but just enough to squeak into second place ahead of Ros.

“There were no mistakes, which is imperative – you want to get a decent score,” was Bill assessment of the test. “I was worried about the atmosphere because there’s a big one up there with the members area, the wine glasses, people talking, and he’s a very sensitive horse. But, you know, we gave him the right amount of work and he was good, actually, so that was pleasing. I’ve had some good help from Ian Woodhead over the past few days and that’s always super-helpful. They’re marking very hard, I think they’re probably four or five marks higher than they usually would be, but it’s just pleasing to finish in a competitive place after the first phase.”
And on his plans for Saturday’s cross country test: “Tomorrow, I’m just going to see how he feels. He’s only a young horse and I’ve taken him quietly – I’ll go as quick as I can, but I won’t be silly. He’s a very easy horse in that he’s very light, he doesn’t pull or anything like that, so I should be travelling pretty well. He’s normally a good showjumper, so I’m hopefully going to run in a good place,” he explained.

There was a late challenge in the day from Kirsty Chabert on her final of her three homebreds in the section, Opposition Loire, owned John Johnston, Caroline Caines, Caroline Rees and Carole Somers. Their 33.0 left them just off the podium, but still in touch with the showjumping phase to come early tomorrow morning from 08:30.

At the close of today’s play, Tom reflected on his test and the challenge of tomorrow: “It seems a long time ago now – first thing in the morning, first on! Jack was brilliant. He pulled out a great test, really level, really fluent and what we’d call a clear round.

“It’s a really good course. He [Jack] came here last year for his first CCI4*-S because I believe that it’s really for horses coming up to come here – it’s bold, it’s attacking, it asks lots of questions. This year, it’s more technical than last year, but we’re taking it stage by stage, so hopefully a good showjumping round first and we’ll take it from there.
“He’s very placid, he’s lovely,” Tom said of the nine-year-old gelding’s character. “He’s quite large, so it’s taken him quite a while to mature physically and, actually, a bit of time mentally, too. He went to Le Lion as a six- and seven-year-old, and just with the new movements and things, he’s had to learn quite a bit and it’s taken a bit of time, but I think we’re getting there.”

The show jumping for the DEFENDER CCI4*-S in the main arena kicks off Super Saturday’s packed timetable at 08:30, while the first competitor in the CCI4*-L sets off on Ian Stark’s cross-country track in the park at 09:30.  For full start times and results, head over to: Eventing Scores

Image courtesy of 1st Class Images

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