Dutch Courage at FEI Aston-le-Walls International

We have a Dutch winner of the four-star class at Aston-le-Walls, sponsored by Dassett Eventing. Andrew Heffernan came within a whisker of making it a 1-2 after jumping two of the fastest rounds across country. Unfortunately for Andy his likely winner, Gideon II, picked up 15 penalties for missing a flag at fence 10b, dropping down to 10th. As compensation Andy’s second ride, Harthill Phantom, not only won the top prize money but also the historic British Olympic Association trophy given by Ben Way, a tack locker made by M&A and donated by Jerzy Adamek, and a goodie bag from RESP PLUS.

Two horses, SBH Big Wall (Izzy Taylor) and Golded Nugget (Jillian Giessen) beat the clock home, finishing third and 15th respectively, whilst Andy’s Gideon II was four seconds over time, and the eventual winner, Harthill Phantom, seven seconds over.

“I never took a risk,” said Andy of his fast rounds. “Both horses did good tests, and they showjumped well… I’m quite a competitive person, so I definitely wanted to have a crack at it but I admit, I didn’t think I had a chance of winning on this horse (Harthill Phantom). He’s a real trier but probably lacks the ‘flash’ of some other horses making him winning almost a little bit more special. He did the best test he’s ever done on Friday, and jumped super; he’s always solid across country.

“I’ll now enter him for Burghley. With Gideon I’m undecided… I’m coach for the Dutch team so the Europeans are a bit in the air – there is the added factor of not having qualified for Paris (2024 Olympics) and so much for the sport in Holland hangs in the balance re qualifying. I’ll see how the other Dutch riders are doing and how they feel before making the call.”

France’s Gaspard Maksud kept the international flavour going, taking the runner-up spot on Zaragoza II, finishing just 0.7 of a penalty behind Harthill Phantom. Now 10, Gaspard has ridden Zaragoza since she was four.

“I’ve been off for a bit after breaking my collar bone, but coming back out here and both of my horses being placed, I’m delighted,” said Gaspard, whose other ride Kan-Do 2 finished 13th. “Zaragoza placed sixth at last year’s World Championships and has had good results this year. She always tries and does her best. I took her a little steady across country; the French team coach was here watching and I was told not to go too fast – plus she lost a shoe so slipped a tiny bit. Fair play to the Aston team, it was a very nice course and caused enough problems.”

Dressage leaders Ros Canter and Rehy Royal Diamond took third place after time penalties dropped them down the order a little, with stable mate MHS Seventeen fifth, Ros’ rides separated by SBH Big Wall under Izzy Taylor.

“It was only Rehy Royal Diamond’s second run this year and I’m delighted with the way he’s gone. He’s very enthusiastic and loves the sport – perhaps a bit too much. Sometimes I feel like a pea on a drum across country – he’d happily take strides out, but I don’t really like that; I’m sure he’d love to go faster than I let him!

“I’m still getting to know MHS Seventeen. He was quite green at Bramham so to come here and jump a double clear like he did today was fantastic. His dressage has come on in leaps and bounds, and it’s all about gaining mileage to build his confidence.”

Seventy-three combinations out of over 100 starters completed, with problems spread around the track. Despite the huge number of horses that competed over the last few days, the ground remained superb. Riders were effusive in their praise for the venue and the quality of the facilities – all credit to the very hard-working organising team.

Full results can be found here

Image courtesy of Matt Nuttall Photography.

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