A rare showjumping clear round, one of only two in the class, propelled Wills Oakden to the top of the leaderboard in the CCI4*L at Blair Castle International Horse Trials. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I thought winning one class here last year was massive, but to win two is beyond belief. We’ve been telling A Class Cooley’s owners all summer that we’ve been prepping at one-days for a big win, and now we’ve pulled it off – I’m not sure how, but we have.”
Two rails down for Toshiyuki Tanaka and Jefferson JRA dropped the pair below Wills, but it’s still a good result in terms of him achieving his bigger goal of of securing individual qualifying points for Paris 2024. He admitted, “I’m happy, but angry with myself – the two rails down were my mistakes, the horse is a good jumper. I have enjoyed my trip to Blair.”
Past Blair 4*L winner, Rosie Fry, took third place on Romantic. “I came here hoping for a good run, so a podium finish is the icing on the cake. It’s very special to have another horse here after winning with True Blue Too, who I subsequently lost to injury. I knew she’d enjoy the course here, I’m so proud of her.”
Canter is pure class
Ros Canter was again in a class of her own, beating herself by almost 10 penalties for first, second and fourth place finishes in the CCI4*S, on Izilot DHI, Rehy Royal Diamond and MHS Seventeen respectively.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Ros. “I brought the horses up here to set them up for their autumn 4* long-formats; they are all at slightly different stages in their careers, but I’ve always found Blair to be a really good stepping stone in horses’ development. If they are going to be good horses they have to be able to deal with hills and mud – it’s a really good fitness run for long-format events. Jump by jump there was nothing too difficult on the cross-country but the ground made it testing.
“Izilot DHI is in a really good place at the moment. I’d been quietly hoping he’d be settled here, and he was. When he’s like this, he’s a delight to ride.”
Josie Proctor prevented the clean sweep, posting the fastest cross-country round of the day on Bee Naround. She made the trip to Blair as part of her sister, Emelia’s, ‘eventing swangsong’. Emelia chose the event as her first four-star, and also her last ever event as she is hanging up her competitive boots. She finished 29th on Larksbell.
Bee Naround was started by Nicola Wilson, moved on to Josie’s cousin Imogen Coughlan and then to Josie who describes her as, “a hand-me-down mare! I am absolutely elated and stunned. She did a decent test for her, so I decided to go for it across country… everyone is amazed she has got to this level and finished so well.”
Nail-biting times for Wills
Wills Oaken really did have a fantastic event. As well as winning the CCI4*L he also took the CCI3*L, this time riding Keep It Cooley. Entering the arena, he had two fences in hand and needed them, finishing 2.5 penalties ahead of Morven Pringle.
“That was pretty nerve-wracking,” he said. “Keep It Cooley doesn’t normally touch a rail, but has never jumped in this ground before. I’m thrilled with the win and think the world of him.”
Morven was delighted with both of her horses; Miss Contender finished runner up while Something Classical placed fifth. “Luckily for me, they both like mud!” she laughed. “I’m lucky to be on the Wesko training programme and have really benefitted this season from access to top coaches, not just with my riding but also from the tips I’ve gained on things like mental strength, nutrition etc.”
George Bartlett and Conpierre completed the podium line-up.
Rio Hall and Georgie Girl led from pillar to post in the CCI2*L, finishing on their 24.6 dressage score. Rio left the arena with tears on her cheeks, admitting, “this is way more than I’d hoped for. I genuinely came here wanting to get round the cross-country so I could showjump today. She surprised me with how well she coped in the mud.” Rio is based with third-placed Sam Ecroyd, and added, “it will be a fab journey home in the lorry!”
Another dressage score completion moved Lucinda Atkinson and Frankfort Pointllexi up a place to second. Equally emotional, Lucinda said: “I’ve won big classes before, but this result feels special as Nicola (Wilson) is such a good friend. I feel extremely honoured and privileged to have this ride.”
Boleybawn Lecrae, ridden by Sam Ecroyd, completed the podium placings, again having kept a clean sheet throughout the jumping phases. “I am super happy with him. He was despicably behaved as a youngster and I was on the verge of giving up on him, but the feeling he gives me across country made me persevere,” Sam admitted. “He’s a big horse at 17.2hh, but he’s incredibly agile and nippy. I deliberately came here to gallop up and down the hills in mud to see what he is made of – and now I know.”
There were two CCI1*S sections at Blair. The first was won by Robyn Gray on Margaret Francis’ Jazz Time IV, with Daisy Cross and Cooley Master Mischief second and Phil Brown with M Bear Esquire in third. Lucinda Atkinson added to her good weekend with a win in the second, aboard Pride Park. Just 0.2 penalties behind came Jack Mantell on Night Prowler and another 0.2 behind Jack was Anna Gilchrist on Kilimazing Topaz.
Finally, Blair hosted a CCI2*S Pony class. Ireland’s Kitty Cullen, daughter of Declan Curran who was also competing at Blair, took the spoils with Coppenagh Spring Sparrow, finishing ahead of England’s Arabella Henderson riding Our Billy Eile. Irish riders filled five of the top six places, Anna Nangle and Liscannor Tulira finished third.
Photo: Wills Oakden & A Class Cooley © Athalens
For full results visit Blair Castle International