Oxfordshire, England—Sept. 14
Talented Irish rider Aoife Clark is poised to win her first CCI*** aboard Fenyas Elegance after an exciting day of cross-country at the Fidelity Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.
“She’s some mare!” Clark said. “She’s still inexperienced, and we hadn’t tested her over this distance. The hills are very taxing, and she’s not full Thoroughbred, but she’s quick, and she’s nippy, and she’s so amazing and fun that you can just keep coming at things.” The 9-year-old mare is an Irish Sport Horse (Ricardo Z—Fenya, Good Thyne).
But U.S. rider Clark Montgomery is breathing down her neck, maintaining his third-place standing with a clean and quick cross-country round on Loughan Glen. “This horse in the past has been a bit slow and has gotten tired in the last few minutes especially, so I’m really happy to be just 7 seconds over,” Montgomery said. “You want to go for it, but it is proving to be very difficult. If anybody does get inside [the time], then good on ‘em, because it is hard. He felt good. I had to fight a little bit on the course; it rode harder than I thought. But he was super-honest and I couldn’t be happier.”
Listen to all of Montgomery’s post-cross-country interview. Montgomery is actually tied with Frenchman Jean Teulere on 45.5, but Teulere was 1 second quicker on cross-country to get the edge in the tie-break.
Fellow U.S. rider Megan O’Donoghue had a brilliant clear round and picked up just 8.8 time faults to move up from 42nd after dressage into 11th. Canadian Jessica Phoenix rode Pavarotti to a clean round and 17.6 time penalties to move up to 16th from 20th. “I couldn’t be happier with him. This track is riding hard,” she said. Listen to her assessment of Pavarotti’s round here.
Phillip Dutton and Ben jumped without fault, but 27.2 time faults put them into 22nd. The Holsteiner gelding lost a shoe early on the course. “This horse is coming off an injury, and I was a little bit unsure what I would have left by the 8-minute mark, so in hindsight I probably set off a little too quiet. He got home and will be better for the next time,” Dutton said. Listen to his whole interview here.
British-based U.S. representatives Jullian Stiller and Cindy Rawson both had a stop each on Sintra BK and Mocharabuiee to drop out of the top 40.
Clark, seventh individually and best of the Irish team at the London Olympics last year, put up a dashing display of cross-country riding on PJ Hegarty’s Fenyas Elegance to take a 1.5-penalty lead after dressage leader Sarah Bullimore had an unfortunate run-out.
“The difference with a younger horse like her is the cumulative questions,” Clark said. “I definitely set out early not putting the gun to her head in terms of speed. But I got to the coffin and realized I was 20 seconds down, so I slowly tried to get a few second back on each minute. She got tired, but she just keeps galloping. Because you don’t need to set up, you don’t waste time.”
But scores are so tight at the top of a reorganized leaderboard that Clark does not have a fence in hand over the veteran French horseman Teulere on the experienced Matelot du Val nor Montgomery.
Clark isn’t too worried. “She’s been a super jumper; she’s only had one rail down this year, so there’s not many you’d rather be on than her. I just need to see how much today takes out of her. That was the biggest question she’s been asked, and she just came up with answers every time I asked her,” Clark said.
“She’s still young; I don’t want to put any pressure on her. No matter what she comes away with this weekend, she’s proved herself to be a superstar, and I couldn’t have asked any more of her.”
This is the first time Clark, who lives locally to Blenheim, at Middle Barton, has been in the lead at a three-star competition, but she said she planned to “ride as I normally do.”
Teulere, 59, the world champion in 2002, is hoping that the 13-year-old Matelot du Grand Val will put him back into the French team when next year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are held on his home soil.
“It was a tough course but quite straightforward for me and my horse, who is really fast,” Teulere said.
Montgomery, who is based near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, with senior judge Christian Landolt, was delighted at how well the 10-year-old Loughan Glen finished. They jumped clean and picked up just 2.8 time penalties in one of the fastest rounds of the day.
Loughan Glen had a wind operation earlier this year, which seems to have helped him gallop more easily. “It wasn’t the smoothest round I’ve ever done, but the horse has a ton of heart,” said Montgomery. “Whatever happens tomorrow, I will consider this to have been a massively successful year with him.”
Eric Winter’s cross-country course, beautifully presented by David Evans and his team, proved influential, and only Gemma Tattersall, the highest-placed British rider in fourth place on Arctic Soul, came in under the optimum time of 10:10. The weather stayed dry, and a large and enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a day full of suspense and bold riding.
Bullimore, leader after the dressage phase on Lilly Corinne, had an unfortunate glance-off at the influential fence 21B, a skinny brush at the Ariat Dewpond.
William Fox-Pitt was another to have a bad day—first out on course with Before Time, he fell at the second of the Cotswold Life Stone Houses (23B), two angled spreads, and then retired Running Order after a run-out at the Ariat Dewpond.
Pippa Funnell, the only rider who could have snatched the lead from Clark, had a frustrating run-out on Or Noir de la Loge at the Ariat Dewpond.
There were 33 clear rounds from the 83 cross-country starters. “It’s been a proper cross-country day,” said Winter, “I was surprised that there were quite so many run-outs, but they were spread out around the course, which is a good result.”