Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

King Has The Secret Weapon At Blenheim

The young British rider has his biggest win to date.

Great Britain’s Chris King proved that he is a force to be reckoned with when he sailed to his first major international win at Blenheim, Sept. 6-9 in Woodstock, England.

Partnering Lucinda Langlands’ The Secret Weapon, with whom he also triumphed in the CIC*** at Barbury Castle (England) in July, the 30-year-old put in a superb performance to head some of the world’s best, including runner-up Kristina Cook and third-placed Andrew Nicholson.


The young British rider has his biggest win to date.

Great Britain’s Chris King proved that he is a force to be reckoned with when he sailed to his first major international win at Blenheim, Sept. 6-9 in Woodstock, England.

Partnering Lucinda Langlands’ The Secret Weapon, with whom he also triumphed in the CIC*** at Barbury Castle (England) in July, the 30-year-old put in a superb performance to head some of the world’s best, including runner-up Kristina Cook and third-placed Andrew Nicholson.

The sole representative from the United States, Julian Stiller, who was paying her first visit to Blenheim with Mr. Ramsay, unfortunately suffered a fall at the penultimate cross-country fence and retired.

For the winner, though, victory here had been a long time coming.“I finished 13th at Badminton [England] in 2004, but shortly afterwards my two top horses retired. I’ve spent three years in the wilderness, building up a team of young horses,” he explained.

King’s winning partner, The Secret Weapon, certainly looked the part. His dressage test was calm and correct; he galloped and jumped beautifully across the country and merely breathed on the final rail in the show jumping.

“He’s solid in all three phases and continues to improve the more he does,” said King, who has benefited from the help of a sports psychologist. “I had a few issues to resolve, which these sessions helped me overcome. I just wish I had started going 10 years ago.”

For Cook, second place was bittersweet. Her ride, the precociously talented Miners Frolic, has been knocking on the door for a while.

“I knew he was capable of winning, but I mustn’t be too disappointed,” said Cook, who gave birth to her second child, Harry, less than a year ago. Miners Frolic, by the Thoroughbred Miners Lamp, hardly put a foot wrong throughout.

“He had an easy time last season as an 8-year-old as I broke my wrist in the spring, then I was on maternity leave, but he’s my ticket back to the big time and a definite Olympic contender for the future,” she said. But Miners Frolic will not be putting his feet up quite yet, as Cook is planning to take him to Boekelo (the Netherlands) in October “to gain a bit more experience at this level.”

Nicholson finished third with his “ultra-special” 8-year-old Armada, moving up from 15th after dressage.
“He’s a great jumper and a nice prospect for the future,” said Nicholson, whose weekend was made even better when he learned that he had netted the $39,889 first prize in the British Eventing Invesco Premier League, a lucrative accumulator series that culminated at Blenheim.


“It [the money] was compensation for mucking up last weekend,” said Nicholson, in reference to the Burghley title he lost in the show jumping ring. Armada is by the Spanish stallion Fines and is a full brother to Nicholson’s 6-year-old advanced rides, Nereo and Epic.

“I get them sent over to me from Spain as 3-year-olds. They’re all lovely horses,” said Nicholson.
w Not As Soft As It Looks Louisa Brassey and Bruce Rock, who finished seventh at Blenheim last year, took a surprise lead after the dressage. Their energetic, supple and obedient test earned them a mark of 41.7.

“I’ve been stuck on 50 all season, and it’s been getting rather boring, so I’m delighted with my score,” said Brassey. Cook inched into third on 43.9, just ahead of another of the bookies’ favorites, Frenchman Aurelien Kahn and his 7-year-old Le Lion D’Angers CCI** (France) winner Lord De Ligniere.

Riders had pronounced new course designer Eric Winter’s cross-country course a little softer than last year’s, but as the day went on it became apparent that it was riding every bit as big and technical. The track comprised a lot of combination fences at the beginning of the course, and old favorites such as the Invesco Perpetual Sunken Road (fence 5) and the Ariat Dewpond (fence 6) claimed their fair share of victims early on.

Fence 17ABC, the VW Touareg Water Whirl, had riders scratching their heads the most. Winter had given riders the choice of two lines out of the lake—a duck in the water followed by either two triple brushes on a left hand curve or two identical ones on the right.

Control and precision jumping were the order of the day here, and these testing lines caught out 17 riders, including Sam Griffiths, second after dressage, whose ride showed his greenness here, and the overnight leader Brassey. For Brassey, though, a worse fate was awaiting her later on, for she got hooked off by a tree on the landing side of fence 24, ironically named the Goodyear Safer Leap, and broke her collarbone.

Happier times were had by Nicholson and Armada, who made mincemeat of the 26-fence course.
“Jumping’s never been his problem. Riders see him make the time and assume it must be easy to get, but that’s not the case,” said Nicholson, who confirmed that Armada wouldn’t be in the running for the Hong Kong Olympics next year.

“He’s not the type of horse I would choose to be able to cope with the climate,” he said. Only two other combinations mastered the optimum time. Julie Tew rode a classy round on the feisty gray Look Out, who has come on in leaps and bounds since his three-star debut here last year, while “galloping grandfather” Jean Luc Goerens, whose son, Leonard, competes internationally, showed the young guns how it should be done when he finished bang on the allotted 10:52 optimum time.

Getting It Done

Cook had warned beforehand that this track would be a big task for Miners Frolic, but after clambering through the Dewpond one leg at a time, he grew in confidence and sailed through the finish just a few seconds over the time.

King admitted to one sticky moment, at the penultimate Squirrels Playpen (25ABC), which comprised two skinny stumps either side of a log on a mound.


“Andrew [Nicholson] advised me to go on three strides and three strides, but I went on three-and-a-half and three-and-a-half,” quipped King, who was not the only rider to suffer at the hands of the squirrels.
Kahn, whose ride Lord De Ligniere seemed to be on track for a fast clear, chipped in an extra stride before the final element and ground to a halt, while Sacha Pemble’s dream also ended here.

Notable rounds later in the day came from Ireland’s Michael Ryan and Master Mexico (ninth) and Sue Shortt and Stoneybrook (13th). Shortt found an alternative route through the Touraeg Water Whirl at fence 17 when a keen-looking Stoneybrook locked onto the row of Christmas trees that prevented riders from taking a straight line between the second and third elements.

“He’d sized up the Christmas trees and neatly pinged over them before I even knew what was happening,” said Shortt.

Australian world individual silver medalist Clayton Fredericks was one of the most impressive through this complex with the inexperienced gray mare Dunges Laurent Rose, while sports injury therapist Fiona Hobby posted her best performance to date with the neat-jumping Smart Approach to leap 14 places into ninth at this stage.

Rails Fly

Eight horses were withdrawn overnight, and 56 horses came forward to tackle Di Bobby’s influential show jumping track. The poles fairly flew during the course of the morning, and by lunchtime only one rider, Briton’s Richard Jones (Valentina II), had managed to leave all the rails intact.

A tight time limit and fences that were strategically positioned facing into the crowds proved troublesome, and there were only two more clears, from the Irish riders Ryan and Shortt, although the latter picked up 2 time penalties.

The Secret Weapon didn’t look like touching a pole until he became a little deep to the last, which fell.
“I thought I’d knocked a rail earlier on, so I didn’t know what was going on when I heard the crowd groan at the last. Fortunately, though, I looked up and saw my fiance Zanie jumping up and down, so I guessed it was good news,” said King with a smile.

Blenheim Tidbits

  • New Zealander Joe Meyer’s ride, Ariki (50th) joined the elite rank of visually impaired horses to compete at the top level. He cannot see out of his right eye and so compensates by tilting his head to one side when he jumps. Tristram Owers’ four-star ride, Briarlands Blackberry, only has one eye, as has Cressy Clague Readings Huszar, who was competing in the Eventer’s Grand Prix, which took place on Sunday.
  • France had a particularly successful time at this year’s Blenheim. Jean Renaud Adde finished eighth with Hason D’Elpegere, while Manon Fournier, 22, was the best under-25 and the highest placed owner-rider with Ilot Du Grand Val, with whom she finished sixth at last year’s Young Rider European Championships.“This was both mine and my horse’s first three-star. I thought the course looked huge, but he coped really well,” said Fournier.
  • The youngest rider to complete the competition was 20-year-old British rider Ed Eltham, who finished 27th with Bonza Billabong. When Eltham took on the ride two years ago, he had to drop down to pre-novice level with the horse in order to restore his confidence.
  • Fellow Brit Jay Halim won the prize for the most improvement on his dressage score. He leapt from 73rd to 18th with Sue White’s impressive jumper Kilfinnie II.
  • There were three horses competing at Blenheim by the prolific Irish jumping sire Cruising. Emily Gilruth’s 8-year-old Ashdale Cruise Master impressed at his first three-star to finish 12th, while Sue Shortt’s ride Stoneybrook and Ciaran Glynn’s Killosery Kruisita also carried all the hallmarks of their striking sire.

Ellie Hughes




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