Competitors in the weekend’s main event, the CIC3*, didn’t let this dampen their sports, though. The feature class combined the British Open Championship and the fifth leg of the Event Rider Masters series, and was hotly contested from the outset by 2016 series winner Oliver Townend. Riding Andrew Cawthray’s Note Worthy, Townend proved he wasn’t there to play, clocking up a 38.7 – one of only two sub-40 dressage tests in the class. His win in this leg last year, aboard Cilnabradden Evo, had been the turning point for his stake in the series.
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Australia’s Bill Levett notched up the only other sub-40 mark, with a 39.2 aboard Shannondale Titan. This revised score came after Levett was marked down for a suspected error of course. The error was then removed.
At the end of the first day of competition, firm favourites, and 2017 ERM series leader, Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul sat in 12th place on 44.5, and Sarah ‘Cutty’ Cohen and Treason sat in 6th on 42.
But it wasn’t to be a dressage competition. Of all the ERM legs so far this season, Gatcombe must surely take the crown for phase influence. Only three combinations managed a double-clear in the showjumping – Alex Bragg on Zagreb, Ludwig Svennerstal on Balham Mist, and ERM debutante Caroline March, riding Postmaster. A number of riders were caught out by the first fence, and several made misjudgments in the treble, leading to a drastic reshuffling of the leaderboard.
Mistakes made by the leaders – including Oliver Townend, who clocked up 8 faults – allowed for lower-placed riders to begin their climb up the pack. Ludwig Svennerstal moved from 17th to 7th after the showjumping, Beanie Sturgis from 25th to 15th, and Tom McEwen from 19th to 9th. It was Marcio Carvalho Jorge on Lissy Mac Weyer, though, who headed the pack at the end of the second phase, with just one time fault to add to his 40 dressage.
Gatcombe’s organisers had worked tirelessly to ensure that, despite the heavy rain, the going wouldn’t be badly affected. But the course, with its relentless undulations, tricky lines and, yes, the mud, wasn’t to be easy, and time was a hugely influential factor in the cross-country phase.
Seven riders withdrew before the final phase, leaving a field of just 25 combinations to fight for Gatcombe glory. Sitting in 5th place after showjumping, Oliver Townend was hungry to regain the top placing – and his chance for more valuable series points – but it wasn’t to be. He fell at fence 4, effectively putting his chances of a top finish in the 2017 series to bed.
Next on course was Bill Levett, holding onto fourth place, but he, too, wasn’t to complete the tough track, as Shannondale Titan fell at fence 20.
As the day went on, and more and more riders came home with 20 or more time penalties, attention turned to the one horse in the pack with a record of making optimum times look easy, despite trying conditions.
Gemma Tattersall’s Arctic Soul may only have been 11th going into the final phase, but the current series leader wasn’t about to give up easily. It’s not often that the horse, known as Spike at home, is put into fifth gear, but the pair dug deep, rode incredibly fast, and clocked up a remarkable 1.2 time faults to put Tattersall at the top of the podium.
No one, in the end, could catch them, although a windswept Ludwig Svennerstal gave it his best attempt to finish second with 6.8 time penalties.
Tattersall’s victory makes her the first person to win two ERM legs on two different horses – she won Chatsworth on Quicklook V – the first person to win an ERM leg from outside the top five after dressage, and the first person to win a leg with rails down in the showjumping, proving Gatcombe’s worth as a true three-phase competition. She maintains her lead in the series with 104 points – 13 clear of second-placed Sarah Cohen.
“Another ERM leg and I’m the British Open Champion – I’m over the moon; I can’t quite believe it’s happened,” laughed a thrilled Tattersall.
“I rode Chilli’s Gem double-clear around her first Advanced just before I got on Spike, so that gave me a huge confidence boost. Then, I just had to put my brave pants on – we went as fast as I think I’ve ever gone in my life! He was pretty insane, and we’re such a team – we believe in each other. I think he’s the best cross-country horse in the world – it doesn’t matter if it’s Burghley, Badminton, big open courses, or up and down hills with turnbacks like this is, he will literally do any track. He’s so versatile when it comes to cross-country.”
Ludwig Svennerstal finished in second on a 55.4 – a considerable personal best at this level for Balham Mist, who has had a relatively inconsistent season and who hasn’t made the time over the past two years. The Swedish Olympian was pleased with the upturn of fortunes for the horse, who will target Burghley next month.
“I thought I was going really fast – but not fast enough!” he laughed. “It’s nice to be on the podium with this horse, who hasn’t been particularly consistent at this level, so it’s nice for the owner to be here and get to experience that. The most exciting thing is that it feels like he’s got to the point where we’re both ready to perform – that’s really satisfying after putting so much time and effort into the horse.”
Crowd favourites Alex Bragg and Zagreb survived a sticky moment in the Red Savannah water complex to pull off a classy clear round and finish third with 14.4 time faults – just 2.3 penalties from the top of the leaderboard.
“After you’ve done that hill at the end it just absolutely knocks the stuffing out of you,” he said of the course. “When I came down the hill, he felt quite heavy on his head, and then when I put my leg on him he didn’t respond so well, so I had to work hard. He’s a big horse, he’s 18hh, and this is the type of course where you really want a nippy Thoroughbred. He’s really a 4* horse, but the fact that he’s getting on the podiums in the CIC3* shows how good he is, because it’s well out of his area of speciality.”
The pair will now contest the ERM finale at Blenheim before heading to Pau, with next year’s Badminton as their major aim.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the great success of Australia’s Shane Rose, who piloted Sam Griffiths’ usual ride Happy Times to a win in the Neptune Trophy for Advanced horses. Gatcombe was only the third competitive outing – and second completion – for the pair, who made their debut less than a month ago with an 11th place finish in the OI at Upton House. Rose has taken over the ride for Griffiths as he recovers from the serious neck injury he sustained earlier in the season. He was full of praise for the way that Griffiths has produced the hugely consistent 18-year-old by Heraldik.
“It shows how well Sam’s trained him, that someone else can get on his horse and do a good job,” effused Rose. “It’s difficult [to get on one that someone else has produced] and he’s quirky enough, but he’s been really well-trained and he’s a pleasure to ride.”
The Smith & Williamson British Intermediate Championship was won by Oliver Townend, riding Angela Hislop’s American Thoroughbred Khoi Traveller.
“I didn’t come here expecting him to pull off that result,” admitted Townend, “but he performed at his best in all three phases.”
He was quick to praise the team at Gatcombe for having prepared the course to handle the adverse conditions.
“As always, they’ve done an unbelievably good job at keeping the show on the road – I couldn’t be happier, I think the conditions were as good as we could expect them to be.”
Ben Hobday took the top spot in the Dodson & Horrell British Novice Championship with Jane Chambers’ Shadow Man II. Chambers has been a long-term owner and supporter of Hobday, and the win was an emotional one for the popular rider. The pair added just 6.8 time penalties to their impressive dressage score of 27.3, which allowed them to lead throughout the competition.
The Corinthian Cup for amateur riders at the Novice level was won by Quorn stud groom Lorna Collins, in her first entry at Gatcombe in eleven years. Remarkably, since her last appearance at the Gloucestershire venue, she has suffered a stroke, but has returned to the sport in top form.
“The only way is up,” she smiled.