The Germans proved once again why they lead the world in eventing when, at the end of a gruelling cross country day at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship 2015, they stretched their lead to give them a remarkable nine showjumping fences in hand over the second-placed British team.
Ian Stark’s track proved as influential as predicted and a gripping competition unfolded as the rain lashed down on the Scottish hills, the going became progressively more testing and the best in the world dropped like flies.
Once again, defending champion Michael Jung was at the forefront of the German domination. One of only three combinations to finish inside the 10min 13sec optimum time on the eight-year-old fischerTakinou, the youngest horse in the competition, Michael stays on his dressage score of 33.5 to lead the field by a remarkable nine-plus penalties.
“My horse was fighting for me and he was running like a steeplechaser even at the end. When the vet checked him afterwards he said he was perfect,” grinned an elated Michael, who is thoroughly enjoying his fortnight on British soil, having won at Burghley last week.
Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo, who led after the first phase, dropped to second after picking up time penalties, while crowd favourite Ingrid Klimke posted the third counting team score, whizzing round the course in spectacular fashion for just a few time faults in some of the worst conditions at the end of the day.
Trouble was spread all around the course, which pleased course-designer Ian Stark.
“I had worried that riders might opt for the easier route at the Lochan fence [the influential third water at 19ab], but as it turned out a lot went straight and rode it well,” he said, adding: “I thought the Germans, in particular, were brilliant through here; they rode with great skill and balance, which I was thrilled to see.”
British individuals Izzy Taylor and Gemma Tattersall were the other two standout performers in this phase – and the only other two inside the time.
“I had hoped for a good result and I set out positively, but this result has exceeded my expectations,” said Izzy, whose round on the gutsy little mare KBIS Briarlands Matilda was good enough to shoot her up the leaderboard into the individual bronze medal position overnight.
The home side otherwise suffered mixed fortunes. Team pathfinders Kitty King rode to orders on the classy 10-year-old Persimmon to come home with 8.4 time penalties and rise up the leaderboard to lie fifth overnight, but Nicola Wilson had an uncharacteristic error when One Two Many glanced off at the second of the corners in the arena.
With the pressure on, Pippa Funnell pulled a fantastic performance out of the bag with the relatively inexperienced nine-year-old Sandman 7, who visibly grew in confidence on the way round. Their clear with 9.6 time penalties boosted British morale and left the pair 10th on the individual leaderboard.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous at a Championship but I’m going to really enjoy today,” said an emotional Pippa afterwards.
Anchorman William Fox-Pitt, who has not enjoyed his trip north, saw his fortunes take another tumble when Bay My Hero followed a below par dressage test yesterday with two run-outs at the narrow triple brush at fence 17.
“He’s been a bit on edge all week. He wasn’t going in the ground, which was deep and holding by the time I went, and I think it was his way of telling me he wasn’t enjoying it. I can’t blame him,” said a despondent William, who retired the gelding.
France, currently lying in the bronze medal position, enjoyed a successful day, posting three clear rounds. Their best-placed rider is championship first-timer Thibaut Vallette, who rode an accomplished round on Qing du Briot to lie fourth individually.
The Netherlands, Sweden and Spain lie fourth, fifth and sixth, but there was disappointment for Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Russia, which failed to get three riders home.
This important Championship is part of UK Sport’s National Lottery backed #EveryRoadtoRio events series, which will feature over 30 world class sports events the length and breadth of the UK, supporting British athletes’ preparation and qualification for Rio 2016. The Championship is also supported by EventScotland, which has a longstanding relationship with the team at Blair Castle.