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...huge crowds of spectators, a genius course designer and the sport of Eventing and you have the recipe for the FEI WBFSH World Breeding Eventing Championship for Young Horses which, once again this year, highlighted the potential of many rising equine stars.
The fixture, staged at the fabulous Haras National at l‘Isle de Briand in Le Lion d’Angers in France, was celebrating its 25th anniversary and, from the outset, was always going to be a thriller.
At just six years old the youngest horses are still in the very early stages of their development, some with a little more experience but very much on the learning curve that will take them to the next level. This year’s champion and vice-champion in this category, Monkeying Around ridden by Britain’s Izzy Taylor and Bob Chaplin with Australia’s Paul Tapner on board, claimed the top two places in the Dressage phase and added nothing more to their scorelines while French rider, Thomas Carlile, moved up from fifth to claim bronze medal position when also keeping a clean sheet with Birmane.
It was a different story in the seven-year-old category, yesterday’s final showjumping phase proving highly influential as New Zealand’s James Avery and Vitali, who had been in the lead from day one, dropped all the way to sixth when collecting nine faults over the coloured poles. It was Frenchman Astier Nicolas and Alertamaib’Or who rose from fourth to take the title ahead of Izzy Taylor, this time partnering Director Casino who was in ninth after both Dressage and Cross-Country. Bronze went to the legendary Kiwi Andrew Nicholson with Yacabo BK, his showjumping clear rocketing him up from 14th position on a day when only eight of the 43 starters in this age group managed to leave all the poles in place.
Avery’s early domination was a bit of a surprise, the relatively unknown 25-year-old and his beautiful bay Holsteiner really captivating the judges in the Seven-Year-Old Dressage phase and then producing a foot-perfect cross-country run over yet another extraordinary course designed by Pierre Michelet whose innovation and imagination seems to know no bounds. His gelding, Vitali, began his career as a four-year-old with Jock Paget, and Avery got the ride last year when he returned to New Zealand. “He has an amazing talent. He is brilliant and moves really well. It is easy to be good at dressage with him!” he said. And it seemed he might just pull off one of the biggest sensations of the season.
But in the end it was 28-year-old Astier Nicolas, team gold and individual silver medallist at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, who won through, moving up from fourth spot with a jumping exhibition from Alertamalib’Or when all those ahead of him crumbled on the last day. Lying third, Australia’s Christopher Burton plummeted to 11th with Lawtown Boy with two fences down and three time faults. And British star Mary King who was holding silver medal spot had an even tougher time, dropping all the way to 21st when King Robert kicked out all three elements of the triple combination and then even more.
This allowed Izzy Taylor to make that meteoric climb from ninth to silver medal spot and Andrew Nicholson, who had been 14th after Dressage, to take the bronze. “I was hoping to be in the Top ten with Yacabo, but with the young horses, you never know… this third place is a great reward for him. He is good in the three phases, and I think he has the ability to compete in four star competitions in the future,” said the 55-year-old seven-time Olympian.
Astier Nicolas was delighted with Alertamalib’Or who also took the seven-year-old title at the French Championships this year. “I was a little frustrated after the dressage this week because I think he deserved a better score. On the cross-country he was so serene, he was even a bit too cool at the beginning. In show jumping he did his job perfectly, and he deserves this title, I adore this horse!” he said.
Izzy Taylor’s Six-Year-Old champion didn’t live up to his name, Monkeying Around behaving like a gentleman to lead from the off and never flinch, finishing on their Dressage mark of just 37.6. “He was in our stable to be sold, but when I tried him I quickly realised his potential”, the British rider explained.
Apparently he wasn’t always such a reliable character - “as a five-year-old he mainly hunted because he had quite a difficult temperament. But this year he understands better what is expected of him”, Izzy explained. She’s not sure what’s going to happen next though. “Obviously I am very happy with this victory, because I have great hopes for this horse. The target is to come back next year and I hope to keep him for myself to ride. But I have a family and stables to run, so maybe I will have a difficult choice to make in the future - to keep him or sell him!” she added. That’s the dilemma for so many competitors in all equestrian sports.
Second-placed Paul Tapner clearly believed he would have won but for a Dressage error. “It wasn’t Bob’s fault, I made a mistake and it cost us the leading position. Bob’s nickname is Perfect Bob! He is easy to ride, he is perfect in all three disciplines, and he has a wonderful temperament. Everyone should have a Bob at home! Congrats to Izzy on her win but I will come back with Bob next year and we will be first!” he said.
Britain’s Sarah Bullimore and Corouet and Ireland’s Elizabeth Power and DSL The Entertainer were sharing third place as yesterday’s showjumping began, but both horses made one baby-mistake and it cost them the bronze medal which instead went to Thomas Carlile with the super-attractive and athletic mare Birmane, who also won her age category at this year’s French Championships and for whom her rider has the highest hopes.
“She was a bit tense in the dressage because she was surprised by the crowd and the atmosphere. It was not necessarily an advantage to compete on home ground. But on the cross-country, she was as good as she can be, and again in the jumping phase. She is a promising mare for the future, and the Mondial des 7 ans is already planned in her programme for 2018. But the real target with her is Paris 2024!” he said.
Text by Louise Parkes
Images by Solène Bailly