The four-star short-format concluded today with the influential cross-country phase. France’s Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma retained their overnight lead to win the Scottish Open Champion title, one they also won here in 2019, finishing as runners-up last year. The pair sped around the cross-country track which proved challenging for many in the fastest time of the day, seven seconds inside the optimum time, to complete on 27.2.
“He’s just too good,” Astier said of the 11-year-old. “With many horses you use softer bits as they get older but with him I have to go harder – he’s just a rocket. I am amazed by his fitness as he has only had one other run this year due to having had hoof surgery but he has fought his way back and wants to be here. He’s a Blair expert!”
When asked about his thoughts on the cross-country course, Astier commented: “I think it was more difficult than previously but that may be my memory. The courses here can look easy when you first walk them because, if the fences were on the flat they wouldn’t be too technically difficult, but when you factor in the terrain, which I think is some of the most challenging in the world, they become much more difficult. I love coming here – everyone is very friendly, the landscape is beautiful and the ground is second to none.”
Oliver Townend finished second with Sir John Peace’s As Is, a relatively recent acquisition to his string having been produced by Oliver’s great friend and New Zealand Olympian, Andrew Nicholson. Second out on course, the pair made light work of it and were the only other combination not to incur time or jumping penalties. They completed on their dressage score of 30.2. “He’s top class, he gallops, he jumps, what else can I say?” said Oliver.
Tom McEwen and Mrs Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry’s Brookfield Quality dropped a place and finished third on 34.6 after picking up 6.4 time penalties. Tom, however, was still delighted with the horse whom he has recently taken on from Piggy March who also rides for the Brookfield Stud: “Coming here with him was a fact finding mission really,” admitted Tom.
“Riding a horse who has been ridden by one of the best in the world is a bit nerve wracking to be honest and we’re still getting to know each other. He’s a heck of a character and has a big jump which I’ve had to get used to but I can’t fault the way he’s gone.”
Cross-country pathfinders Wills Oakden and DHI By Design finished fourth on 40.0. The USA’s Caroline Martin, who is currently based with Pippa Funnell, was fifth with Islandwood Captain Jack on 42.9 ahead of Pippa herself with Maybach on 44.0 in sixth.
As was the case in the three-star long, Tom McEwen was in the enviable position of having two show jumps in hand at the top of the leaderboard going into today’s final phase.
Riding Martin Belsham’s mare Luna Mist, he added just .4 of a time fault to take the title on a total score of 32.3. The pair only began their partnership at the start of this season and this was their first outing at this level: “You never know what you’ll have at the end of a three-day event,” said Tom, “and although this was a small class it was a proper test and she’s proved to me that she’s a 5* mare. She made both jumping phases feel easy, particularly today’s show jumping track which was up to height.”
The only fault-free show jumping round of the day, from Oliver Townend and another mare, Paul Ridgeon’s Cooley Rosalent, meant they retained second place. The eight-year-old’s performance also proved to her jockey that she was all that he had thought she was and more: “She’s never felt so good or so spectacular,” said Oliver. “She’s had a great experience over proper 4* tracks and she’s done nothing that tells me she isn’t a 5* horse.” He added that she may well be aimed at Maryland 5* towards the end of the season.
Nini French and her own Time For Harry were third on 54.8 and Louise Harwood with her own Native Spirit Fourth.
After today’s final show jumping phase, Tom McEwen posted another good result for owners Mrs Alison Swinburn, John and Chloe Perry when he retained his overnight lead with their nine-year-old gelding Brookfields Cavalier Cruise. The pair had two show jumps in hand but needed neither and completed on their dressage score of 22.9:
“He’s always been up there after dressage and show jumping at one-day events but has never really been allowed to have his day as we’ve been saving him a big occasion. It’s great that he’s had it today,” said Tom. “This is actually his first long format event and he really stepped up – for a big boy he’s really well-balanced.”
Behind the pair there was just one fence between the next six-placed riders and the leaderboard was shuffled in what was an exciting final phase.
Sam Ecroyd and his mother’s home-bread Withington climbed a place from third to eventual second after they jumped clear and Max Warburton and Deerpairc Revelry (who had been second after cross-country) rolled a pole and dropped to seventh:
“We came here to get our 4* long-format qualification,” said Sam, “and luckily I’ve always had good rounds here. Withington has been produced very slowly as he’s found it quite tricky to learn how to control his power and agility – he’ll have a good break now and hopefully we’ll have a proper season at 4* level next year.”
Perthshire-based Wills Oakden added to the bounty of rosettes he has collected over the course of the event finishing third with his wife Stephanie’s Cooley Pot of Gold on their dressage score of 39.1: “It’s been a brilliant weekend all round,” he admitted. “I came here knowing I had horses capable of getting into the top 10 in their respective sections and I’m glad it all worked out here as it doesn’t always!”
New Zealand’s Caroline Powell and CBI Aldo rose from ninth to fourth following their clear showjumping round, while Katie Magee and Nelson De La Pomme climbed from 10th to fifth after they also went clear.
The top of the leaderboard changed after every phase during this year’s two-star competition. Dressage leaders Caroline Powell and Tik Top lost their advantage when collecting 5.6 cross-country time penalties, opening the door to dressage runners-up Lucinda Atkinson and Twice Proved.
However, a lowered pole in the showjumping plummeted the pair to eventual fifth, so influential was the final day on the results.
The eventual winners, Wills Oakden and his wife Stephanie’s Keep It Cooley, had been just 0.1 of a penalty behind Lucinda and made no such mistake, jumping an immaculate clear round to take the title.
“This season he’s won two intermediates and was runner up in the three-star short-format at Alnwick Ford. The idea was to bring him here to be as competitive as we could be; he’s a horse we absolutely believe in, and love to bits. I’m very proud of him – he’s a serious machine and has been super all week.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a win here. We had one on Friday in a small class and Steph said, ‘that’s the Blair-duck done, they might start coming now’. Finally we have actually done it.”
Also benefitting from clear rounds were Nina De Haas from the Netherlands, riding JVK Mr Maguire, and Harrison Colling on Trevi Fountain who finished second and third respectively.
Wills Oakden & Keep It Cooley
One-star section F
Section F concluded this morning with competitors running across country. The final top three all jumped clear inside the time and completed on their respective dressage scores.
Heading the leaderboard on 28.3 was 18-year-old Maia Fleming from East Lothian with the 18hh Candyman Leanorth who was previously competed up to 3* level by Toots Bartlett:
“It felt like a breeze to be honest,” said Maia. “He made it feel so easy and riding here was a really good experience – it’s a massive atmosphere.”
Maia will now concentrate on horses and target Young Riders classes with Candyman Leanorth next season.
At the other end of the size scale, a 14.1hh pony, Stonehavens Cloud, ridden by Elizabeth Jelfs finished second on 31.5 with Emma Wake and Chrissi third on 33.2.