The German team is ruling supreme with a massive nine-fence lead over Great Britain following Cross Country day at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship at Blair Castle (GBR) where relentless rain made conditions testing but also produced some brilliant, brave riding.
The standout performance was that of defending individual champion Michael Jung (GER), who flew around inside the optimum time with consummate ease on the eight-year-old fischerTakinou, the youngest horse in the field, and now has two fences in hand to win a third consecutive European title.
Jung is accustomed to success, but he was visibly overwhelmed at the talent and courage of his newest star, and had just one word at the finish, “perfect!” Afterwards he added, “I knew fischerTakinou was a very fast horse and easy to handle at fences, but he ran like a steeplechaser. It was a brilliant feeling.”
His team mate Sandra Auffarth, the Dressage leader, is now in individual silver medal position after clocking up 11.2 time penalties on Opgun Louvo. She was held on course in the chilly rain while a fence was repaired, but she has such a trusting partnership with her 13-year-old chestnut gelding that they could pick up the threads of their smooth round seamlessly.
Ingrid Klimke (GER) is sixth on Horseware Hale Bob with 8.8 time penalties, while team pathfinder Dirk Schrade (GER) is lying eighth with 5.2 penalties on Hop And Skip.
Britain, the host nation, has five riders in the top 10, but unfortunately only two of them are team members: team rookie Kitty King, lying fifth on Persimmon, and former dual European champion Pippa Funnell, who is in 10th place on the youngster Sandman 7.
“I’m so relieved because I was feeling the pressure this morning,” said King. “Persimmon was feisty and I had to work to make him listen to me, but he was always looking for the flags and was so genuine. It was a good fun track to ride and it’s great to feel that I haven’t let anyone down.”
Funnell was emotional after her round: “I’ve never been so nervous at a championship. I didn’t want to pressurise such a lovely young horse but at the same time I knew I couldn’t go round quietly because I was riding for the team. The horse was classy; I’d love to think I could take him to the Rio Olympics.”
Nicola Wilson, who has produced numerous clear rounds for the British team over the years, had a shock runout with One Two Many at the double of corners sited in the arena (fence 16) and anchorman William Fox-Pitt unexpectedly retired Bay My Hero. The 12-year-old gelding was clearly not enjoying the wet ground and ran out, for the first time in his career, at the brush arrowhead at fence 17.
The stylish Izzy Taylor, competing as an individual for Britain, was one of only three riders to achieve the optimum time of 10 minutes 13 seconds and is now in individual bronze position on the good mare KBIS Briarlands Matilda. Gemma Tattersall (GBR) was the first to beat the clock with a dazzling round on Arctic Soul and is now seventh, two places ahead of Laura Collett on Grand Manoeuvre.
Dressage runner-up Holly Woodhead (GBR) saw her medal chances evaporate when DHI Lupison ran out at the fourth fence, and Francis Whittington (GBR), seventh, retired Easy Target.
The French team’s quest for Olympic qualification is a step closer after three clear rounds and they are now in bronze position with Thibaut Vallette close to an individual medal in fourth place on Qing du Briot ENE HN.
The pressure was on when their second rider, Karim Florent Laghouag, fell with Entebbe de Hus at the influential downhill combination, the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (fences 21-22), where the middle element – the Haggis – was later removed due to the wet ground.
Team anchorman Thomas Carlile (FRA), currently 24th on Sirocco du Gers, said: “We really had to finish for the sake of our Olympic qualification. It was not for me to play an individual role, the team was the priority, and my horse has played a huge part in this, he was very generous.”
The Netherlands, who also lost their second rider, Alice Naber-Lozeman (ACSI Peter Parker), with a fall at fence 20, are in fourth place. Sweden is fifth but will need their three remaining riders to pass the horse inspection to gain their Olympic qualification, as their pathfinders Johan Lundin and Johnny Cash fell at fence 18.
The Spanish team is sixth after a highly creditable Cross Country performance, and are the only nation other than Germany to have four clear rounds.
The Irish team had unbelievably bad luck, with falls for Joseph Murphy (Sportsfield Othello) at fence 22, the Tatties; Padraig McCarthy (Simon Porloe) at the corner at 16; and Austin O’Connor in the water at 19. Only Michael Ryan (Ballylynch Adventure) managed to get home clear and is now in 14th.
There were 35 clear rounds and 45 completions. Irish individual Sam Watson, currently 13th on Horseware Lukeswell, summed up a memorable day of competition: “I love it when the weather is like this because the good riders come to the fore,” he said. “You just have to deal with whatever comes out of the heavens!”
Tomorrow’s Jumping phase starts at 11.30 with the lower placed riders. Follow all the action with live results on www.blair2015.com and coverage on FEI TV www.feitv.org.
Individual Results after Cross Country
1 Michael Jung/fischerTakinou (GER)* 33.5 + 0 = 33.5
2 Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (GER)* 31.4 + 11.2 = 42.6
3 Izzy Taylor/KBIS Briarlands Matilda (GBR) 44.0 + 0 = 44.0
4 Thibaut Vallette/Qing du Briot ENE HN (FRA)* 36.8 + 8.4 = 45.2
5 Kitty King/Persimmon (GBR)* 36.9 + 8.4 = 45.3
6 Ingrid Klimke/Horseware Hale Bob (GER)* 37.8 + 8.8 = 46.6
7 Gemma Tattersall/Arctic Soul (GBR) 47.3 + 0 = 47.3
8 Dirk Schrade/Hop And Skip (GER)* 43.1 + 5.2 = 48.3
9 Laura Collett/Grand Manoeuvre (GBR) 37.8 + 10.8 = 48.6
10 Pippa Funnell/Sandman 7 (GBR)* 41.0 + 9.6 = 50.6
*denotes team rider
Team Results after Cross Country
1 Germany 122.7; 2 Great Britain 169.3; 3 France 179.7; 4 Netherlands 209.3; 5 Sweden 247.8; 6 Spain 253.8