SAP Equestrian Insights - The final leg of ERM 2019

by Sean Murray

This is it. The final leg of the 2019 ERM series at Lignières. There is so much to consider this weekend, I’m almost at loss as to how to break it down. It’s the first time Lignières is running a CCI4*-S class so there is still plenty of guesswork. The word back from our team on site is that we have a flat track, with plenty of twists and turns. Ground is good and time looks gettable. Jardy, as a comparison, looks like a place to start. When we were there, Gireg le Coz blew away our model with a 4* PB test of 28.2 and then rose from 11th after dressage to take the win. Surely home field advantage isn’t strong enough for him to put in a repeat performance at Lignières? There will a couple of pivotal moments across the weekend but already, it looks like Chris Burton & Quality Purdey will take on this track late on Sunday with a minimum of £30,000 riding on a clear jumping round, probably more.

Let’s look at the leg firstly before turning to how the series will play out.

If you can cast your mind all the way back to Millstreet you might remember the joyous face of Lucy Jackson on top of the podium on Sunday, hand raised as she claimed her first ever international win. What you might not remember is that we had nearly written her off at the start of the competition, giving her less than a 1% chance of taking home the leg.

So how did Lucy Jackson and Superstition beat our model, forcing their way to the top of a pretty impressive field? The most obvious factor was her first phase score. With a test of 26.4 she knocked a massive 5.7 penalties off her 6RA (6 run average). Those who listened to the EquiRatings Eventing Podcast preview before the show may have heard her suggest this as a real possibility, but you would have been doing very well to predict it just by looking at their results. They hadn’t gone sub 30 together since their very first two internationals at CIC2*S in 2015. After that dressage test, her win chances quickly improved, and she jumped straight into our 4th favourite to take the win. But even as our 4th favourite, we still capped her chances at 6%. This is largely due the fact that Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class were still in the competition. Having posted a stellar 21.0 test, they then went on to add nothing in the show jumping. Before cross country they accounted for a full 47% of our total win chances.

But then they withdrew. This threw the competition wide open. Don’t get me wrong, even though they were now second on total points we still didn’t really fancy them for the win, according to our model they still had to overtake Sarah Ennis – Horseware Stellar Rebound, Alexander Bragg – Zagreb, and Emily King – Brookleigh, all of whom we had as outperforming them across the country. While their chances were far from impossible, I certainly wouldn’t have thought it likely. But again, they managed to prove us wrong, as they jumped a clear round, picking up just 0.8 time penalties, and clinching 1st place with less than a second to spare. An absolutely fantastic result that just reaffirms what the sport of eventing is all about. Nothing is set in stone, three disciplines, two competitors, a mixture of continuous and discrete penalties. No-one knows exactly what will happen, and the best we can do is try and measure what is likely to happen. Even at that there will always be some surprising, magnificent performances that seem to fly in the face of all probability.

But enough with looking backwards, and lets instead turn our eyes to this coming weekend in Lignières. Earlier this week, the competition was looking a little bit different to our usual ERM Leg. The favourites weren’t as heavy, and the chasing pack was huge (8 combinations were between 5-7% win chance). A couple of big late withdrawals, Lignières has fallen much closer to our standard format. Out front, at 16% we have Tim Price and Ascona M. They arrive on the back of two straight wins (including a 5* at Luhmühlen) and reports from the site are that he looks a million dollars. Tim’s close friend will be his big threat, Christopher Burton and Quality Purdey have a 14% chance of taking the win. Still searching for their first ERM win together, they are in with a great chance this weekend. Overlooked by some, our final favourite is Michael Jung – Star Connection. Even if you didn’t know anything of Jung’s ridiculous records having sat on top of the sport for almost a decade, you would only have to be told of one result to appreciate why he makes this top 3. Just look back to their last ERM outing at Wiesbaden, where the topped the podium beating out serious talent along the way, including reigning European champions Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob. Star Connection has won here at the venue before aswell.

On to our chasing pack, it’s a pretty impressive bunch. We have 5 combinations with between a 6-8% win chance. While this is a pretty standard amount for an ERM, it wouldn’t always include two previous leg winners (Alex Bragg – Zagreb and Sarah Cohen – Treason). While the 3 favourites and the chasing pack suggest the Lignières is a pretty typical ERM set-up, there’s one aspect of the Prediction Centre that suggests the competition may be more open than previous legs. A full 85% of the starting combinations ended up on top of the podium at least 100 times across our models 10,000 simulations. The average rate for ERM events in 2019 has been 65%, and the largest was 73%. This weekend nearly everyone has a shot at the top spot.

If everyone has a chance who should we keep an eye on to maybe make a move throughout the weekend. The first names I’d be looking at might be Alexander Bragg and Zagreb, if they can post one of their better first phase scores (they have a PB of 23.6, from Jardy ERM 2018) they should shoot up towards the top of our leaderboards. Another combination that are likely to make a big move throughout the weekend are Kazuma Tomoto and Vinci de la Vigne. Likely to be in the middle of the table at the end of Saturday, this combination have been improving their jumping record since Kazuma took over the ride. They are also extremely reliable and quick across the country. If they are within shouting distance come Sunday afternoon and if the Lignières course is looking at all challenging, then you can expect them to become real podium contenders.

With the first ever running of a CCI4*-S in Lignières, it is difficult to know what is going to be the most important phase (if any) this weekend. But let’s imagine you have some inkling, (or maybe an inside track) of what’s going to be influential this weekend. If so, perhaps some simple stats will help you identify the winner this weekend. The average 6RA (6 run Dressage Average) for the field is 29.9, so a sub 30 test doesn’t necessarily mean much. The best 6RAs coming into Lignières are Ascona M (26.8) and Star Connection, Quality Purdey and Jalapeno who are all coming in on 27.9. Expect most of them to be looking good come Sunday. One more to watch out for might be Alexander Bragg and Zagreb, even though they are bang on the average mark at 29.9, there is some evidence to suggest that their scores may have come at tougher judged events, so they might well break into that sub 28 zone this weekend.

How about the show jumping? Over their last 6 runs, no single combination in the field have been perfect, but two of them have managed to limit it to just time penalties. They are Quoriano 'ENE HN' and Star Connection FRH. Horses like Quality Purdey, Billy the Red and Colero have all kept it to a single rail inside their last 6 internationals. If it is all to come down to the final phase then 3 combinations have no XC jumping faults in their last 6 runs, Sibo de Quiesce, Aisprit de la Loge and Vinci de la Vigne. What’s even more impressive is the latter 2 have never had a jumping fault in their (albeit somewhat short) international careers. And if we are looking for time, (fastest man in the sport aside obviously) look no further than Alexander Bragg and Zagreb. They are the only combination in the field that have gone inside the time in their last 6 international completions. Other speedsters include the ever-reliable Christopher Burton with Quality Purdey averaging 1.3 penalties with 5 of 6 inside the time.

Finally if we want just a general total form stat let’s look to Opposition Beaten Percentage or OBP over the last 6 runs. This is the number of combinations you finished ahead of vs the total number of starters in those competitions. Perhaps unsurprisingly with their name cropping up in all of our single phase stats, the leader in this is Christopher Burton with a whopping 90% OBP. Right behind him however are Kazuma Tomoto and Vinci de la Vigne on 88%, and then a little bit further adrift are our home favourite Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge on 81%.

After all these stats you could be excused for thinking that Lignières is all but sewn up. Christopher Burton and Quality Purdey look like they could nearly cash in now, take their rosette, their two big cheques (Leg and Series) and mark off 2019 as another good year. And that may very be what transpires come Sunday. But I would caution against thinking it’s set in stone. There are likely to be three combinations ahead of them on Saturday evening, and surely one or two of those will jump clear on Sunday morning. If the time proves achievable, they could well run out of road to climb to the top. And that is assuming all goes well for them, if there is one thing we have learnt from the ERM series this year, is that you don’t get handed anything on a plate, you always have to turn up.

Finally, let’s take a look at the series implications of Lignières, and to what, for some, might be the bigger prize on offer this weekend. By putting in everyone’s current ERM standings and running our model simulations, we were able to get some probabilities for the final series standings this weekend. While seven athletes have a mathematical chance of taking the overall series, it would be a very difficult task (< 1% chance of occurring) for Alex Bragg, Bill Levitt or Gemma Tattersall to finish up on top. So instead we turn our eyes to Christopher Burton, Jonelle Price, Sarah Cohen and Gireg Le Coz as possible contenders for the win. Burton, currently sitting in second place (Bill would win on aggregate place scores if the series ended today) is the only one with it in his complete control. Any result inside the top 3 would guarantee him the win. While we have his podium chances at around 28% we actually have his chances of securing the series as a little over 57%, since he could technically win by adding as little as a single point. Next best placed are Jonelle Price, with about a 18% chance of winning, and then Sarah and Gireg each have about a 12% of taking the series. If we shift our focus to a top 3 series finish then Bill ( 30% ) and Alex (13%) start to get real chances of taking home some of that £50,000. Gemma is very much an outside chance (3%) but you don’t have to look too far to see more unlikely events occurring at an ERM event.

With the excitement building towards the series showdown this weekend, hopefully you are now primed with some insight on who and what to look out for at Lignières. And who knows all of our predictions and analysis could well be upset by a new PB, or a couple of rails, or perhaps a particularly tough cross country course. All I am absolutely certain of is that I can’t wait for the action to begin.  Follow along and check in with Eventing Prediction Centre throughout the weekend to see how the competition, and the series are playing out.

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