The Next FEI World Number One

by Diarm Byrne

Eventing is on course to have its first female number one since Mary King in 2011. But for how long?

The 2018 season

The battle to be the top ranked Eventing rider in 2018 was about two riders. One male, one female, both British. 

Oliver Townend registered an incredible five top-ten finishes at the highest level of the sport. He won Kentucky in April (and finished seventh on his other horse) to set up the second Grand Slam attempt of his career. He came so close to making history at Badminton, taking the runner-up spot and also fifth place, capping an incredible two weeks early in the season.  

The Kentucky performance was enough to elevate him to the world number one spot. It was the performance at Badminton a week later which meant it would require a mammoth effort to take that title away from him for the remainder of the season. Rankings roll over for a 12-month period; at the end of each month, the points earned during that month are added to the list and the points from the same month last year are dropped. The best six results in the 12 month period count towards ranking points. Oliver therefore was carrying his April and May 2018 points all season. Once he hit the top, he backed it up finishing second and twelfth at Burghley.

He added four wins at four different venues on four different horses in short-format three stars just for good measure too.

British rider Ros Canter announced herself on the big stage in 2017 with top 5s for Allstar B at Badminton and the European championships, and top 10s for Zenshera at Pau and Luhmuhlen. In 2018, the same two horses stepped up another level and pushed Oliver Townend to within a whisker of that global top spot. Ros became world champion at WEG, took third place at both Badminton and Luhmuhlen, but her drop from third place overnight to fifth place at Pau sees her remain as the FEI world number two for another winter.

When it comes to the race to world number one in 2019, it looks like her time will come, but for how long? 

Current Counting Points - Oliver - 569

Month Venue Level Horse Place FEI Points
April Kentucky CCI4* Cooley Master Class 1 111
April Kentucky CCI4* MHS King Joules 7 86
May Badminton CCI4* Cooley SRS 2 106
May Badminton CCI4* Ballaghmor Class 5 94
August Burghley CCI4* Ballaghmor Class 2 106
August Burghley CCI4* Cooley SRS 12 66

Current Counting Points - Ros - 564

Month Venue Level Horse Place FEI Points
May Badminton CCI4* Allstar B 3 102
June Luhmuhlen CCI4* Zenshera 3 102
August Millstreet CIC3* Zenshera 2 38
August Milstreet CCI3* No Excuse 2 67
September Tryon WEG Allstar B 1 161
October Pau CCI4* Zenshera 5 94

Most of us in the sport take for granted the level playing field between men and women. We compete on equal terms with equal levels of success. Three of the past four world champions are female riders and in 2018 the current distribution of four-star wins is exactly 50:50. It is a huge asset of the sport which we don't champion enough. The individual titles are fantastic, but it has been seven years since a female rider was our FEI world number one (Mary King). Can 2019 be the year that the power transfers back, and if so, will it be our reigning world champion who does it?

The crucial factor is that Kentucky (April) and Badminton (May) fall into different world ranking months. While Ros Canter is defending her third place at Badminton, Oliver has to defend a win and seventh place at Kentucky in the April 2019 rankings. Without lifting a finger before May 1st 2019, Ros Canter is a very strong favourite to be FEI world number one for at least a month. Oliver would need to take two horses to Kentucky and fly home with 192 FEI points. That would require finishing fourth and fifth or something similar; third and sixth, second and seventh or a win and eighth place. It’s a very tall order.

Given how the schedule plays out, Ros doesn’t have too many targets within her control to aim at prior to May that can help her cause. The obvious one would be to book a plane ticket for one of her top horses and make the transatlantic trip to Kentucky herself. A top ten finish there would make her untouchable and could also help her to keep the title for a longer period of time. At Badminton and Luhmuhlen she will be defending two third place finishes so a Kentucky result would get some points in the bag ahead of the curve.

We have a six-month wait, but the sport can prepare itself for the very likely possibility that we will have a female number one at Badminton 2019. The next question, for how long?

Joker in the pack

The 2018 season will also be a memorable one for the Kiwi power-couple who took three of the six four-star titles, an incredible achievement. Tim Price is another  potential joker in the pack when it comes to disrupting the sport's chances of a female number one in May. If Tim were to put two horses on a plane to Kentucky and come back with a fifth and sixth placing, or something to that effect, then he would surpass Ros Canter if she decides to stay at home.

Tim is also the most likely threat to Ros post-Badminton, unless Oliver Townend can reproduce the two weeks of magic that he did in 2018. Tim is our favourite to be world number one come June 1st as he has huge opportunity to add points at both Kentucky and Badminton. His Burghley winner (Ringwood Sky Boy) and WEG mount (Cekatinka) will likely spearhead his attack at the top level in 2019, but he also has some exciting firepower coming through behind these two.

Bango has four-star experience and can contribute to the points next season. Ascona M went down in the water after a step-down fence at Pau – it’s the outcome we often class as unlucky but is actually far more common than we think. She posted a serious dressage score that week and has good results at long-format three-stars, she looks a threat going forward. With those four horses all looking like they will want a spring four-star run, we could well see Tim double-handed at Kentucky and setting up his own bid to fast-track himself past Ros Canter to the title of world number one. If not in May, probably by June.

Current Counting Points - Tim - 514

Month Venue Level Horse Place FEI Points
May Badminton CCI4* Ringwood Sky Boy 12 66
July Camphire CCI3* Kincooley Cruising 2 67
August Blair Castle CCI3* Pats Jester 1 71
August Burghley CCI4* Ringwood Sky Boy 1 111
August Burghley CCI3* Bango 10 74
September Tryon WEG Cekatinka 8 125

The Challengers

Michael Jung has dominated the decade at championship level and he is producing a new string of horses through to top level. He looks to be about a year away from challenging with enough armoury at the very top level. Ingrid Klimke was agonisingly close to becoming world champion. The reigning European champion SAP Hale Bob OLD is now joined by the current seven-year-old world champion in her stable, but those two horses are her entire top-level firepower. That won’t be enough to challenge the leading players in the race for the title.

Piggy French, Gemma Tattersall and Tom McEwen were Ros Canter’s teammates when winning the team gold medal at Tryon this year, and all three have supporting horsepower to potentially become players in the title race later in the season. At this stage, compared to Tim, Ros and Oliver, this supporting Brit-pack have too much to do in order to take the very top rung of the ladder in the short-term future.

Outside of Europe, Jonelle Price and Christopher Burton both need a few more strings to their bow. The majority of the aforementioned players will be counting scores from at least three horses if they can mount a genuine title challenge, which is where Jonelle and Burto, along with Ingrid Klimke, look to be struggling with regards to the title race. Phillip Dutton has been the frontman of US eventing for a long time and he’s never too far away from the top five, but finding the extra boost required to go all the way doesn’t look to be on the cards at the moment. Ireland and France filled the team podium places at WEG and they have some players that will likely enter the frame at some stage. Most notably, the Olympic medallist Astier Nicholas from France and Ireland’s wonderkid, Cathal Daniels, look to be the two that are most likely to get a proper run at some point in the medium-term future.

There will be lots to talk about over the winter, and lots of campaigns being planned. We have a huge season to look forward to, and the possibility of a female number one coming soon. 

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