Blair Castle will present a unique challenge to those that venture across the Scottish boarder for this penultimate leg of the ERM series. The CIC3* has run six times (2009 to 2014) and some clear trends stand out. Only once (from 295 runs) has a combination finished on a score lower than 45 penalties.
While the ERM competitors love to break trends and records, that 45 barrier sets a good benchmark of what it will take to win this week.
The time has only been made in two of the six renewals of the class (2010 and 2013) with three competitors making the time on each occasion. Only one man has made the time (Paul Sims) while five female riders can all boast about their speed in the Scottish Highlands, with Nicola Wilson, Gemma Tattersall, Emily Galbraith, Marilyn Little and Caroline Powell all having beaten the Blair CIC3* clock.
Despite the need for speed, the last five winners all came from within the top three after dressage, but Nicola Wilson, the undisputed course specialist here, did win the first running of the CIC3* in 2009 from 10th place after dressage with Opposition Buzz.
All four legs of the ERM series so far have been won by male riders and also by a different nation on each occasion. If that trend continues then keep a close eye on the lethal Aussie trio of Chris Burton, Shane Rose and Paul Tapner. But if you’re hoping for a first female vc winner in the series then look no further than Nicola Wilson, who is going for an incredible fifth win in the class. She’s also bang in form with a recent win at the Hartpury CIC3* with One Two Many.
Of the top performers across the three phases, who has the most experience at Blair Castle? Who is already dominating the ERM series leaderboard? Who is currently on top form? Who might emerge to take the win in the penultimate leg?
Chris Burton, who EquiRatings has named the fastest rider in the world, comes to Blair fresh off a team bronze medal performance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. While Chris has never competed at Blair Castle, his trip to Scotland would not be in vain if he continues his current form with Polystar I.
While the horse has not yet contested an ERM leg in the series, he won his CIC3* debut at Barbury Castle last month on his dressage score of 42.2. With an average final finishing score of 41.5 for the 2016 season, Chris and Polystar I are on track to challenge Lucinda Fredericks and Flying Finish for the best final finishing score in Blair’s CIC3* history (43.8 in 2013).
Tim Price comes to Blair Castle hunting for redemption after an unlucky slip on cross country in Rio. No stranger to success at this venue, having won the CCI3* with Wesko on their dressage score of 44.2 in 2013, Tim will channel that experience into producing a top result with Xavier Faer.
Tim’s partner for the Chatsworth leg of ERM, Xavier Faer is also coming off a top-10 finish in the CCI3* at Bramham. While his scores in dressage can’t stack up against some of the flashier horses in the field, Xavier Faer’s strength and speed on cross country should see him climb back up the leaderboard in the final phase.
Another pair hunting for redemption after cross country day in Rio, Shane Rose and CP Qualified make their ERM debut at Blair Castle. While Shane has never competed at Blair, he rides a very experienced horse in CP Qualified, who boasts an 88% career completion rate at CIC3* events and can deliver solid performances in both jumping phases.
We saw just how dangerous this pair can be at Aachen CICO3*, where they finished second only to reigning Olympic champion Michael Jung. Shane and CP Qualified’s average finishing score of 46.7 this season would put them right in the hunt for the Blair crown.
Paul Tapner and Gemma Tattersall, who currently sit first and second on the ERM series leaderboard, will face off in a battle for points in the penultimate leg at Blair Castle. Having finished third at Barbury Castle’s leg and 11th at Bramham’s leg, Gemma and Santiago Bay have already proven they are a force to be reckoned with in the ERM series.
Replicating their Barbury final score of 44.4 would put Gemma and Santiago Bay firmly in the thick of things at Blair, and their 2016 average finishing score of 47.7 is very strong both in this field and stacked against the elusive 45 finishing mark that is so tough to achieve at Blair.
Oliver Townend currently sits seventh on the ERM series leaderboard and will look to gain more ground at Blair with Cillnabradden Evo. This pair have experienced both the thrills and spills of the sport over the course of the ERM season, falling on cross country at Barbury Castle but bouncing back to win the Gatcombe Park leg, adding only cross country time penalties to their dressage score of 39.1.
Matching that performance at Blair Castle would put Oliver and Cillnabradden Evo firmly within striking distance of taking the win, and with it now being more than a year since this horse has had a rail down in show jumping, they can gain even more ground in the second phase.
Nicola Wilson comes to Blair with Bulana, her partner for the fourth ERM leg at Gatcombe Park, where they secured a top-10 finish. While last year’s Boekelo CCIO3* winner Bulana has had some blips on her cross country record this season, Nicola returns to Blair as the venue’s undisputed CIC3* queen.
Since Blair started running a CIC3* in 2009, Nicola has won the class an incredible four times. As Blair hosted the European Championships last year, Nicola starts the fifth ERM leg as the reigning CIC3* champion, having won in 2014 aboard One Two Many. Another top-10 ERM finish is well within reach for Nicola and Bulana at Blair.
ERM series leader Paul Tapner starts Blair with a healthy 21-point lead over Gemma Tattersall. Both Paul and his longtime partner Kilronan are making their respective venue debuts at Blair, and they already secured a top-15 ERM finish this season at the Bramham leg. Paul has been burning up the ERM series leaderboard thus far, also securing three top-10 finishes with Yogi Bear at Chatsworth, Barbury and Gatcombe. Don’t expect his hot streak to stop now.
Jonelle Price makes her debut at Blair ranked fifth on the ERM series leaderboard and will look to close that gap with Cloud Dancer II, who we are seeing for the first time in an ERM leg. While Tim has primarily competed the horse this season, Jonelle takes the reins back for Blair. The horse has not had the smoothest cross country runs this season, racking up time penalties at Belton and jumping penalties at Saumur, but we can look to Jonelle’s experience to get him back on form.
Maxime Livio and Pica d’Or finished sixth in the ERM leg at Bramham and make their respective debuts at Blair Castle hoping to replicate that performance. This pair did retire on cross country in the most recent ERM leg at Gatcombe Park, so they will be looking to regain their form from Bramham. Thomas Carlile is another French rider who could play spoiler with Opium de Boisy. While the horse has not competed in a CIC3* this season, his dressage scores have steadily dropped in the last year.
Blyth Tait and Xanthus III come to Blair as one of the pairs with the most experience at this venue, having finished sixth in the CCI3* in 2013 and 13th in the CIC3* in 2014. Currently sitting 10th on the ERM series leaderboard, Blyth has the opportunity to gain substantial ground if he can once again deliver a solid Blair result with Xanthus.
Follow the action live on www.eventridermasters.tv this weekend.