At the outset of the 2017 season, Arctic Soul had only won once at international level. Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? The Soul Syndicate’s superstar ex-racehorse has four career top-10 finishes at CCI4* level, with two of those coming in the 2017 season. The Irish bred long-format specialist has completed 11 of his 12 CCI runs across all levels. His only international win prior to this year came in the CCI2* at Balcarres Castle in Scotland in 2012, the one and only time the event ran.
It took five seasons for ‘Spike’ to get back on top of a podium. He was a hot favourite heading into the British National Championships and ERM leg at Gatcombe and got the job done in style, becoming British National Champion and putting Gemma in the driving seat for the Event Rider Masters title. We could have picked a few of Gemma’s horses on the #ERHOTY17 list but this boy stands out. A fighter, an old reliable and in 2017, a winner.
Arctic Soul started the 2017 international season at Belton, the first time he’d ever competed at the venue. One show jumping rail and 4.4 cross country time penalties placed them 22nd on a final score of 56.3 (still in the top 25% of the massive field). Then it was on to Badminton for Spike’s fourth career start at the venue. Expectations were high considering he had finished 3rd the previous year on a career best 44.6 FOD, but a tense test saw Spike sitting 67th after dressage on 55.8, the worse CCI4* dressage score of his career.
No surprise — cross country day at Badminton proved a good day to be sitting on a Thoroughbred. Only two horses made the time (La Bioshetique Sam FBW and Xavier Faer) and Spike’s 4.4 time penalties moved him up 55 spots on the leaderboard to 12th place. On the final day, seven of the horses in the top 10 after cross country knocked a pole or picked up time penalties in show jumping. Spike’s clear round inside the time moved him up to finish 7th on 60.2, 60 places above where he started after the first phase.
Artic Soul then made his Event Rider Masters debut at Gatcombe. A 44.5 in the first phase, Arctic Soul’s best dressage score since Gatcombe two years prior, placed him 12th to start. Poles went flying in show jumping, and only three pairs (9.3% of the field) managed clear rounds inside the time. Two rails down for Arctic Soul and we thought it was all over. No previous winner of an Event Rider Masters leg had knocked a pole. He still climbed one spot on the leaderboard to 11th but the trends are there for a reason but Gemma, and the EquiRatings ‘ boys, thought a win was surely out of her grasp. By lunchtime, Gemma was talking about Spike as a formula 1 car, and sure enough, he turned and burned around the Gatcombe track for the fastest time by 13 seconds. He crossed the finish closest to the optimum time, adding just 1.2 cross country time penalties to move from 11th up to win on 53.7. Cue the Event Rider Masters champagne showers! “Arctic Soul gave me the ride of my life,” Gemma said. “I think he is the best cross country horse in the world. It doesn’t matter what the terrain is. He suits any track. He is so versatile and just fabulous.”
Spike got another chance to show us just how fabulous he is at Burghley. He had finished 5th on his only previous visit to the venue (2014). Rider and horse confidence was high from the beginning, scoring a four-star personal best of 43.0 to sit 8th after dressage. From his worst four-star dressage at Badminton to his best four-star dressage at Burghley in the same season! Gemma was sick that weekend and struggled to breathe on cross country the next day (if you haven’t seen her interview afterwards with Claire it was one of Diarm’s moments of the year. Claire asking questions, Gemma gasping for air). She opted to take the long route at the Trout Hatchery because she didn’t feel strong enough to sit back and make the turn, but speedy Spike made up more than enough ground.
Only three pairs made the optimum time on Burghley cross country day, and Spike skipped around four second inside the time to move up to 2nd place. One rail down in show jumping ultimately cost him the win. Fine margins at the top. Arctic Soul still finished 3rd on 47.0, his best result at Burghley to date and his lowest finishing score of the 2017 season. There is a screaming teenage girl fan club that follows around Quicklook V and Chico Bella P, but our main man in Gemma’s yard has more than earned his spot on the #ERHOTY17 list! He joins Nereo as our only other nominee that finished top 10 in two four-stars during the 2017 season. Will Spike have your vote next week?
Listen to the #ERHOTY17 episode of the Horseware Eventing Podcast to hear how we finalized the list of 12 nominees. Keep checking back to the EquiRatings blog for analysis articles on all 12: fischerRocana FST, Nereo, Arctic Soul, Horseware Hale Bob, Ballaghmor Class, Bulana, Hunter Valley II, Donner, Cekatinka, Calle 44, Ivar Gooden and Foxwood High.