The Event Rider Masters is halfway through its first year and the series leaderboard is taking shape. Riders will count their best four results over the six legs, so a bad run or missing a leg is not game over, an important point to note for the Olympic riders who will miss the Gatcombe leg.
One of those absent is Gemma Tattersall, the series leader on 66 points, and another big absentee will be the Frenchman and first leg winner Astier Nicholas, who sits in third place overall on 59 points. It means that Gatcombe is really all about one man as far as the big picture is concerned, and that man is Paul Tapner who currently sits in second place on 63 points.
Only two other riders line up from the series top ten, and they are Laura Collett (36pts) and Jesse Campbell (32pts), but both are a considerable distance behind Tapner. Oliver Townend and Izzy Taylor will join this trio as becoming the only five riders to contest all four legs in the series so far, but the series form to date of this latter pairing has been disappointing by their standards.
Oliver’s horse Cillnabradden Evo arrives here in mixed form, their fall at Barbury was the horse’s third in the past thirteen months at this level, but they line-up at Gatcombe following a 12 mark victory in the Burgham CIC2* last weekend. Oliver has contested 75 CIC3* internationals on British soil in the past 5 seasons netting him 6 wins – while none of these came at Gatcombe a remarkable 5 of the 6 wins came at Burnham Market.
Izzy Taylor makes a strong case to be installed as the competition favourite as KBIS Briarlands Matilda is one of the fastest horses on the circuit — from 4 clear cross country jumping rounds in the last 12 months she averages just 1.1 time penalties. Her dressage score is trending at 44.9 (last 12 months) and her last two show jumping rounds at CIC3* competitions have both produced clear rounds. The rider will need a podium finish here if she has any aspirations of picking up series prize money, but the figures suggest that she has very strong claims of doing exactly that.
Gatcombe will place an emphasis on cross country speed. In 2013, 11% made the time, in 2014 it was 7%, and last year it was just 3%. Trends show the time becoming more difficult, but so far every ERM leg has produced speed figures well above the trending averages. High standards and more prizemoney do indeed produce faster cross country times! The six ERM venues average out at 6% of combinations attaining the optimum time (since 2010), but the series so far has produced a figure 24% of combinations finishing within the time — four times the previous average.
Cross country jumping penalties are also likely to have a strong influence, only 50% of the field managed to jump clear in this class at the venue last year. One man who will need to work hard to overcome that stat is Aussie superstar and ERM debutant Andrew Hoy — his mount Cheeky Calimbo has failed to jump clear in this phase on all three of his latest international starts, but he is very likely to be in pole position going out on the cross country. The horse’s 12 month dressage average of 38.3 is the best in the field and they have produced 11 show jumping clears from 16 attempts at CIC3* internationals.
Eight year old horses have shone in the series so far, most notably Santiago Bay (Gemma Tattersall) and Mr Bass (Laura Collett), who both picked up valuable points at the Bramham and Barbury legs. Those two youngsters are being rested this week but Frenchman Thomas Carlile brings his extremely talented Upsilon to the venue, and he’ll be hoping that this eight year old will also make a name for himself.
Despite his age, Upsilon could prove difficult to beat if his current form continues. He won four of his first five internationals in his career and then finished second to the aforementioned Mr Bass at the 7-year-old world championships in Le Lion d’Angers last year. This season Upsilon finished 4th at Belton in a red hot CIC3* and then placed 2nd at the CCI3* in Saumur. On both occasions he picked up 4.4 time penalties in the cross country, but his first two phases are likely to put him right up there with Cheeky Calimbo and Cillnabradden Evo.
For two combinations the show jumping will be a critical 80 seconds. Series leader Paul Tapner will look to make his series lead a dominant one in the absence of the Rio riders. His mount here is Yogi Bear and his two runs thus far have produced an average finishing score of 44.2. That score would likely give him a podium finish to accompany his 2nd place from the Barbury Castle leg last time out. Their Achilles heel remains the second phase, picking up just one clear round (Tattersalls 2015) in his last six CIC3* attempts over the coloured poles. So far in the series he has kept it to just 4 faults on both runs, and this venue should allow him to once again utilise his speed and reliability in the final phase.
The second horse who needs to turn around their show jumping form is New Zealander Jesse Campbell’s Kaapachino. Jesse has been consistent in the series with three top 20 finishes, but he needs a bigger result here to become a genuine series player. Kaapachino averages 41.1 in the first phase (last 12 months) and picked up a win at the Millstreet CIC3* last season.
However, that run was the only time Kaapachino has show jumped clear at international level since 2013. He averages 11 penalties in the second phase on recent trends, but his CIC form is far better than his CCI and if he can limit the round to four faults then he stays in the picture. He has never made the time at CIC3* level with this horse, but he’s gone close on a few occasions. This is a big opportunity for him to step into the limelight.
France will fire a second bullet at the title here with Maxime Livio and Pica D’Or returning for more points following their 6th place finish in leg 2 at Bramham. Maxime has added a 2nd place at the Luhmühlen CCI4* to his CV since then (with Qalao Des Mers) and will be full of confidence when he returns for his second appearance in the Masters. If he can put a good result on the board here then he would be an outside bet for the series leaderboard given that riders will be counting only their top four scores.
Pica D’Or needs as strong a start as possible in the first phase as their current average of 46.6 would likely place them out of the top ten to start with. However, their last five cross country rounds have produced a total of just 0.4 penalties — that’s a 100% clear jumping rate, 80% clear within the time and only one second over the time at the Jardy CIC3* in 2014 where they were still the fastest round of the day by 8 seconds. When it comes to speed, this pair could take some passing!
Beanie Sturgis and Lebowski are another combination who can be extremely fast, with two clear rounds within the time at Badminton under their belts. Louise Harwood’s Whiton is the only horse in the field with two top five results here at Gatcombe (3rd 2014 & 5th 2015), so they take the title of course specialists. They’re also the only combination to have jumped clear round the Gatcombe cross country course on all three occasions that it has run as a CIC3*.
Oliver Townend has contested the class five times and averages an impressive 38.5 in the first phase. He withdrew horses twice, but his three cross country rounds all produced clean jumping sheets. Twice he made that optimum time and in doing so was the only person to beat the clock in 2015 with Armada. With three legs still to go and the potential of serious prize money at stake, this man could be creating headlines this weekend.