The feature class of the Tattersalls International Horse Trials has one key statistic that nearly two thirds of this year’s field will be hoping to overcome — 100% of the five previous winners have been British.
On paper, that tide could well turn this year.
The host nation have put forward some strong candidates and the Australians look like their five entries could provide some very strong opposition. In fact, the Aussie quintet consists of three Badminton champions in Andrew Hoy, Paul Tapner and Sam Griffiths, so you can’t argue with their ability to win big events. Amongst those looking to continue GBR’s stranglehold on the competition are multiple four-star winning rider Oliver Townend and the former World and European champion Zara Tindall. Previous winners William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell, Izzy Taylor and Kitty King are not contesting the feature class this year so we are guaranteed to crown a new champion.
There has never been a sub040 finishing score in the Irish Field CCI3*.
Winning scores have ranged from 41 (2014) to 48 (2012), so if any of this year’s combinations can finish up in the mid to low-40s then they will likely take some beating. Last year, we saw the first two dressage tests to ever score in the 30s in this class, but both Sam Griffiths (36.1) and Flora Harris (37.4) unfortunately failed to complete the cross country phase, so any riders with theirs eyes set on a new record will have a few trends to defy.
There’s no doubt that you need a strong start to win this class. Kitty King and Ceylor LAN came from fourth place to win in 2015, but all four previous winners came from the top two after dressage. Kitty’s dressage score of 42.3 was the highest dressage score produced by a previous winner, so who in this field has the type of first phase profile that could take this year’s title?
The likely favourite resides a matter of minutes away from the venue and knows the course well having finished 3rd in this class in back in 2014. Horseware Stellor Rebound, ridden by Ireland’s Sarah Ennis, brings one of the best profiles into this year’s field and will likely feature towards the top end end of the leaderboard from start to finish.
‘Rocket’ averages 44.3 in international competition over the past 12 months, and his best score of 40.8 scored at the Burgham CIC3* last year would make him very tough to beat if that was reproduced here. The combination finished on a 45.7 last year at Bramham in the CCI3* and regularly produce fast double clears. In their last five internationals their average starting position has been 10.2 and their average finishing position has been 3.6. They are likely to climb the leaderboard, but their first phase profile in this field is so strong that they could take this from pillar to post if all goes according to plan.
The duo likely to challenge after dressage are both Australian, but not the aforementioned four-star winners.
Tim Boland (GV Billy Elliot) and Sammi Birch (Hunter Valley II) both have solid first phase form. It was the last Olympic year back in 2012 that produced some stunning work from GV Billy Elliot with a 35.0 in the Melbourne CCI3* and a 35.2 in the Blenheim CCI3*. He went on to finish 1st and 9th respectively, only adding cross country time penalties on each occasion.
GV Billy Elliot is the CCI3* specialist amongst the field. Tattersalls will be his ninth attempt at this level and format. He averages 43.1 from his 8 previous CCI3* dressage tests, and the seven times that he went on to contest the cross country netted seven clear jumping rounds. Remarkably he has never added a jumping penalty in either phase in CCI3* competitions, but he has incurred show jumping time penalties twice and cross country time penalties on every occasion. He is entitled to lead this event on past form, but his cross country speed could open the door to another contender.
Sammi Birch’s Hunter Valley II is a graduate of the Tattersalls CCI2* (2014), where the rider produced her best ever dressage test at this venue (44.4). On current form they could potentially surpass that score this year and they are another combination capable of avoiding any jumping penalties as they did earlier this season at Belton. The horse does have cross country time penalties on its CV and will therefore make Saturday’s cross country an influential and tense spectacle.
The in-form horse is Mr Chunky.
This horse has never been out of the top five with Padraig McCarthy on board and comes here off the back of an emphatic win in the Chatsworth CIC3*. Speed will not be an issue for this pair and a 40s test is likely. They are very strong contenders for a podium finish, but the first phase will dictate if they can win or not. Oliver Townend has three Tattersalls wins to his name since 2010. However, his 12-year-old mount Dunbeau has three attempts at CCI3* under his belt but has never jumped clear cross country. If they can defy that stat then they will be in the picture.
Ireland’s highest ranked rider in the world is Aoife Clark (39th) and she has entered her promising 9-year-old Wasting Light. This is another horse that will likely go clear and inside the time on Saturday, but their six internationals in the past year have only netted one show jumping clear. Their dressage average of 47.3 is going the right way and, if the cross country takes its toll, the home supporters will be hoping that this pair could complete a clean sweep of the podium for Ireland along with Mr Chunky and Horseware Stellor Rebound.