Great Britain hold a record-breaking lead after dressage phase in Pratoni

Friday, 16 September 2022

Day two of dressage at the FEI Eventing World Championship in Pratoni dawned bright and breezy, with no sign of the thunderstorms that had been predicted earlier in the week. With Laura Collett and Ros Canter getting the British team off to a flying start in the first day of dressage, today was an opportunity for teammates Tom McEwen and Oliver Townend to build on the strong foundation already laid.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser

After a quiet morning, first in for the Brits at lunchtime was Tom McEwen, riding Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Coppell and Alison McEwen’s Toledo de Kerser. The pair holds the honour of being the only combination in the Pratoni field who’ve been previous World Championship gold medallists, having been in the team at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018. Since then, they’ve added a CCI5* victory at Pau in 2019 to their resume, followed by team gold and individual silver at last year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

They entered the arena looking an absolute picture, but an early, expensive break in the medium trot meant that Gloucestershire-based Tom had to spend the rest of the test in recovery mode. Drawing on the long-standing relationship he has with the 15-year-old French-bred gelding, he fought hard to claw back as many marks as possible. The canter work was a particular highlight, with the extended movement down the long side earning three nines from the judges.

“It’s quite easy to carry on after an early mistake,” mused Tom. “You just know that you need to ride to your best ability and don’t change anything. It wasn’t our best test, but we recovered really well – some really nice changes, his canter work was lovely, and I’m really pleased with his walk.

Toledo has always been one who prefers to do his dancing on grass rather than a sand surface like the one in Pratoni, and it was on the turf at Badminton this spring that he produced his best ever CCI5* mark of 23.4.

“I would say, overall, that Badminton would’ve been a higher quality – better frame, better rhythm -but I’m really pleased with him today,” explained Tom. “It’s always been the case that, for whatever reason, he loves the grass, so on the surface every now and again he can go a little bit like this.

“He was brilliant and I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the week. The score puts our team in a great position, with Oliver who’s obviously going to come in shooting up an amazing test as well so, yeah, a great position and I’m very happy with him.”

Tom and Toledo’s score of 25.6 put the British team on a total of 71.1 – a record first-phase score at a World Championship, overtaking the 73.4 set by the Germans in 2018. Of course, with final combination Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class still to come in the final rotation, there was a chance that that total could be further improved.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class

Finally, right at the tail end of the day, it was time to see what Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, who’s owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan, could bring to the party. The combination is one of the most successful in the sport of eventing, finishing no lower than fifth in all seven of their CCI5* runs – including two wins in 2017 and 2021. Like Laura and London 52, and Tom and Toledo, they were part of the gold medal-winning team in Tokyo last year, so the crowds around the edge had high expectations.

Their test started well, but the judges appeared to be on the conservative side in their marking, sticking around the seven mark throughout the trot section despite some lovely work being produced between the boards. However, the scores started to creep upwards in the canter work, with the extended and collected canter earning a nine, and a further two more coming for the powerful extended canter down the long side of the arena. A pleased Oliver punched the air and smiling to the crowd after his final salute.

“Yeah, I was happy enough with him,” he said afterwards of his 14-year-old gelding. “Maybe he didn’t quite take me forwards enough in the trot, but I felt once he was into canter he was away and I felt the work was very good quality. We know each other very well and he’s a lovely horse to ride.

“We’ve just been trying to work on getting him more forwards. He’s a horse that’s always been a little bit introverted – either that, or completely explosive – so I’m just trying to get him to breathe and take me a little bit more in all the paces, really, and it showed up in the canter. When it shows up in the trot, obviously we can produce a better score, but for him to go in there and do a correct test is very good for him and obviously very, very good for the team. I think it’s a bit of a dream start for the Brits, so let’s hope we can keep it up.”

While it might be his first World Championship, this isn’t Shropshire-based Oliver’s first trip to Pratoni – he was part of the team that won European gold here in 2007, so he’s no stranger to the demands of the Italian hills. With this in mind, he chose to give Ballaghmor Class his final prep at Blair Castle in Scotland.

“I’ve been away from home so much – it’s very difficult to train for a World Championship when you’re away full-time – so we had to choose a week for him to come with me, and Blair was a good idea because of the terrain up there. It was an ideal preparation just to let him quietly run up some hills.

“It’s nice to be here in a fantastic venue and to have the British support, and obviously Lottery Funding and UK Sport, behind us – I couldn’t be happier to be here.”

A final score of 24.3 was enough to put them into sixth place with just three combinations still to go. Even more importantly, it allowed the British team to break the 70 barrier – the team total was now an incredible 69.2.

As the dust settles

At the end of the first phase, the British team are out in front on their record-breaking score of 69.2, ahead of rivals Germany on 76.1. The United States are breathing down the German necks, however, on 76.6 for overnight third position.

In the individual standings, only Germany’s Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH could get ahead of yesterday’s leaders, Laura Collett and London 52 with a stunning 18.8. Laura now sits in second on 19.3, just 0.5 penalties behind Michael, with Britain’s individual combination of Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir in third on 22.0.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class sit sixth on 24.3, while Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser share seventh place with New Zealand’s Monica Spencer and Artist on 25.6.

Tomorrow brings Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s innovative cross-country track, which promises to really shake up the leaderboard. The action gets underway at 9:30 BST, and you can stream all the action on ClipMyHorse.TV with a subscription, or for free on the BBC Sport website and BBC iPlayer.

The full results from today are available here.