Friday, 30 July 2021
With the dressage competition concluded, it’s now the turn of the eventers to do battle at Equestrian Park. The dressage phase of the competition will run over two days, with today’s action split into morning and evening sessions to avoid the worst of the Tokyo heat. This will be followed by the cross-country at Sea Forest Park on Sunday 2 August, and two jumping sessions to decide team and individual medals on Monday. Team GB has been drawn second in the team rotation, with all three riders contributing scores to an overall tally to decide team medals. They’ll also be eyeing up a top-25 placing on the final day, which would see them into the individual final.
Competition began yesterday (29 July) with the first horse inspectionl, which saw teams present their horses before the ground jury. The Team GB quartet of Laura Collett and London 52, Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, and Ros Canter and Allstar B, all passed with flying colours.
The pathfinders for Team GB, and second down the centre line in the morning session, were FEI World Number One Oliver Townend (38) and 14-year-old Ballaghmor Class – a combination who have already won two CCI5* competitions during their career. Their score of 23.6 is one that many athletes would covet, although Oliver considers their turn between the white boards as a ‘safe’ test.
“I’m very happy with the horse,” he said afterwards of his Courage II-sired gelding, who is owned Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan. “We know he’s special and I’m just grateful for him to do a clear round in there – a very safe test. On my own terms, I’d want a little more, but 23.6 is a good starting mark for the team.
“The highlight was the whole thing, that he went in and did his best in conditions that he’s not used to and in a stadium that’s very, very special. You’d think that because there’s no crowd, then there’s no atmosphere, but these stadiums are a little bit like Kentucky, they create their own atmosphere. There’s definitely enough of an atmosphere in there to make it a special occasion, to push horses into lacking concentration.
“It wouldn’t be my chosen job in life to be pathfinder but, at the same time, the first bit’s out the way and he’s done a very commendable job, so fingers crossed we keep the work up through the next three or four days and hopefully see where we end up.”
While their score might be a good starting mark for the team, it also appears to be a good one for Oliver’s individual campaign – he and Ballaghmor Class went into the lead after their test and remained there through to the end of the first day of competition.
This evening saw the second rotation of team riders and those competing as individuals take to the competition arena. One of the favourites in the field, Laura Collett was left feeling disheartened after her test with London 52, who she co-owns with Keith Scott and Karen Bartlett. Normally considered a bit of a ‘show-off’ in the dressage phase, the 12-year-old gelding seemed to withdraw into himself upon entering the Equestrian Park stadium and was unable to produce the flair that saw him and Laura achieve the lowest ever CCI5* score when they won Pau last year. However, such is their quality on the flat that what Laura considered a sub-par test was still enough to earn them a competitive 25.8.
“I’m disappointed because it wasn’t the best that he can do,” explained Laura. He just sort of stepped back a bit and didn’t take me like he can. I know some people would be pleased with a 25, but on a horse like him, it’s obviously disappointing.
While Oliver felt a buzz within the Equestrian Park stadium, Laura was left wondering if the lack of crowds was a contributing factor to London 52 lacking a little of his usual shine.
“He is a show-off, so the lack of crowds may have affected him,” she elaborated. “When we went to Bicton, it was the first time we’d had crowds for a long time, and he went into the arena and loved it. There was no atmosphere in there tonight – normally you have that buzz and that real pick-me-up, but maybe that was lacking a little bit and he didn’t realise they were all watching at home on TV instead.
“They’re animals and if they could talk it would be a hell of a lot easier. There could be any number of reasons why he didn’t go and perform at his best and at the end of the day, they’re not machines – he’s been flawless all year and unfortunately he chose the one time when he needed to in put his best performance to put in his worst, but he’s still a very exciting horse and he’s allowed to have an off day.
“It’s not over yet – it’s not going to be a dressage competition, but with the calibre of horses and riders that are here, to win a gold medal you’ve got to be right up at the front end. We’ll see – there's still a long way to go.”
Despite Laura’s misgivings, her score of 25.8 is enough to see her sitting in fourth place overnight, and for Team GB to sit top of the team standings, 6.7 penalties above second-placed Sweden.
Full results from the first day of eventing dressage are available here.
The final dressage session takes place tomorrow morning and will see the third rotation of team riders from each nation take centre stage. Team GB’s anchor combination, Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, will do their test at 01:22 BST. With a number of strong combinations still to ride, it will be a nervous wait to see if Team GB can hold onto its strong team and individual placings.
Coverage is available on Eurosport Player or Discovery+ from 00:25. Information of how to watch all equestrian sessions at Tokyo 2020 is available here.