We garnered opinion to find out what some of the leading contenders think about the challenge that course-designer Eric Winter has set and how they will be approaching their rides…
William Fox-Pitt: “There are fences and questions that we haven’t seen before and I think Eric has got riders and horses thinking on their feet. There are couple of interesting distances – at the Outlander PHEV Bank (13ab) and coming out of the Lake (25abcd) – where you might take one or two strides. It won’t be clear until you jump up the steps. It’s usual to have to make choices between four and five strides, but rarely do you have a choice between one and two strides. There’s a good mix of massive fences and technical questions. I thought the Lake could be tougher.”
Tom McEwen: “There are a lot of angles, but it’s also a very attacking course so we’re going to have to be on our A Game.”
Piggy French: “There are a couple of fences I’m a bit puzzled about [after an initial course-walk]. It’s hard to imagine how the fence with the archway, ditch and choice of two narrow stumps [the Shogun Sport Hollow, 13ab] might ride. It looks fiddly and it’s not immediately clear to the horses that they have a fence to jump on the way out – it looks like they should be going through the middle of the two logs. I just have to hope Vanir Kamira locks on and I make the right decision when I choose which route to take.
“I’m also not sure how the Bank (13ab) will ride. It’s a one-and-a-half stride distance and I hope it doesn’t punish bold horses.
“The Mirage Water [17-18] also looks tricky as there’s not an obvious line between the ditch and second corner. It all depends how they jump the ditch.”
Laura Collett: “Random is a word I’d use to describe this year’s course. There’s quite a lot of fences we haven’t seen at this level before and it could be a bit of a seat-of-the-pants job, but I intend to give it a good crack.”
Imogen Murray: “It’s very different to last year with quite a lot of new-look fences. There’s a lot here that my horse won’t have seen before, so it’s quite a challenge. There’s a bit of a striding thing going on at the Outlander Bank and quite a few places where it’s difficult to have a plan.”
Tina Cook: “My two horses are very different, so I will be approaching the course quite differently on both. Star Witness is a full thoroughbred and a real galloper, so all I really have to do is keep kicking to go faster and stop kicking to go slower. Billy The Red is not as fast and has a slower, more deliberate jump. He can also be prone to the odd spook, so I will have to be switched on to that. He’s been here before, though, so I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings for both of them”
Pippa Funnell: “Billy Walk On is a big, scopey jumper. The big thing he’ll have to overcome is the distraction of the crowds.”
Tim Price: “The ground is looking really good. Both my horses are scopey and brave, and both want to do the right thing. Having said that there are plenty of places where you can have a silly mistake.”
The course-designer’s thoughts
Eric Winter said: “If you jump round, going all the straight routes, you know you have a true cross-country horse. Horses need to be adjustable and obedient, but you can’t be riding something that’s obedient and not brave. At the lower levels courses are intended to be educational, whereas by the time you get to five-star level it’s more of an examination into how well horses are trained and how they can answer the questions, which come up thick and fast.
“When you look at the fences individually there’s nothing really that you wouldn’t want to jump at a one-day event, but it’s the cumulative effort and the intensity that’s the challenge. The area around the Vicarage Ditch is very intense and fences come up thick and fast. Horses will come out of that section thinking that they’ve worked very hard – it like they’ve had a busy day at the office.
“I think the going will be very good. It’s always a concern that too much rain too late in the day might make the ground slippery, but I don’t think this will be the case.”