A new record was set at the Magic Millions Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park when both the British Intermediate and Novice Champions retained their titles.
Tom McEwen was masterful when leading from flagfall on Barbara Cooper’s elegant grey Dreamaway ll to score a second successive victory in the Smith & Williamson British Intermediate Championship and Francis Whittington produced an accomplished performance on Sarah Arrowsmith’s Brother Bertie to defend his Dodson & Horrell British Novice Championship title.
“He’s a beautiful horse,” said Tom of the eight year old by Verdi. “I didn’t push him on the cross country too much as this is a big step up for him, but he is very balanced and can change his stride quite quickly.”
Harry Meade came close to winning his first national title, finishing second on Nigella Hall and Alexandra Robinson’s eight year old Red Kite, a horse he bought four years ago from Germany. “He’s a bit spooky, but has an amazingly rangy gallop. I have to play a bit of a mental game with him and count to ten when he spooks, but I think he is a proper horse for the future.”
Brother Bertie, a 7/8ths Irish thoroughbred, has won at all levels so far and was competed at The Festival in the 2017 TopSpec Challenge for The Corinthian Cup by his owner, who decided to hand the ride to Francis due to pressure of travelling for work.
“He covers the ground like no other,” says Francis. “He’s balanced and you don’t have to fight him; he thinks quickly and adjusts.”
Both winners were generous in their praise of the going provided by David Evans and his course-building team. “I think it’s some of the best ground we’ve ever seen here,” said Francis.
William Fox-Pitt, who has won 16 Festival titles since 1995, narrowly missed out on another and was ruing being a few seconds over the time on Susan Eggleton’s lovely German-bred mare Grafennacht.
Louise Skelton, a competitor in the Novice Championship, was taken to hospital after a fall from Brechfa Baruch and was reported to have broken her arm.
There was a poignant presentation made in memory of one of the sport’s most dedicated grooms, Karen Hughes, who spent part of her career at Gatcombe Park, working for Australian Olympian Andrew Hoy. The Karen Hughes Memorial Grooms Award went to Lucy Seddon, who looks after Dreamaway ll.
Presentations were also made to four former long-time members of The Festival organising team: Tim Henson, Event Director for 21 years, his office team at The Festival, Gail Dale and Alice Moffat, and Olivia Cann (Bush) who has worked tirelessly at The Festival as the entries secretary for 35 years.
“It’s been a superb day at the festival, and we have enjoyed some competitive sport,” comments Event Director Peter Phillips. “What a wonderful setting to enjoy the five British Championship competitions and all the entertaining displays in the main arena. What better way to spend a summer weekend in the Cotswolds? I am very much looking forward to tomorrow and seeing who comes out on top.”