Mark Phillips explains why quality in qualifiers matters more than quantity
I’M over 70 years old and lucky to have had both my Covid vaccinations – and to be able to travel on an elite athlete back-up ticket. However, I’m beyond tired of all the restrictions and bureaucracy surrounding sport and travel.
Two weeks ago, I spent two hours in a hot immigration line at Heathrow, where the charming ladies handling the frustrated travellers were giving out water to the weary and battery chargers for drained mobile phones, such was the embarrassment of our border force.
My travels have highlighted the paper-thin FEI risk management policy. Strzegom had probably 80% of its fences up to height, but the technical difficulty was barely of intermediate standard, with combinations on five to eight strides. In Kentucky, at the same qualifying level, the combinations were all on two and three strides, plus there was terrain.
The FEI solution is to get people to do more and more “qualifying” runs, but they would be better advised to focus on the quality of these outings rather than the labels organisers put on them, particularly when they are Olympic qualifiers.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
I HAVE the greatest respect and admiration for Andrew Nicholson. I read his recent column in Horse & Hound with interest and understand his sentiments on perceived conflicts of interest within British Eventing (BE).
To set the record straight on Weston Park, organiser Janet Plant offered to put on a four-star long and short on the Badminton weekend to replace lost events at Bramham or Chatsworth, at the behest of British high performance coach Chris Bartle.
Once BE decreed that any Chatsworth or Bramham replacement fixture had to be on those events’ original dates, she was not able to run because of other functions at Weston, though her offer to run on Badminton weekend stood.
However, this met with hostility from other organisers, who were worried about how their entries might be affected, and the BE board turned her down. It’s sad when such a valuable site is not used because of conflicts within the sport.
There is soon to be a new chief executive at BE and they would be well advised to look at the paper that Mike Etherington-Smith, Stuart Buntine, Helen West and I spent hundreds of hours working on last year as the BE advisory group.
A key recommendation was to scrap the existing affiliation agreement with organisers and the fixtures protocol and start again, with the members’ interests at heart.
A REAL FIVE-STAR
STRZEGOM may have been an apology for a four-star, but this year’s Derek di Grazia-designed Land Rover Kentucky five-star cross-country was every inch up to standard. In fact, I would say it was “Burghley big”, and that is not a phrase I’ve used before.
It had more brush fences and more frangible fences than ever seen at this level. Yet we still had an unacceptable number of horse falls, a fate I suffered with my 2019 Burghley course.
Such is the lot of genuine five-star course-designers and why not too many people are showing their head above the parapet for the job! Certainly it gives credence to the Burghley committee nominating Derek as my successor there, and is why the quality of qualifying competitions is more important than the quantity.
The Brits in Kentucky had a mixed weekend. William Fox-Pitt rode like the superstar he is, only to fall slithering over an innocuous-looking log three from home. Oliver Townend did an outstanding job on Cooley Master Class, only to fail the final horse inspection with an innocent cut on his elbow from a stud.
On the brighter side, Harry Meade showed true five-star credentials on Superstition’s debut at the level and Ballaghmor Class continued his extraordinary run of five-star form for Oliver.
● Which riders impressed you at Kentucky? What did you think of the course? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This column can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 April
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