Horse Sport Ireland CCI4*-L

WITH a glut of placings at all levels, Sian Coleman had been on devastating form all week, and riding at the very top of her game, it came as no surprise to see her in pole position in the feature CCI4*-L. Riding Kate Jarvey’s lovely home-bred Hush A Bye Baby, Coleman improved on her opening sixth placing, by scorching around the country to deliver the sole clear within the time.

This feat immediately promoted her into the top spot for Saturday’s finale, where under major pressure, and with less than a fence in hand, she pulled out another brilliant clear. “I’m almost speechless,” she said afterwards. “This has been the best week of my career, and also my biggest win. I have had so many opportunities given to me, and so I’m just delighted to be able to reward Kate, who is a very proud owner and breeder. It was the most perfect track, and I loved every minute of it.”

Coleman had done her homework with Millstreet in mind, and living almost within hacking distance of the venue, she took all her event horses to the jumping show two weeks earlier. “This really helped me, as I only have the one horse at this level,” she explained. “I jumped the mare in the 1.30m classes, so knowing that she had done that was a real confidence boost.”

Largely due to the crowded calendar at this time of year, this long format feature opened with just seven runners, among which were three from Ireland.

On the opening day, it was the British young rider Georgia Bartlett (Spano de Nazca) who impressed Ground Jury members Laure Eslan (FRA), David Lee (IRL) and Vanda Stewart (IRL) to earn the leading mark of 28.1. Her compatriot Aaron Miller was next in line with KEC Deakon (32.3), while with the remaining marks clustering tightly, and with all still in contention, it was Alison Holden who flew the Irish flag in fifth with O My Balladeer (33.9).

Challenging course

From the outset, it became soon clear that Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country test would be a challenging one. The keenly awaited re-introduction of the Irish bank rode extremely well, but it did account for a costly 20 penalties for Australia’s Bill Levett (RGH Tom Tom R). The pair continued to complete in good form, although Levett did need to sit tight to survive an anxious moment at the final water.

Next out was Somerset rider Aaron Millar, who produced a copy-book performance aboard Heidi Bates’ Irish-bred KEC Deakon. The pair did however pick up time penalties (3.2), as did the overnight leader Georgia Bartlett, whose eight added marks with Spano de Nazca were to prove very expensive indeed.

Unfortunately, things did not quite to plan for either Alison Holden or Michael Ryan (TR Kaygraaf), both of whom walked home. Holden, who had already picked up penalties for an earlier glance off (15b), parted company with O My Balladeer at the Birds Nest complex six from home, while Ryan opted to call it a day following at stop at the second element in the Wallis Water (22).

Another to raise the white flag was British rider Aline Wilkes, who had no option but to retire when Social Butterfly completely downed tools before the first water.

So, with the lead there for the taking, Coleman and Hush A Bye Baby produced the round of their career. Picking up a rhythm from the get go, the daughter of Indoctro was immaculate everywhere to stop the clock with seconds to spare.

With just four riders forward on the final day, the class could have been an anti-climax, but in fact it was anything but. Time errors aside, Millar and Bartlett both jumped clear, and with the pressure on, Coleman had no margin for error. She never needed to worry however and producing yet another stylish performance, victory was assured.

“My legs felt like jelly beforehand,” she said. “I must thank Chris Hunt and Philip Horgan, who aside from warming me up for the jumping, kept me calm!” Immediate future plans are uncertain for the mare, who is also entered for Blenheim.

Retaining their overnight order, Britain’s Aaron Millar held on to second with the Anna Kennedy-bred KEC Deakon, from compatriot Georgia Bartlett.