Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH deliver one of their best-ever tests to take the overnight lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve got to give credit where credit is due: 24-year-old Brit Mollie Summerland certainly put the pressure on the maestro. Her score of 22.5 with Charly van ter Heiden, which saw her take a decisive day one lead, wasn’t close to being usurped for much of the day today, even with many of the world’s best among the 109 competitors delivering first-phase performances. But if you’re going to be beaten by anyone, it’s probably not too disappointing when that ‘anyone’ is Herr Michael Jung and his Kentucky champion (and veritable superhorse) fischerChipmunk FRH, and it’s got to be even less disappointing when he only actually managed to beat you by a piddling 2.5 penalties. Which isn’t, of course, to say that a first-phase score of 20 isn’t wildly impressive — of course it is, even by Michi’s standards. In fact, it slides right into his top ten all-time best tests, which is saying something when you consider that he once dropped a 15.5 at Strzegom like it ain’t no thang.

“Chipmunk was very nice to ride today in the dressage; he was very relaxed and listening very good,” says Michi, who was awarded an 81.9% and first by both James Rooney at C and Nikki Herbert at M, but just a 76.19% and third by Emmanuelle Olier at E. “It was everything like I hoped and wished, so it was just fun today to just enjoy riding him.”

While Haras du Pin is in the spotlight for its role as a selection trial for Pratoni, Michi is, perhaps, the only person who can come here to focus on the fun of competition — it’s hard to imagine any circumstances in which the pair won’t be selected for the World Championships, though we reckon second-placed Mollie will be hot on his heels tomorrow.

Maxime Livio and Api du Libaire lead the way for the home nation, sitting third overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The home nation got a big boost in the form of stalwart competitor Maxime Livio, who piloted his 2021 European Championships top-ten finisher to an excellent 26.7 — good enough for third, though by a margin of over four penalties off second-placed Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. But although his mark puts him in an enormously competitive position after 109 tests, Maxime felt that the work was lacking in just a touch of match practice, and eking out the best possible marks was an exercise in tactful, sympathetic riding.

“He was a bit excited — not tense or worried, but just excited to compete for the first time in a long time,” says Maxime, who last ran an international with the gelding back in May, when they finished ninth at the Pratoni test event CCI4*-S. “But he was so focused and he gave his best; it wasn’t so comfortable for me, because I could feel that excitement, but the horse was ready to do it well. All his halts were very square, and he was very generous in the extended movement and very focused, so I’m very happy with him.”

The gelding, who dipped down to 21.3 at last year’s Europeans, is certainly a not-so-secret weapon for the French, but nevertheless, Maxime doesn’t intend to leave the start box tomorrow with a point to prove.

“I know that when he’s a bit more relaxed he can be better, so hopefully with this competition and the new competition plan I have for the rest of the season, he’ll have the same mind but with less excitement. Then he’ll be easier to ride for me, but I was very pleased with his test — and I think tomorrow, too, he’ll be so excited, so maybe I’ll take my time and make it a bit smooth and easy for him. I won’t be riding for the time as the priority; it’ll really depend on the way he feels, because I want him to restart the new part of the season with a good round. I’ll ride the time depending on the way he is.”

Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S join an impressive German front in the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Christoph Wahler probably hadn’t quite intended to wait until August to run his Badminton ride, Carjatan S, again — “but we had to wait until he regrew a part of his hoof that’s still at Badminton!” he says. The rangy grey, with whom he finished second at Luhmühlen CCI5* last season, could have been justifiably fresh as a result today: we’ve often seen him fizz up in this phase in the early part of the season, when he’s not had a huge amount of exposure to atmosphere, but today, he emerged as a consummate professional. That allowed Christoph, whose family business of breeding and producing high-performance dressage horses means he’s something of a master craftsman in this phase, to push Carjatan’s expressive movement very nearly to its fullest potential, earning himself a 26.9 and equal overnight fifth in the process. It’s not a shabby start, considering what’s on the line — Christoph, who finished just outside the top twenty at Badminton with Carjatan, is one of a small number of very good German riders who are fighting for a World Championship debut next month, and it all hinges on this weekend.

“We’d thought about Aachen with him, but he’d barely done any canter work at that point, and as a German, if you go to Aachen you want to be competitive,” says Christoph. “And looking ahead for Pratoni, I didn’t want to show him in not his best condition. So I’m happy with the way he is now.”

Though Haras du Pin has quite a unique arena set-up, in which horses warm up in an adjacent space in the main arena, that suited Carjatan perfectly as he was able to do his final moments of work in the same atmosphere he’d face during his test.

“I think it’s a perfect arena, actually, because there’s not too much atmosphere and they all seem to be pretty calm,” says Christoph. “[Warming up in that way] was good for him, even though I was early because they were running ahead of time, so he was alone in that final warm-up. But that didn’t seem to make much difference. And I have been taking him to other shows just to ride a bit — not to compete, but just training, so for him, it feels like he’s far into his season, and that’s when he gets better and better.”

For Christoph, getting a ‘clear round’ test — which Carjatan typically begins to deliver after the mid-point of the year, when he’s settled into his season, was the highlight of the day.

“We all know he can be very spectacular, but when I put the pressure on him to make the trot even more extravagant, that’s when he can get a little bit tense — but for me, actually, we had probably the best walk he’s ever done today, and all the halts were good. I wasn’t super happy with the lateral work, because we led with the hind legs for a couple of meters in the half-pass, but we did get it back.”

Now, Christoph is looking forward to a run around the typically tough cross-country track, which blends European-style technicality with British-style dimensional boldness and galloping lanes – a combination that should suit the gelding perfectly.

“I don’t like it when courses don’t have big fences but they just twist and turn all the time, but this is very big — it does feel almost like a British course,” he says. “That usually suits him, and it’s good to have several undulations, too, which will be super good for getting them fit for the hills at Pratoni. That’s important for him, because this will be his only run before the World Championships if we’re selected — but I think it’ll prepare him well.”

Gireg le Coz’s Aisprit de la Loge looks better than ever en route to a spot in the top ten in the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another Badminton runner to make his first international start since his trip to Gloucestershire is Gireg le Coz‘s 12-year-old Selle Français Aisprit de la Loge. The pair took eighteenth place at Badminton, which was their debut at the level, and though they couldn’t quite rival their 26.7 there today, they nearly made it: they posted a 26.9, which sees them hold equal fifth with Christoph and Carjatan, as well as German duo Malin Hansen-Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K, who did their test yesterday.

Jerome Robine makes his second appearance in the top ten this week, this time with Black Ice. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After taking a top ten spot yesterday with Brave Heart 10, who now sits 22nd on his score of 29.8, 24-year-old German up-and-comer Jerôme Robiné made it happen again today, coming forward near the end of the day with his excellent Black Ice. The gelding, with whom he finished fifth in Luhmühlen’s German National Championship CCI4*-S in June, delivered a very good score of 27 — the same he’d earned at Luhmühlen. That was enough to see them take overnight eighth going into tomorrow’s cross-country, though they’re just a tenth of a penalty behind ninth-placed Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Another tenth of a penalty is all that separates Tim from overnight tenth-placed Kevin McNab and Willunga, who lead the way for the Australian contingent in this truly global (though arguably German-heavy) leaderboard.

Tomorrow sees the CCIO4*-S competitors take on a bold, technical cross-country course designed by Paris Olympics designer Pierre le Goupil, though there’s been some consternation in the ranks — justifiably so — by riders concerned about the extreme heat forecast for tomorrow. But although the officials were lobbied to relocate the afternoon cross-country session to the morning, which would mean displacing the CCI2*-L to the afternoon, or even consider moving it to a considerably cooler Sunday, they were firm in their resolve, citing the FEI’s heat index guidelines as justification for their call. That means we’ll see the CCIO4*-S cross-country run from 12.30 p.m. local time (11.30 a.m. BST/6.30 a.m. EST) to an estimated 18.00 local time (17.00 BST/12.00 p.m. EST) — and you’ll be able to follow along with all the action via the dedicated livestream.

Until next time: Go Eventing!

The top ten at the culmination of the dressage phase at Haras du Pin.

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