Katie Bailey and Eagle Nouvelle land the perfect victory
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With the nation in a betting mood ahead of tomorrow’s Randox Health Grand National, the bookies would have had short odds on riders like Hannah Biggs, Becky Moody and Alice Oppenheimer for tonight’s Gala Performance feature class, the Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold Championship. However, it was the relative outsiders Katie Bailey and Eagle Nouvelle who swept to a narrow victory much to the crowd’s delight.
Henrietta Cheetham and her own Dancer Khan kicked the night off in style with a test full of highlights. Starting in canter to Toto’s Africa the duo rode flowing tempi changes on curved lines followed by small pirouettes presented on the centre line. The extended walk showed a solid two hooves overtrack and nice relaxation with the elegant bay seeking the contact forwards. The energetic trot music was nicely matched to Dancer Khan’s paces and didn’t over power her light footed style. The duo completed their test with a powerful extended trot, the judges gave 70.41%.
Popular guest commentator Isobel Wessells was thrilled to open the night with a super test! “I think the rider will be pleased! The beautiful music really suited the light footed way the horse works and the music really enhanced the way of going. What a lovely way to start the evening! There were a couple of mistakes but there was a lot to like.”
Opening with a flowing extended trot, Paul Hayler produced some strong trot work on Sandra Cowing’s Balero II. Shoulder in ridden on the centre line and steep half pass zig zags in trot showed Balero’s quality within the lateral work. The canter programme also showed much scope for the future with energetic changes and more strong lateral work in the canter half passes. A couple of mistakes in the three tempis and right pirouette just kept the marks back, but a promising test gave the duo 66.95%. “Powerful music to suit a big powerful horse,” said Isobel, “the start of the test was interesting with a nice extension enhanced by the music. He became a little tense in the collected walk and canter today but Paul of course steered him through the test very well. There’s lots to like for the future.” Isobel also gave credit to a good floorplan which well suited the scopey Balero.
Receiving an appreciative round of applause from the crowd, Paul Friday scored 69.20% with Sarah Overson’s Hawtins Horatio for their upbeat 80s pop music programme. The extended trot was a clear highlight with the British-bred gelding showing a lovely open frame and freedom of the shoulder. The canter pirouette right showed lovely collection within four balanced strides and the three and four time tempi changes were shown on a daring curved line. Isobel enjoyed Paul’s choice of upbeat music, “I like the music and I really like the horse, he has much potential for the future – there were a few mistakes today but the changes on the curved line were very nice.”
Tania Grantham opted to start her test on Tina Grantham’s Samarino (by Samarant) with a walk pirouette into collected walk and extended walk on a half circle. The energetic Samarino showed a little too much exuberance with a small jog creeping into the collected walk but Tania used his power to her benefit within the canter and trot tours. “Tania will be very pleased with him,” reviewed Isobel, “he looked a little on edge tonight but it was very clever how she got the walk done early whilst he was still relaxed.”
Classical music and an instrumental version of One Republic’s Secrets added much drama to Nathalie Kayal’s performance on board her own DHI Cleverboy. The tall gelding by Sandreo delivered balanced lateral work with explosive extensions, with Nathalie always keeping the poll at the highest point and a steady, consistent contact. The Beaconsfield-based rider chose to present her test in a snaffle; the consistent contact was proven again in walk and canter. Guest commentator Isobel Wessels praised the elegant rider for her efforts in the NAF Five Star Arena - “Nathalie you did a great job – it was very polished, it was very well balanced. The canter could be a little more through but the lines in the floorplan were very nice. A few little things but overall a super job!” For Nathalie, the end result was fifth with 70.62%.
BD judge Sara Jane Lanning delivered a test full of drama on board her own faithful partner Mi Amigo. The 17 year old gelding showed good activity in the trot work, where the rider chose a mirrored floorplan with half pass zig zags and shoulder in on the centre line. ‘Zoa’ showed his talent for tempi changes in the canter tour with fours and threes ridden on 20m circle lines – they were in fact the sole combination to attempt this on Friday’s Gala Performance evening. Sara Jane was another rider to earn praise from Isobel who commented at the end of her test, “Well deserved cheers! Overall the music and floorplan really worked together, a difficult test with accomplished riding – very well done!”
Rhythmical trot work accompanied Queen’s It’s A Kind of Magic to start Sarah Williams freestyle on board Georgina Howards’ Bohingus W in tuneful style. Neat pirouettes and flowing half passes were a highlight in canter, accompanied by Radio Gaga, but a couple of unfortunate mistakes in the tempi changes just kept the score back tonight, the duo earned 65.58%. “I’m a Freddie fan!” Isobel praised the all Queen arrangement, “There were some difficult movements in this test to show off the good training of this horse. The self-carriage could’ve been better towards the end but a really nice test and an enjoyable freestyle.”
With Lucy Swinden’s Odwigs Echo, Sheffield lady Becky Moody proved her class once again with an impressive freestyle scoring 70.16%. The eye-catching coloured didn’t put a hoof out of place in the trot tour which was followed by a collected walk and extended walk of great quality. A small mistake in the four tempi changes certainly didn’t deter from an enjoyable programme. Small, balanced pirouettes and a powerful extended canter were appreciated by the knowledgeable crowd and Isobel Wessels: “What a choreography! Lots of changes of hand, which really test the suppleness – it’ll be noticed by the judges. Really difficult interesting movements, there were a couple of mistakes tonight but well done Becky.”
Starting her freestyle in canter, Lara Edwards rode a packed floorplan on board Laura Milner’s Jazzed Up with tricky lines including one handed tempi changes into half pirouettes. The Jazz sired gelding has tones of potential and showed all his talent in the trot tour, the lateral work was full of energy with a super active hind leg. There was just one small mistake in the final trot half pass zig zag in an otherwise impressive test, Isobel summarised “It’s a very elegant light-footed horse and Lara used the choreography to show the horse off well. It was a nice inventive program and the horse became more and more relaxed as the test went on. Lovely horse and lots of nice things.” The combination placed 10th with 69.16%.
Charlotte Dicker brought her 2018 European Young Rider Championship partner forward to contest the Magic title and their test didn’t disappoint – 68.79% was the score. Tempi changes on the centre line and 20m circles stood out and the canter pirouettes were secure. The elegant ‘Soli’ showed elevated extensions in both trot and canter, and Charlotte a complex floorplan with skills beyond her 19 years. “I thought the overall picture was very dramatic,” Isobel commented on the young rider’s test, “the choreography was intricate so well done for showing some steep half passes and tight pirouettes on the centre line. The horse lacked a little elasticity but going into this arena is not easy, Charlotte coped very well – well done.”
Charlotte Dujardin pupil Jessica Wade brought her bright bay partner Empire H forward for her debut performance on Gala night at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships. The 10 year old by Santano has outstanding action in trot with much lift and impulsion; his extended walk was also notable, showing a nice lengthening of the frame. Riding to a compilation of modern pop music from Freya Ridings and Clean Bandit, Jessica completed her test with bold canter work, small pirouettes and neat changes. The panel of Peter Storr (C), Claudia Haller (M) and Mary Anne Horn (E) gave 69.20% for a solid test. “It was such a pity about the ending,” said Isobel post-test as she praised Jessica’s attempt to repeat her right pirouette which proved tricky first time around. “He’s a wonderful horse with such nice activity and a trot that’s nicely off the ground. He’s light-footed and very in front of the rider – clearly there’s lots of ability. I also liked the music, it was different and well fitted.”
With her second ride of the evening, Hannah Moody’s Full Fusion BS, Becky Moody opted to ride her successful Sherlock Holmes routine. The athletic bay gelding was competed successfully by Hannah previously and looked in top form tonight with sister Becky in the saddle. In the canter work, the three tempi changes and pirouettes were top quality, the extended walk supple and in trot the extensions were very bold. A couple of tiny communication errors kept the score to 73.12%, and Isobel was quick to commend a great effort. “The horse is really talented for the pirouettes and the subtle change in the pirouette really highlighted that. There were a couple of little mistakes but a super horse and as always, very well ridden by Becky.”
Local lady Katie Bailey and the ten year old Eagle Nouvelle debuted an ethereal freestyle by maestro Tom Hunt set to James Newton Howards’ scores from Peter Pan and Maleficent. A huge extended walk showed outstanding suppleness over the back, the flying changes were straight, active and expressive and in trot the horse showed much ability for the future. Overall, a polished test with a supreme floorplan and music programme was enough to move Katie into the lead with 73.70%. Isobel was as impressed as the judges’ panel: “I thought that was really super – wonderful fluent test, much harmony and ease. The horse made no mistakes and I really loved this music – it’s been my favourite so far!”
Penultimate rider Hannah Biggs brought a very different freestyle into the arena with modern tunes, including music from Labrinth and Tiny Tempah. British-bred ‘Archie’ has been in top form this season but unfortunately the Hartpury atmosphere caused a couple of small mistakes to creep in. Nevertheless, Hannah produced high quality trot work with lovely, flowing half passes and a really stand out extended walk. “Really difficult choreography and unusual lines. The horse has some strong highlights, a wonderful extended walk – as a judge you think wow how much more ground cover could there be. He has lovely natural gaits and overall it was a super, really intricate test – great job!” For Hannah tonight the score was a respectable 69.04%.
Headmore Davina has been nothing but a dream for Alice Oppenheimer and she pulled yet another fantastic test out of the bag tonight as the duo trotted down the centre line to conclude the Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold. An exciting floorplan mirrored the work in both trot and canter on both reins and showed Davina’s many highlights. Reviewing the successful duo, Isobel concluded “Alice has done another super test with this horse! She always rides a brilliant freestyle and the music was lovely. Alice you’ve got a super horse, there were a few little mistakes tonight but really really top riding.” For Alice, the score tonight was 70.79% and her eventual placing fourth – another fantastic effort.
However it was Katie Bailey to enjoy a deserved moment in the spotlight in front of a supportive home crowd. It wasn’t a victory Katie was expecting; “I was hoping for a top three but never expected this. I’m a bit speechless but thrilled to pip the others today!” she said.
Katie has had the German bred gelding, by jumping sire Singapore, for two and a half years and he was working at Elementary when she took the ride on for owner Hannah Dovey. “Eddie is just the kindest horse. He coped really well with the atmosphere and he’s such a trier. Everything just came together a little more than normal tonight,” she said.
The duo are in action tomorrow night in the Saturday Gala Performance Superflex Inter I Freestyle and those odds have suddenly shortened on them walking away with both showcase titles.