What a Year Despite Covid as 2021 Draws to a Close with our Review
As 2021 draws to a close, we look at the highlights and low times of the year in our much loved equestrian sport. Like many media publications, we have our own review and suggested awards to finish the year; the best and the worst.
In general, the main talking point of the year has nothing to do with horses or sport but how the corona virus pandemic has affected everything and everyone throughout the world in anything they have tried to achieve. We started with a world-wide lock down as the Alpha variant took hold. Pretty well all the shows were cancelled throughout the first three months of the year necessitating the abandonment of the World Cup Finals which were to have been held in lovely city of Gothenburg in Sweden.
As the northern hemisphere emerged from winter into summer, another variant turned up to try all our patience, this time the Delta variant from India. The good news was that by this time, there were several vaccines to alleviate the worst effects of the illness, so there was some hope that events could start once again with some sort of normality; except not the famous Badminton Horse Trials, which again was cancelled. As governments around the world thrashed about in an attempt to allow their citizens a normal life once again, show directors were rescheduling events, some more successfully than others. Always, at the back of everyone’s mind was the postponed Olympic Games. As the July date came nearer, Japan itself was experiencing the worst covid figures since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, and there were many there who wanted to see the Olympics cancelled once and for all. However, the IOC were made of sterner stuff and the games went ahead, although sadly all competition had to be held behind closed doors.
To the delight of competitors and spectators alike, normality was appearing again as many of the scheduled shows took place. Horse racing around the world managed to stage all the major races and so did the bloodstock sales companies manage to stage all their sales at the correct time with astonishing returns. Although the Burghley Horse Trials were abandoned early in the year, Bicton in Devon in the UK made a valiant attempt in replacing the famous Burghley, but not to everyone’s pleasure. Like with the Luhmuhlen Trials in Germany, both the 5 star events attracted only about half of the usual entries. Pau, the final 5 star event in France also saw competitor numbers well down. Once momentum had been built up, the major international show jumping competitions all managed to be staged. The Longines Global Champions Tour and most of the other 5 star CSI shows all went ahead with one or two exceptions. The good news of a relenting covid pandemic did not come early enough to save the international classes at Hicktead, (although they did put on national shows as a replacement,) and sadly many rounds of the Nations Cup had to be abandoned. Dressage competition throughout the world seemed to have been hardest hit with cancellations over the whole year. There were no competitions for the first three months, and when things did start to move, many top dressage events had already been cancelled, including the famous Aachen Festival of the Horse, normally held in late June each year. As a result, spectators and dressage aficionados have been disappointed in the number of competitions which have been possible.
However, off towards the autumn and oh no! Another variant of covid turns up, but this one we are told is even more virulent than its predecessors – the Omicron variant. We will have to see what happens, but, The London International Horse Show escaped any cancellation, but other World Cup qualifiers have not been so lucky. Pretty well all shows in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the Baltic countries have already been abandoned – so whether the World Cup finals, which are supposed to take place in Leipzig in April 2022 will actually happen, remains a moot point; particularly as this variant is so much more transmissible than its predecessors, and who knows how governments around the world react. So far – they all seem to be in a blind panic as they are now terrified that they have no more money to bail out businesses and the last thing they want to do is put the world back in lock down mode? We hope and look forward to the major World Equestrian Championships, due to take place in Pratoni del Vivaro in Italy in September 2022.
Despite the misery, a lot has happened in 2021, and here we celebrate the good, bad and ugly.
Our award for the Top Team for has to go to the Horse Trial Eventing Teams of Great Britain. Not only did the team win Gold in the Olympics for the first time in decades, the same is also true for the Great Britain Team sent to the European Champions, a different team sent to Tokyo but, where again they took Gold for the first time in many decades.
The top event rider has to go to the world ranked number one Oliver Townend (GBR) who ended the year with 676 points, but also successfully helped steer Team GB to Gold in Tokyo.
We believe that Amande De B’Neville ridden to individual Gold in Tokyo by Julia Krajewski should be crowned the top event horse of the year. Maybe a controversial choice, but the mare took Julia to the top Olympic spot, the first time a female rider has won the Individual Gold Olympic medal for eventing. The stunning mare is by Oscar des Fontaines and out of a Elan dela Cou mare and is a 10 year old Selle Francaise mare. Manny, as the mare is known at home was awarded the FEI horse of the month in October this year.
Despite the successes on the international stage, British Eventing, as an organisation, has spent most of the year arguing among themselves about money and from the outsider’s view, and many inside, have simply not managed to look after their members, particularly at the grass roots levels. Another complaint we heard time and time again was that in their hurry to try to get some normality returned, they scheduled new shows to the detriment of more established shows in the calendar on the same day, thus then not having enough competitors for both shows. A complete fiasco. They receive the prize for ‘Complete Incompetence’.
As already said, racing has had a fairly uninterrupted year. Although, until June, racing was held completely behind closed doors, all the main races in the calendar were run on schedule. After Cheltenham, in which the Irish took pretty well all of the races on offer, many thought that for some reason, British racing had lost its way but that view soon dissipated after British trainers started to provide the goods.
The weather in the spring in northern Europe was not good which meant that trainers getting their steeds ready for the early classics were always on the back foot. It appeared this year that the three year old crop were going to be a disappointing group, and by and large we think that that statement still holds water, but the Newmarket Guineas winner, Poetic Flare was a worthy winner as he did go onto claim some decent contests later in the season. The winner of the Newmarket 1000 Guineas was Mother Earth and this was her best performance and must be considered disappointing in the full scheme of things. She was roundly beaten several times following her Guineas win by Alcohol Free, a tough consistent filly whose running in the Guineas was not her best.
At Epsom, Aidan O’Brien took the Oaks with Snowfall in scintillating style, and many already had the filly as their horse of the year. However, that was not to be as Aidan had a very up and down season, and this win was probably his highlight of the year. The Derby was won for the first time by Adam Kirby, a seasoned jockey who certainly deserved a Derby win. He was actually substituted at the very last minute for the ride on winning Adayar. We could go on and on about different races around the globe, but we will just leave it at the four British Classics.
With the main Platinum Jubilee Celebrations being staged at Epsom in 2022 for Her Majesty The Queen, She must relish the thought that She just may have Her best chance of a Derby winner than has been the case since Aureole who came second in Her Coronation year of 1953. Step forward Reach For The Moon, bred by Her Majesty a colt by Sea The Stars and trained by John and Thady Gosden, winner of 3 races at two years and ridden each time by Frankie Dettori. What a day that will be if the horse can win?
Our top Trainer’s award is shared by Charlie Appleby and Andrew Balding. Both trainers have had phenomenal seasons and although Charlie ended up as Champion trainer in Great Britain, Andrew Balding chased him the whole way to the finish and has consistently produced winners from his Kingsclere stables without necessarily having the pedigree fire-power of Charlie
Our Top Stallion award of the year, probably like everyone else’s has to go to Frankel – the winner of every one of his 14 races when in training with the late great Sir Henry Cecil. As a sire this year alone, he has provided owners with 144 winners from 226 runners, an astonishing 50% strike rate. He has also been responsible for siring 22 stakes winners in the year including the Epsom and Irish Derbys as well as three winners in the USA at their Breeders Cup Meeting last month to name just a few!
Our award for the racehorse we would most like to have owned goes to Alcohol Free, a three year old filly and winner of the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, both top mile races and Group 1 races. Possibly a strange choice, but she was a tough filly even in defeat and although nicely bred, was not out of the top drawer. The Balding team did a great job for owner Jeff Smith earning him over 1 million pounds from the filly. There are many horses to choose from for 2021, but this is the one we think deserves some special recognition.
Our Top Jockey Award goes to William Buick. Always such a gentleman on and off the horse and a great racing jockey to boot, he was just pipped to the jockey’s title in Great Britain by three races.
We have a special award this year for the most Base and Vile man in the world of the horse. We stress this is our opinion, but know many share it. It goes to the Irish National Hunt trainer Gordon Elliott who thought it was appropriate to sit on a dead horse and make a phone call, but even worse, was then allegedly thought to have been behind the revolting actions of sending injured or useless race horses to a rather squalid abattoir in Swindon for their inhumane dispatch. The Irish race authorities should hold their heads in shame that they did not warn Elliott off for ever as a trainer, rather than just giving him a few months without a trainer’s license – a pathetic response.
Without doubt, dressage has had a very turbulent year so far as international competition was concerned. All of the international competitions in the first half of the year were cancelled and apart from the Olympic Games and European Championships, many riders have faced difficulties getting to those shows which did take place due to different restrictions between one country and another over covid.
Our Dressage Team of the Year has to go to Germany. We don’t think that anyone would argue with that. They have such strength and depth in the sport at the moment that one wonders if and when they may be successfully challenged?
Dressage Rider of the Year for us was Jessica von Bredow-Werndl from Germany. Not only was she Olympic and European Champion, but she has risen up the ranks over the years and reached a massive pinnacle of her career.
Dressage Equine Horse of the Year for us is Gio, or Pumpkin as he is known at home. Ridden by Charlotte Dujardin, Pumpkin has really been thrown in at the deep end. Having only ever competed at a couple of Grand Prix in his life, entirely due to the pandemic and the availability of shows, he found himself in the cauldron of the Olympics as Charlotte’s substitute. Gio was never supposed to go to Tokyo but after a difference of opinion with the owners of Freestyle to Music, Charlotte’s intended ride for the games, Gio was a late replacement, and what a show he put on. He helped Great Britain to win a Team dressage Bronze medal and for an Individual Bronze for his most accomplished rider Charlotte.
Apart from some early cancellations and early shows, most of the scheduled international showjumping events did go ahead. The main shows to be abandoned were the World Cup series, which was to have been held in the spring, both the Hickstead international shows and the Nations Cup series; although the finals for this series did take place in Spain in the autumn as scheduled.
Our Top Team Award has to go to Sweden, who just kept on providing excellent results during the season. They picked up the Team Gold in the Olympics and several other top awards during the year.
Our Top Individual Rider is always a difficult choice as there are several riders to whom this award could have gone, but we have chosen Peder Fredricson of Sweden, who along with his team, was always in the hunt for the top places in competition. He was just pipped to the individual Gold in Tokyo by Ben Maher but he more than made up for his defeat with wins in the Longines Global Champions Tours and several other top Grand Prix 5 star classes.
Our Top Showjumping Horse has to go to Ben Maher’s Explosion W. Not only did he win the Individual Gold in the Olympics, but he was always near the top in all his outings. Explosion W is a once in a lifetime horse as he is not only a beautiful horse to fill the eye, but he is always a very careful jumper and has the unique ability to be very quick over the ground. There are many horses which could have filled this spot, but as a patriotic British subject, our bias wins the day for this exceptional horse.
Although we have chosen not to make any mention of young riders for eventing or dressage, in the case of showjumping, we do award a Young Rider of the Year. This goes to Harry Charles of Great Britain. Not only was he originally selected for his abilities at the young age of 22 for the British Team in Tokyo, (his place actually taken by Holly Smith); as we saw this weekend, he is more than capable of taking on and beating the rest of the top international riders as he did so successfully at the London International Horse Show where he not only won the World Cup round but also took the London Grand Prix.
We lament the loss of some huge figures in the world of horses. The first loss His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. He was a keen polo player when younger, and right up to the end, Prince Philip was often seen out in Windsor driving a carriage with four in hand. He only recently retired from the sport he was largely responsible for starting in the first place. The second loss was Master of the Horse, Lord Sam Vestey, a lover of all things equine. He was often seen in support of The Queen at so many equestrian events and at the races. With the loss of Her husband and of her friend, it has hardly been a happy year for Her Majesty?
Worldwide, racing lost two of its main sponsors in early 2021. The first was Khalid Abdulla who had racing interests in England, Ireland and France with some in the United States. His breeding empire is still run from Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket under the Juddmonte banner. His legacy will be his brilliance at breeding the very cream of the thoroughbred race horse including two of the current top world stallions, Frankel and Kingman.
Finally, we said farewell to the Shadwell boss, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
His blue and white racing colours have been seen in the world’s top winner’s enclosures for decades and it is with some sadness that a lot of his bloodstock interests have been sold during this year. The Sheikh spent billions of dollars on racing, a sport which he absolutely loved, and he too is sorely missed, not only by those who knew him but also all us racing bystanders.
Our review of 2021 is only a snippet of the highlights we have seen throughout what has been a very difficult year for horse owners, riders and trainers alike. We are sure that many readers may well argue that we have missed some memorable moments, and we are sure we have. However, we hope that you have enjoyed at least some of our articles on the world wide equestrian activity as we look forward to publishing further articles in 2022. Mainly, it is ours and surely everyone else’s hope that the covid will finally be beaten in 2022 and we can return to a pre-pandemic normality. It only remains for us at Horseview UK to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas holiday period and a prosperous and successful 2022.