The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, which was started and run for many years by Mike Etherington-Smith, has over three decades thrown up some notable horses as winners. For some, it has been the pinnacle of their career; for others, a pointer to greater things.
Lucinda Fredericks rode the very first winner, in 1990, on Just Jeremy, a horse that went on to compete at Badminton, but it was her second victory, in 2002, that was the precursor to greater things: her gallant little mare Headley Britannia, just 15.2hh, won the ‘grand slam’ of Burghley (2006), Badminton (2007) and Kentucky (2009), as well as helping Australia to team silver in the 2008 Olympic Games.
Pippa Funnell holds the record for long-format wins at Blenheim (four), her mounts including the first stallion to win at this level, Sue and Lizzie Bunn’s Viceroy ll, as well as the crowd-pleasing skewbald Bits and Pieces, later placed at Badminton and representing Britain in the 1997 European championships.
Mary King’s 1996 victory on a young King Solomon lll was part of a purple patch of six consecutive international wins that had included Burghley. Solomon lll, one of Mary’s many ‘King’-prefixed horses, named for her farmer husband, David King, went on to give her top placings at Badminton and Burghley as well as a first Olympic medal eight years later, team silver in Athens.
William Fox-Pitt has featured many times on the Blenheim podium, and he remains the only rider to have finished first and second, in 2000 on Stunning and Tamarillo. Stunning, a chestnut New Zealand thoroughbred formerly ridden by Mark Todd, was a fast but enigmatic horse with whom William achieved a great partnership, winning team gold at the 2001 European championships at Pau, France.
It was Tamarillo, though, who turned into the mega-star. One of the great cheeky characters of the sport, the bright bay, bred on Polish bloodlines with a touch of Arab, won Badminton in 2004 and Burghley in 2008, as well as team gold and individual silver at the 2005 European championships held at Blenheim and world silver in 2006.
Zara Phillips’s Toytown read the script perfectly when Blenheim was awarded the 2005 European championships, the white-faced chestnut powering home across country through sheeting rain to set the British team up for gold and Zara for an historic individual victory, emulating her mother’s victory at Burghley in 1971. The pair went on to claim the world championships at Aachen in 2006, becoming the third combination in history to hold both titles simultaneously after Mary Gordon Watson and Cornishman V (1969-70) and Virginia Leng and Priceless (1985-86).
In 2001, Kimberley Severson became Blenheim’s second American winner (after dual world champion Bruce Davidson in 1994). Her ride, the superb British-bred thoroughbred Winsome Adante went on to win Kentucky three times, plus a world team gold for the US in 2002 and an Olympic individual silver medal in 2004.
Mandy Hervieu, who succeeded Mike Etherington-Smith in 2008, had a baptism of fire when the event was cancelled due to pouring rain, but in 2009 she presided over what has become a prestigious Blenheim tradition, that of the young-horse (for eight- and nine-year-olds) CCI4*-S. Piggy French (now March) was the inaugural winner with Flying Machine, a horse that went on to success at what is now 5* level.
In 2010, this competition was won by New Zealand’s dual Olympic champion Mark Todd, who two years earlier had made a legendary comeback from retirement. When he and his Blenheim winner, NZB Land Vision, went on to take the Badminton trophy the following spring, it was the stuff of dreams.
The long-format winner in 2010, William Fox-Pitt’s Parklane Hawk, also went on to greater things, giving his jockey a record sixth victory at Burghley the next year. William’s 2011 Blenheim winner, Oslo, went on to win the French 5* at Pau in just a few weeks later. Altogether, William has five Blenheim victories to his credit.
The brilliant New Zealand horseman Andrew Nicholson has been a fixture right from the start at Blenheim, winning in 1991 on Park Grove, but his 2012 win in the young-horse section on Libby Sellar’s Spanish-bred black Quimbo was part of a particularly purple patch. Quimbo won the Kentucky 5-star in 2013.
Another New Zealander, Jonelle Price, has twice triumphed in the eight-and nine-year-olds, the first time on the grey Faerie Dianimo, her 2016 Olympic ride and the winner of the Luhmuhlen 5* in 2018. Loughan Glen, the 2015 CCI4*-L winner for American Clark Montgomery, also went to the Rio Olympics, representing the US.
The stylish Australian Chris Burton has twice won the CCI4*S, in 2017 and 2019; his 2017 mount, the Irish-bred Cooley Lands, competed at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and was third at Badminton in 2019.
And, finally, the 2018 CCI4*-S winner, Laura Collett’s London 52, and the 2019 CCI4*L winner, Piggy March’s Brookfield Inocent, are both longlisted for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Blenheim is still a breeding ground for stars.