This rider already has seven medals in under-21 ranks and she is aiming for the top echelons of the sport
Bubby Upton enjoyed a red-letter weekend at the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby International.
The 23-year-old Edinburgh University student scored top-six places across international and advanced sections on five of her six rides.
With her final assignments and dissertation due the Monday after Badminton (9 May), Bubby spent every spare moment – around her six rides – essay-writing in the lorry park. She would shut her laptop at 11pm, to ensure she had the sleep she needed to compete at her best. As soon as she finished her final round, she was back on the road, heading the 150+ miles south to Heathrow to catch a plane to Scotland, back to university.
Bubby’s weekend “of dreams” was headed by her runner-up spot behind Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent in the Lycetts Grantham Cup CCI4*-S, aboard the Badminton-bound Cola III, owned by her mother Rachel.
“He is an unbelievable horse,” said Bubby. “He was fantastic this week, he really was.”
The pair’s result also meant that Bubby was awarded the Polly Phillipps Memorial Trophy, for the highest placed British rider who has not been part of a senior championship team. She also ended the weekend as winner of the Animalintex leading rider award, an accolade she shared with Gemma Tattersall, whose results included first place in two open intermediate sections and a novice win.
“The four-star was a hell of a competitive section and I do scroll through the results and think, ‘Oh my god, we really did finish second!’ I know my horses are capable of it, but pulling it all together and to beat some of those names is truly amazing,” said Bubby.
“It’s just all coming together, hopefully peak time will be the big ‘B’.”
She explained that she has changed Cola’s tack to a Fairfax bridle and Bomber bit, which have made him “much more comfortable in his mouth”.
“He did a stunning test. He was lovely, light and soft. I did mess up one of my changes, so there’s still more to come, which is so exciting,” she said. “Showjumping he was absolute class in there and cross-country he did what he does best.
“I think what massively played to my strength was the tight cross-country time. That is his strength, my strength, and he really shone through in that phase.”
Bubby shared her pride in her horses and her team, including a friend of her groom Katie Dumas, who stepped in “as a knight in shining armour” after her second groom had to cancel their trip to Thoresby, owing to a positive Covid test.
“To say it’s a team effort with what I put on my plate is an understatement and I couldn’t do it without any of them,” she said, also crediting her family and trainers. “I’m just the lucky one who gets to pick up the prize. I’m so grateful and it really means a lot.”
Bubby claimed sixth place in the CCI4*-S with Cannavaro, who has Luhmühlen as his first major aim of 2022.
“I’m kicking myself for the showjumping time-fault with Cannavaro,” she said. “I enjoy it so much on him, he’s just class. I’ll probably never have a jumper like him again. And then I go and get a time-fault! That cost us fourth, which I’m annoyed about, but at the same time, he was fantastic. He is coming on – and you wouldn’t think it’s a time for them to be improving at 15, but he really is.”
Bubby also took home a fourth-place prize in the Investec Bowl CCI3*-S on Investec Saturday. Her final tally for the weekend included second and third places in advanced section K, which incorporated the under-25 class held on Lycetts-sponsored Sunday, with Billy Liffy and Magic Roundabout.
“Billy Liffy was unbelievable. He is a class act, obviously he has had his doubters. Today, all I felt was magic,” said Bubby.
This was an emotional result, as it was Bubby’s second and final run on the 15-year-old gelding, who will now be ridden by his owner.
“I really take pride in the partnerships I form with my horses and the time I put in, and the love and the care. It showed this weekend that he has really flourished from that and our partnership is special,” she said, adding that she was proud to be able to show that, while sad to be reaching the end of their time together.
She said the feeling she had across country on third-placed Magic Roundabout IV left her thinking she should have “taken a punt and entered him for Badminton”.
“Magic Roundabout is such a machine. He has taken a long time, he is very different to my other horses, much more thoroughbred,” she said.
“I remember when Piggy March rang me up and said, ‘I’m on my way and I’ve got a horse called Magic Roundabout, and you are going to try him. I said, ‘Right, I’m not looking for a horse and I don’t have an owner’. She replied, ‘You need this horse in your life’.
“She was convinced I would end up falling in love with him, and I have. The feeling he gives across country, he is an absolute weapon. I can’t describe the engine you have underneath you. And I guess that’s the thoroughbred I’ve never experienced before.”
Fresh innovations at a new venue
The leading rider award was one of several new ideas event organiser Stuart Buntine brought to life at this new fixture.
He developed how the concept would work for this event specifically with Tim Smith, of Tim Smith Marketing, and also instigated the Lycetts match play contest. This worked in a similar way to match play golf, in which teams from Britain and the rest of the world competed head to head with a respective counterpart in three phases.
Chris Bartle’s British team of Yasmin Ingham (Rehy DJ), Bubby Upton (Cannavaro), Heidi Coy (Russal Z) and Felicity Collins (RSH Contend Or) were victorious, over the Sam Griffiths-selected Rest of the World side of Susie Berry (John The Bull), Giovanni Ugolotti (Duke Of Champions), Matthew Flynn (Wizzerd) and Joseph Murphy (Calmaro).
Thoresby has been three years in the making, following the Covid-forced cancellations of the 2020 and 2021 event, and replaces Belton in the British international fixtures calendar. Although it stepped up to host Osberton in October 2020, this was its debut in its own guise and also the first time a four-star course has run at the venue.
The atmosphere, particularly in the main showjumping arena, had the feel of an established international fixture. The old turf gave springy ground, praised by riders, who also welcomed the changes to the layout of part of the course, following feedback last year.
The design also served spectators, looping around the main tradestand area and also crossing through the same water, meaning it was always easy to follow the action.
“Stuart has had it in his head for three years, so he’s been mulling it for that long,” said co-organiser Anna Buntine. “The layout has worked, there’s lots of lessons to learn, in essence we feel it’s run remarkably well for our first one.
“I think our sport needs to innovate, develop and keep with the times. Things like the leading rider award – they do it at Cheltenham, why shouldn’t we do it?
“Before the last Thoresby, Stuart came up with the match play concept and I think that could be a really exciting concept to take forward as it’s very understandable for people that aren’t necessarily horsey and don’t really understand our sport. But if you understand matchplay golf, you can understand match play in this context.”
Read the full report from the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound, out Thursday (7 April)
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