The pinnacle of the Royal Windsor Horse Show, the much-anticipated Rolex Grand Prix, did not fail to disappoint. With 30 World class riders lining up to win over £254,000, the competition was hot, and Bob Ellis’ 1.60m course reflected the high standard.
Four-time European gold medalist, Michael Whitaker was the first to jump clear aboard JB’s Hot Stuff, with whom he won the Antwerp Grand Prix last month. He was in good company as the likes of World No. 1 Kent Farrington, last night’s winner Jessica Springsteen and Olympic gold medalists Scott Brash, Laura Kraut and Eric Lamaze followed suit.
The jump-off had the packed crowds on the edge of their seats as 12 riders came forward to compete for the £63,000 first prize. When Britain’s Guy Williams came in to the famous Castle Arena as second to go, jumping clear in a time of 43.45, it looked like his time would be hard to catch, however with the best riders in the world to come nothing was certain.
Jessica Springsteen rode a fantastic round to momentarily took the lead, however with Kent Farrington next into the arena, her lead did not last long. The defending champion made the tightest of turns to the tricky Tower Bridge water tray and pushed on throughout to knock over three seconds off the previous leader’s time and lay down the gauntlet for his competitors.
World No. 4 Eric Lamaze flew round, however he took one too many risks and paid the price finishing with four faults, albeit in the fastest time of the day. Home favourite Scott Brash, riding his talented mare Ursula XII, put up a good challenge much to the crowd’s delight, to finish in third, and Lorenzo de Luca and Halifax van het Kluizebos secured second as last to go, but it was only Kent who managed to break the elusive 40-second barrier, proving why he’s currently the best in the world.
Speaking at the Rolex Grand Prix press conference, Kent said, “I was really thrilled with my horse, he is just stepping up to this level and he was unbelievable, I couldn’t have asked for more. This is one of my favourite shows and I’m not just saying that because I won here today. There’s a combination of an amazing setting, an unbelievable crowd, top course designing and great footing. That is the best of the best, and now with Rolex stepping up and making this a 5* event, it’s on par with the best in the world.”
Kent went on to discuss the impending retirement of childhood hero Nick Skelton and his double Olympic gold medal winning partner Big Star, “I have always looked up to him my whole career and getting to ride with him at high level has been unbelievable… Our sport is about that great connection with a horse and Nick and that horse [Big Star] became a real team, they had a tremendous comradery, they know each other so well and that showed at the Olympics at the highest level of the sport, with them being able to deliver on the big day.”
Earlier in the day, the Palm Speed Stakes, saw competitors jumping one round against the clock for a total prize fund of £23,300.
The twelve-fence course proved tricky, with a double of verticals down the last line catching many of the riders out. The first clear came from Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer, who jumped a deceptively quick round to set the pace for those that followed. The always competitive Schwizer, riding Leonard de la Ferme CH, posted a time of 61.47 seconds, which proved hard to match.
Several riders came close, including Tiffany Foster with the eleven-year-old gelding Brighton and Laura Kraut with Whitney, already winners in the Castle Arena this week, however their rounds were only good enough for third and fourth positions respectively. However it was Billy Twomey, towards the end of the draw, who managed to clinch victory aboard Sue Davies’ grey gelding Tin Tin, shaving 0.65 seconds off Schwizer’s time. The Irishman took advantage of Tin Tin’s big stride to make up time between fences and made all the turns required to top the leader board.
“I’m absolutely delighted”, said Billy after the class, “The horses had to be really careful out there today, but the course worked in our favour as I was able to miss out a few strides here and there!” The Cheshire-based rider continued, “It’s great to be competing at 5* level here at Windsor, it’s a great show and it’s nice to be on home soil with the family around, as we’re abroad so often.”