Italian star Emanuele Gaudiano continued his rich vein form by making a flying start to the Equestrian.com Liverpool International Horse Show.
Gaudiano thrilled a sizeable crowd for the opening international session of the three-day, four-star show at Liverpool Echo Arena.
Riding Cocoshynsky, Gaudiano landed the 1.45 metre two-phase class, sponsored by Harthill Stud, in a brilliant jump-off time of 29.25 seconds, which proved just enough to edge out 60-year-old multiple British Olympian John Whitaker and claim a £6,000 first prize.
Yorkshireman Whitaker, who has his sights on a possible sixth Olympic Games appearance in Rio later this year, clocked 29.42 seconds for the runners-up sport aboard Lord of Arabia, with Britain’s Nicole Pavitt taking third place on Victor Blue.
Gaudiano has enjoyed an outstanding few weeks on the European circuit, highlighted by him staving off a powerful British challenge to win the Longines FEI World Cup qualifier at London Olympia just 12 days ago.
“I have done a number of shows with the horse, and it is great to win here at Liverpool on the opening day,” Gaudiano said.
“It is a super new show. It is the first show of the year, and it is an unbelievable event – one that will get bigger and bigger.”
Master craftsman Whitaker then delivered a first British four-star victory of the show by producing a brilliant performance on Echo of Light.
The accumulator class, sponsored by Equiline/Fearns Farm Partnership — where riders score points for fences jumped — has a maximum 65 points available, including the invaluable joker fence, and Whitaker showed his rivals a clean pair of heels.
Drawn late in the 27-starter field, the 60-year-old Yorkshireman showcased all his experience to claim a maximum score in a blistering time of 43.82 seconds.
Belgium’s Wilm Vermeir was second — almost two seconds behind — on Hacienda d’Eversem, while William Whitaker finished third aboard his established campaigner Fandango.
Assessing his performance, John Whitaker said: “I was second-last to go, so I knew what I had to do.
“He has been a tricky horse to produce, but he has got loads of scope and he is careful.
“If you go really fast in a class like that, you are going to knock the planks down. It’s a fine line between going quickly enough and keeping your control to jump the last plank.
“Once I jumped one or two, he felt quite relaxed and I knew I was away, so I went for it.”
Tony Pearson, meanwhile, made showjumping history by winning the inaugural class at Liverpool.
The Windsor-based rider claimed a comfortable victory in Friday morning’s amateur 1.15 metre two-phase competition, sponsored by the PanAm Bar Official After-Show Party.
Riding Arash, Pearson clocked a second phase time of 30.02 seconds, which proved too hot a pace for his rivals, with Aisling Byrne second aboard Deau and Oliver Fletcher taking third place on Little Business from a field of 30 starters.
And Pearson’s fellow Berkshire competitor Tess Carmichael landed the 1.25m amateur two-phase, sponsored by Andrews Bowen, with Boran.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “It is very impressive here, and luckily, my horse really enjoys arenas like that. He enjoys different things to look at!”
Besides top-class showjumping, Liverpool’s slick, eye-catching production incorporates scintillating performances from the ‘Bootleg Beatles,’ opera singers Bella Voci, theatrical stunt rider Clémence Faivre and the ever-popular Shetland Pony Grand National.
To book your tickets for Liverpool International Horse Show or for more information, go to www.liverpoolhorseshow.com