The Dressage Deluxe national championships kicked off at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, on Thursday 9 September, with Carl Hester’s Valegro back in the spotlight under Charlotte Dujardin.

Not seen since the Spanish Sunshine tour, where he won repeatedly at prix st georges (PSG) and intermediate I, Valegro surprised Charlotte here by topping the Jefferies Saddlery PSG with 72.05%.

Charlotte had made a bet with dressage photographer Kevin Sparrow that she wouldn’t win and if she did would jump in the spa on one of the trade stands. The bet was collected and Charlotte found herself in the aforementioned pool to the delight of her supporters.

Gareth Hughes provided the strongest opposition to Charlotte and Valegro with his own and Ann Newtons’ Hickstead small tour champion Duvie, scoring 71.89%. The pair go head to head again this afternoon in the Bates Saddles intermediate I.

Alex Hardwick claimed the first title of the championships, the Martin Collins advanced medium restricted on Calvin G. Alex has qualified three horses for five tests here and, having topped the hardest of these, will be under pressure for the elementary open on Sunday with Calvin.

“To win this title is fabulous, I don’t care what happens now,” said Alex, 19, who mucks in at her parents’ Hallingbury Hall in Hertfordshire. “Calvin’s such a gentleman, if he was human he’d be the kind of guy to buy you flowers and open car doors.”

Alex has ridden the seven-year-old since he was three.

Another young rider, 13-year-old Lucy Pincus, topped the Centaur Biomechanics prelim riding home-bred Sheepcote Sandmartin, who is by her father David’s grand prix stallion Wurlitzer.

Don’t miss H&H’s full report on all the action from the Dressage Deluxe national championships in next Thursday’s magazine