Experienced whip Sarah Garnett and her majestic black Gelderlanders, Deemster and Julius, strode away with the Craghoppers National Horse Pairs Championship at Catton Park, recapturing the title Sarah took in 2000.

Sarah, who has been national horse tandem champion three times and single horse champion twice, said: “I was conscious of being cautious in the marathon — Boyd Exell will be driving the horses at the World Championships in a few weeks and I didn’t want to damage them in any way.”

Held two weeks ahead of the rest of the national championships to accommodate those who will be competing at the World Championships later this month, the horse pairs drew a record 14-strong entry.

Driving at only her fourth event of the season, Sarah’s near flawless dressage test gave her a 20-point lead over closest rivals John Attenborough and Wilf Bowman-Ripley, both members of Britain’s pairs team.

The three-section marathon was routed slightly differently this year — section A incorporated a drive along the River Trent, which winds through the estate, and as well as an extended water obstacle there was one completely new obstacle designed by George Prince.

“It was quite technical,” said George. “I envisaged four major routes through for single, pairs, tandems and teams. Although there was some anxiety about it, no one got irrevocably caught up and we ended up with just one cracked rail.”

Carol Meredith’s cones course proved tricky for the horse pairs, with no double clears recorded. Sarah’s measured round was clear on time but she had three cones down, to give Wilf a bit of breathing space. This proved insufficient, however. His horses became extremely excitable, accurate steering was very difficult and he dropped to second place. John Attenborough finished less than a penalty behind in third.

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