There was a good line-up for the Ecotrak Grand Prix at Windsor this afternoon, the culmination of four days of top quality show jumping.
There were 27 starters in the class, but the pressures of speed, and the size of the course reduced the field to just six clear rounds, with a triple combination at fence eight accounting for several faults.
David McPherson, the South-African-born rider who took on British nationality just two years ago, set the standard with a nippy clear early on, and John Whitaker followed suit with a precision round, but he sacrificed time for accuracy, and finished just 0.19 seconds outside the time, accruing one time penalty.
Three of the other five spots in the jump off were taken by riders who have been giving brilliant performances throughout the four days of feature jumping competitions at Windsor.
Young Irishman Billy Twomey, who hasn’t been out of the money all week, rode a neat clear on Anastasia, with 21-year-old Robert Whitaker finishing clear and less than half a second slower.
But it was Nick Skelton, who has made an incredible comeback from a career-threatening injury four years ago, who rode to pole position, and retained it for the jump off.
William Funnell, who has been forced to abandon Olympic hopes this year because of an injury to Cortaflex Mondriaan, and has been struggling to find his form this week, produced an accurate, if somewhat steadier round on Buddy Bun, and Tim Stockdale, in his distinctive green jacket, rode clear on Cloudy Night. The partnership came fifth in the Landrover Grade A Jumping Competition on Friday.
Will Funnell, first to go in the jump off, set the pace with a clear round, and both Tim Stockdale and David McPherson, in an attempt to match him, each notched up four faults. Robert Whitaker rode a characteristically competitive round over the spacey track, and luck was on his side as he kept up all the fences on Qualite. Billy Twomey went aggressively, but got too close to an oxer halfway round, and Anastasia caught the back pole with her hind feet.
Nick Skelton, though, drew on all his professionalism and experience, and with the bold-jumping grey stallion, could afford to take more risks than his younger rivals. They paid off, and he finished just over a second ahead of the youngest Whitaker.
“I watched him, I watched where Robert went and what he did and just made sure I kept inside that,” Nick explained afterwards.
Nick has immense confidence in the nine-year-old Russel, who was bought in Belgium four years ago for Lisa Hales. The stallion is by the German Holstein Corofino, and Nick and he are now enjoying huge success in their second season together. “If I didn’t have Arko, this horse would be doing what he’s doing, but he is a year behind,” says Nick.
The 46-year-old has been emphasising recently the benefits of quality over quantity as far as horses are concerned. He has just three horses at the moment, the stallion Arko, who won the British Open in Sheffield last month, and was one of only three double clears at the first of the Samsung Super League Series in La Baule. He brought both of his other horses, to Windsor, and has been on tremendous form here.
He won the Land Rover Grade A Jumping Competition on Pandur on Friday, and came third in the Gentlemen’s Championship yesterday with the same horse. He takes all three to the Samsung Super League in Rome in two weeks time, and then to Lucerne at the beginning of June.
“When I go to a show, I go with the whole lot. I just pack up and go, and with just three, it makes life so much simpler,”he says.
Ecotrak Royal Windsor Grand Prix result
1. Russel (Nick Skelton) 52.92, 0 faults;
2. Qualite (Robert Whitaker) 53.93, 0 faults;
3. Buddy Bun (William Funnell) 55.61, 0 faults;
4. Poet (David McPherson) 56.51, 4 faults;
5. Anastasia (Billy Twomey) 57.64, 4 faults;
6. Cloudy Night (Tim Stockdale) 67.36, 4 faults.