It was John Whitaker, competing in his 180th Nations Cup, who summed up victory in the Longines FEI Nations Cup at the Longines Royal International Horse Show by saying: “We had good vibes all week, we felt quietly confident,” said the 68-year-old, who was joined on the winning squad by Harry Charles, Tim Gredley and Ben Maher.
“I wasn’t quite here in 1929 [when the Nations Cup first ran],” he quipped.
“But I first came here in 1970 with a pony – that was daunting – but today, after all those years, this is probably the best day,” said John, welling up.
Hickstead Nations Cup: neck and neck after round one
Three of the eight countries in Friday’s two-round competition were neck and neck after round one, with Great Britain, Ireland and France tied for the lead on four faults.
However, faults started coming thick and fast in round two as a testing, stamina-zapping track set by Kelvin Bywater took its toll. Title-holders France’s chances slipped away, but just four faults from Olympic champion Ben Maher with 14-year-old Exit Remo (San Remo x Ferro), owned by Pamela Wright and Charlotte Rossetter, followed by a masterful clear from Tim Gredley on Medoc De Toxandria kept Great Britain firmly in the hunt.
As John Whitaker entered the ring for the second time with the 15-year-old Zandor gelding, Equine America Unick Du Francport, news filtered through that Irish rider Mark McAuley had been eliminated owing to the blood rule with GRS Lady Amaro. The 68-year-old legendary showjumper proceeded to post an exceptional clear, which couldn’t have come at a better time as it sealed a triumphant return for the British team at the home of British showjumping. The British celebrations continued all the way down the chute and well into the evening.
While Harry Charles, at 24 the youngest member of the team, was not required to jump again, there was the small matter of a double clear bonus at stake and he duly delivered with Casquo Blue, jumping double clear in the Hickstead Nations Cup for the second year running, sharing the bonus with Olivier Robert of France and Jack Ryan of Ireland.
An ‘unbelievable’ result in the Hickstead Nations Cup
“It was unbelievable, I was awake through the night, then at 5am,” said chef d’equipe Di Lampard, who was leading her team to a home victory for the first time. “I so wanted this, for these riders, and the squad behind them. I did shed a tear and I’m not normally like that – I wanted this so badly. This legend [John Whitaker] clinched it for us.”
Tim Gredley, who is enjoying something of a renaissance, returning from a sabbatical to climb back to the top tier of the sport, described winning as a “surreal experience”.
“I used to come here to do the working hunters and one of the reasons I went in to showjumping was from watching John Whitaker, so this is a bit surreal,” he said. “I was feeling a bit of pressure, but I have a very good horse and I’m absolutely loving this.”
Harry’s father Peter Charles was part of the last Nations Cup-winning British team on home soil in 2010 and Harry described winning his first Nations Cup as “a special day”.
With €200,000 victory sealed for Great Britain, the fourth team riders were left battling out for podium honours and taking second was Ireland with France in third.
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