Great Britain’s John Whitaker returned to the five-star podium last night (Saturday, 14 August) with a tremendous grand prix performance at the London GCT.
He and the 13-year-old gelding Unick Du Francport finished just 0.14sec adrift of the Swedish winner, Peder Fredricson on Catch Me Not S, with John’s gelding throwing a mighty buck as they flashed across the finish line.
But for John, who turned 66 last week, this result – among other great placings at the Longines Global Champions Tour show at the Royal Hospital Chelsea – provided a much-needed boost.
“The past couple of years I’ve been going round three-stars trying to climb the ladder back into five-star shows,” John told H&H. “I’m not complaining, but it is a struggle. I spent 20 years in the top 10, taking it for granted and going to whichever shows you like, then suddenly I’m not in there and it’s difficult to get back in. So I’ve seen both sides of the fence – when you’re in the top flight jumping, it’s easy to stay in because you’re doing the good shows and getting the ranking points, but when you’re not in it’s hard to get back.
“Three-star shows are actually more difficult in many ways because you have really top riders all going full speed trying to win. It feels like you’re always going one step forward and two steps back,” added John. “So it’s nice to come to a five-star show and get results.”
John hadn’t jumped at an overseas five-star show for over two years before competing at the Nations Cup show at La Baule, France, in June with the talented Unick Du Francport. The gelding came from France two years ago after a friend of John’s spotted him.
“He jumped really good in La Baule in the Nations Cup and just had one down in the grand prix, then at Windsor it was just one down again, and you do think that, when you get into these five-star shows, you have to make them count. So it’s nice to get some results this time,” he said.
“It’s boosted my morale – I’m really pleased. To come to this show with the best riders in the world and beat them or hold my own with them, it’s good for morale, it’s good for everything.”
About the 1.60m course for Saturday night’s Longines grand prix at the London GCT, John said: “I thought it was big – although I didn’t tell myself that!
“I thought I could win it, but he is a bit slow in the air. I took a bit of a pull to the last and if I had kept going I might have won it, but I might also have had it down. It was going to be close.
“If you had said second to me in the morning, I’d have taken that – but I got so close, I feel like I could’ve won it.
“So it’s nice when it comes together after all that travelling and hard work – it makes it all worth while.”
The London GCT concludes on Sunday (15 August).
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.