Olympic youth silver medallist Jack Whitaker claimed the under-25 grand prix crown on the opening night of the Theraplate UK Liverpool International Horse Show (28 December).
The 17-year-old produced two smart clear rounds aboard Scenletha, a new ride for the teenager, to win by just over two seconds.
Oliver Fletcher and KBIS Caicos jumped the only other double-clear of the class to finish second, with the rider also taking third with Hello Disckoboy DN.
Jack explained he had his first show aboard the eight-year-old mare, owned by Carl Hanley Sporthorses, in October.
“I really like her, I’ve not had her that long and have just been getting to know her,” he said.
He added he is trying her in a new bit — a hackamore combination — and has been playing around with her at home to help form a partnership with the athletic mare.
His plan to go “not too quick, but smooth”, beating Oliver’s time and adding pressure to final competitor Millie Allen, paid off.
The young rider was also full of praise for the show and the organisers’ decision to hold an under-25s class, which was sponsored by Equerry Horse Feeds.
“I think it’s fantastic — it gives guys like us a chance at these kind of shows,” he said.
“The only way they are going to keep progressing the sport is to give [younger riders] the experience we need and this is the only way to be doing it.”
Course designer Alan Wade’s track proved influential, with only three combinations out of 24 starters finishing the first round on zero and the top five progressing to the jump-off.
Oliver, 15, made the save of the day aboard Lady Harris and Lady Kirkham’s agile grey Hello Disckoboy DN after a miscommunication at the water tray in the jump-off — but still jumped clear — and enjoyed a smoother final round with Graham Fletcher and Judy Peploe’s KBIS Caicos.
“It’s more than I could have hoped for to be second and third,” he said.
Millie Allen and Quinu De Pravia were unlucky to clip two fences after a foot-perfect first round to finish fourth, with Joe Tricket and One Two Watch 11 also rolling a couple of poles to finish in fifth place.
‘A great start’
A huge field came forward for the first CSI4* class of the show, which was won by James Smith and new ride Simply Splendid.
Less than a second split the top six in the 1.40m two-phase contest, sponsored by Gornall Equestrian, with James pipping Italy’s Emanuele Gaudiano and Kingston van het Eikenhof into second place by 0.02 seconds.
“It’s great to start the show like this, I hadn’t actually planned [to go for it] — I started off jumping and he was jumping nice, so I did a couple of nice turns at the end and it worked out well, he jumped fantastic,” said James.
“It was a nice course for the first day to get the horses into the ring and jumping, there were a couple of options to turn back in the jump-off, which made it a bit [of a competition].
“I’ve had him for four months now and he is getting better all the time.”
The gelding, who is owned by Elizabeth Robson, had his first international win under James at Lier two weeks ago.
“He was produced by Sammy-Jo Coffin and did well with her, he is a really nice horse and I’m lucky to have him,” added James, who spent six weeks jumping the horse in Vilamoura to build a partnership with him.
“Since we have come back from there it feels like I’ve really gelled with him.”
Charlotte Dujardin and her rising star Florentina VI topped the Equitop Myoplast inter I freestyle with a huge score of 81.94%.
“For the first time ever she was a bit spooky,” said Charlotte.
“She was a little on edge, but she’s still a young mare — she’s only eight and has not done a great deal, so I am really pleased with her.”
Second went to Katie Bailey and Boccelli 6 on a score of 77.18%, with the multiple para championship medal-winning combination of Sophie Wells and C Fatal Attraction in third on 76.81%.
For a full report from Liverpool, don’t miss the 10 January issue of Horse & Hound