First to go of 10 in the jump-off, Michael and Jeff Ten Halven put the pressure on from the start, with the tightest of turns at every opportunity to thunder home in 33.55 seconds.
Those that followed tried their best to beat him; John Whitaker demonstrated his enduring class with a foot-perfect clear on Unick Du Francport that was just a fraction of a second slower. Harry Charles and Valkiry De Zance thought they had cracked it as the 12-year-old gelding crossed the line in 32.70 seconds — neither they nor the crowd realising a breath on the last pole had left it on the floor behind them.
“There’s not too much theory behind it in a class of that standard,” Michael said. “You just go as fast as you can.”
Michael said the 12-year-old Toulon x Crown Z Belgian-bred gelding has “two metres of scope”.
“He’s an amazing horse; he could do a dressage test with his rideability, so he finds the turnbacks easy; the horse doesn’t see the fence till he’s half over it, but that’s the difference between a good horse and a great one. It’s easy to ride great horses.”
Michael first saw “Jeff” when he came third in the grand prix at HOYS with Georgia Tame two years ago. He and HMF Equestrian, which also owns Michael’s European Championships ride Zilton SL Z, bought the horse some 18 months ago, since when, thanks to Covid, they have jumped “not 20 shows together”.
Michael added that he gave it everything, but it was a slightly nail-biting wait.
“We’re all very privileged to ride in a ring with John Whitaker, a legend of the sport,” he said.
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After their HOYS Grandstand Challenge Cup win, Michael and Jeff will be back to contest tomorrow’s grand prix.
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