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‘He owes us nothing’ — John Whitaker retires his great stallion Argento

John Whitaker has made the “really tough” decision to retire his top horse, the 18-year-old stallion Argento.

During an 11-year partnership, John and the British-bred “Archie” won more than 16 grands prix — including Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Glock’s, Munich and Saint Tropez — and five-star classes all over the world.

“He’s 18 now and he doesn’t owe us anything,” John told H&H. “He’s been so good for me — he was one of those horses that when you put him on the truck you knew you’d be winning something.

“So it was a difficult decision because I’m really short of a top horse and he has always been so reliable.”

Argento is now “fighting fit” again after he was taken seriously ill in his stable at a show in France in August and had to undergo an emergency major hernia operation.

“It was a bit scary for a while and he had to stay in the vet clinic for a month,” John said.

John brought Argento back to fitness and had “half a dozen shows planned” for his son of Arko III this year but instead thinks the time is right to draw a line under the stallion’s phenomenal competitive career so he can instead concentrate on breeding duties. John told H&H they had yet to make a decision on where Argento will stand at stud.

“We’re not 100% sure yet as he may get more mares over in Europe so we’ll see what happens,” he said. “He’s fighting fit again now and I’m riding him every day.”

Argento was impeccably bred in Great Britain by Keeley Durham — also owner of John’s Hickstead Derby-winning Welham — out of her Gasper mare Flora May and by Nick Skelton’s Olympic stallion Arko III. He came to John’s yard at the age of four where John’s daughter Louise began his early education and the Whitakers bought him outright at the age of seven when John took the reins.

Argento proved to be an absolute superstar with his scope and athleticism over the most challenging 1.60m tracks which, combined with a dazzling turn of foot, helped he and John to an enviable roll of honour, earning roars from the crowd wherever they went.

Argento was crowned the best showjumping horse in the world in 2015, topping the WBFSH rankings. The duo’s most recent win came at the CSI3* in Valence, France, in August shortly before Argento was taken ill.

“Prize money is on a different level these days but he’s actually the biggest money-earner of all the horses I’ve ever had,” said John, whose legendary grey Milton was the first showjumping horse to win more than £1m in prize-money.

“There are so many moments that stand out, but when he won the grand prix in Saint Tropez [in 2016], that was really special,” said John of the competition which has gone down in history as one of the all-time greats as less than a second separated the five jump-off contenders which also included Christian Ahlmann, Simon Delestre, Jeroen Dubbeldam and Kevin Staut.

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“It was big, fast and a difficult class to win and I was last to go in the jump-off so knew I’d won it straight away, which means you can really enjoy the winning moment.

“Hong Kong [in 2015] was also amazing — we jumped three classes and he won two, including the grand prix, and he was third in the other.

“Amsterdam, too, was a great one to win. He’s been part of the family for a long time, so he’s going to be much missed.”

The next generation of Argento youngsters are already making their mark on the showjumping circuit, however, with John taking the reins from daughter Joanne on the eight-year-old Arge at the end of last year, and the seven-year-old Vermento looking “really strong” for John’s son Robert Whitaker. Watch this space.

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