‘Elite amateur’ wins back-to-back Hickstead eventers’ challenge titles

Paul Tapner claimed back-to-back victories in the MS Amlin eventers’ challenge at the BHS Royal International Horse Show, destroying the opposition as he stormed around the course with Bonza King Of Rouges to win with more than 4sec in hand.

The Australian’s double was the first since the 2015 format change, and shattered his winning time from last year by more than 7sec.

“Elizabeth [Power, 2016 winner with Doonaveeragh O One] has been ribbing me for the past 12 months saying if she was riding last year she would have beaten me as she was 7sec faster,” said Paul. “I’ve had 12 months to prepare myself and I knew exactly how fast I went last year and how many fewer strides between two and three I needed to take, how many extra between five and six and what I needed to do between seven and eight to be ahead of her.”

Before Paul’s round from final draw, there had been a tense battle among the closing competitors, with the lead changing three times in the final four riders.

Earlier in the field, Tom Jackson had set a decent 126.29sec bar with Billy Cuckoo, which had been snatched from his hands 13 horses later by Vittoria Panizzon and her great championship campaigner Borough Penny Z, who crossed the line in 125.19sec.

Elizabeth and her 17-year-old Irish gelding — a bit of a Hickstead legend who has collected two top-12 Derby finishes as well as winning the speed derby in 2013 and this class in 2016 — then overtook the Italian rider to set a 124.49 sec target.

Next in Georgie Strang and Cooley Earl confidently ate up the track, nipping into a .09sec lead in 124.40sec.

A bid from Abigail Walters and Perfick Miss Amber was close, stopping the clock in 124.47 for fourth, before Paul went all-out on the 15-year-old Irish grey.

Despite rattling the last part of the dyke, their luck held — although their impressive finishing time of 120.15 sec would still have left them a fence in hand had they needed it.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Paul. “As everyone knows, I like to play up to a crowd and an arena like this really is my cup of tea.”

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Paul quit full time eventing in 2016 to take up a job with the Event Riders Master Series (ERM) and jokingly describes himself as an “elite amateur”, with Bonza King Of Rouges currently his sole ride.

The gelding, who is co-owned by Jenny Waaler and Angela Scott, had his first run since Badminton at Aston-le-Walls six days ago, finishing second, and is now being aimed at Gatcombe and Burghley.

“It’s been a very good prep run to come here,” he added. “The horse has been very much focussed on his speed and fitness in preparation for Burghley as speed is what has kept us out of the prize money at Burghley and Badminton and we’ve been working on that — hopefully it will work for us at Gatcombe.”

Full report from the BHS Royal International Horse Show in next week’s Horse & Hound, on sale Thursday 2 August