Lighting up the London Horse Show with the biggest smile of the week was British showjumper Matt Sampson, who clinched an epic victory in the Turkish Airlines London grand prix as the curtain came down on this year’s show on Monday night (18 December).
Riding the Evison family’s 13-year-old mare Ebolensky, Matt scored with the sole double clear of the class to lift an impressive array of silverware and the £27,300 top prize.
“It’s absolutely incredible, I can’t believe it, it’s just a dream come true,” said an emotional Matt, who is now based between Europe and Canada. “This is so special for me and the owners, the Evison family. They’ve owned “Lenny”, as we call her, from a foal and I’ve ridden her since she was seven. To win this class on her is absolutely amazing.”
Matt’s victory represented a fantastic big class double for British riders on home soil after Scott Brash’s success in the previous day’s Longines FEI World Cup qualifier.
In an intriguing class, there were plenty of shock exits in round one from some of the leading names in the sport and just four clears were produced from a field of 30. An initially tight time allowed was extended slightly but course-designer Bernardo Costa Cabral set an imposing set of questions with faults coming throughout, although a lofty vertical off a blind bend from a double right in front of the in-gate caused heartbreak for many.
Jump-off pathfinder was Matt with the talented Ebolensky (Clinton x Heartbreaker), a former Horse of the Year Show Foxhunter winner who is in the form of her life, having racked up an impressive tally of wins this year. The pair looked composed as they circled before the start, but as soon as they broke the beam, Matt was forward in the saddle and the determined pair rocketed round the shortened course with daring turns and an ambitious sprint down the final line. There were big thumbs up for the cheering crowd as Matt left the arena, having set the bar sky high with a clear in 31.88sec, but facing an anxious wait as his three rivals prepared to stake their claim.
Next in the ring was Britain-based Swedish rider Angelie von Essen with another super grey, Martin Dawes’ 17-year-old mare Cochella. The pair weren’t quite as quick through the early lines and then tipped the Liverpool vertical three from home to finish with four faults in a time of 34.87sec.
In hot pursuit came Italian rider Lorenzo De Luca, a winner the previous day at the London Horse Show. He’d survived a volley of lucky rubs in round one, dramatically wiping his brow in relief as he finished with a clear round, but his luck ran out at the double of verticals in the jump-off and the second element fell. He and the 12-year-old Curcuma Il Palazzetto slotted into second with their slightly quicker four-fault round of 34.28sec. Lorenzo was full of praise for this valuable addition to his string.
“He’s brave, doesn’t spook at anything and he always tries to give his best in the ring,” said the Italian.
London Horse Show grand prix: Matt Sampson has anxious wait
The spotlight turned to the final rider, Ireland’s Denis Lynch riding the youngest horse in the field, the eight-year-old Dark Chocolate who, like Lorenzo’s ride, is by the great stallion Casall. Unfortunately they picked up eight faults but this smart young stallion competing in his first grand prix is definitely one for the future.
Matt, who had retired in the previous day’s World Cup qualifier with the mare, celebrated his success with several laps of honour, cheered home by an appreciative crowd.
“Competing here is what we dream of growing up – to actually win here is unbelievable,” he said, explaining his plan for the jump-off with the mare. “She has a really big stride and she’s really good at turning so it suited me. We had a little bit of luck at the second last fence but it came off.
“She’s got her own character – her breeding is very much that that way inclined. So she gets quite sort of hyperactive with the atmosphere. So it’s me trying to tame her a little bit and obviously sometimes when it’s only a short distance in between the jumps, she gets a bit excited and then she starts to bounce around a bit, but I know her well enough now that she always tries to jump the fence when she gets there. So I just try to contain it as much as we can, but I think it’s what makes her so good.”
British rider Jodie Hall McAteer, competing in the five star classes at the London International Horse Show for the first time, received a magnum of champagne as the show’s leading rider, having notched up several placings throughout the week, a phenomenal achievement for this 22-year-old rising star.
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