Simon Buckley finds the winning formula, Annabel Shields continues her tremendous purple patch and Holly Smith makes a successful visit north of the border
THE Royal Highland Showcase took on a different format this year with no spectators, instead operating live-streaming to viewers at home. But the lack of crowds didn’t take away from the spectacle of the feature classes.
Simon Buckley took Friday’s 1.55m international stairway on 12-year-old Elia as a big, open water proved influential with only four clears from 23 in the first round.
“When you need him to turn up, he turns up,” laughed Simon. “We were first to go [in the first round] which is always hard, but he’s a quick horse and he’s better suited to that pace so I was the fastest clear.
“The jump-off was a long slog; I felt my horse was a little tired and could maybe make a mistake, so I thought we had to keep up a good pace and hopefully still be on the right side. I know from watching ‘Brashie’ [Scott Brash] and all those Globals, it’s an advantage to go at the end [in the jump-off] and it turned out good.”
Course-designer Mark McGowan’s team gave the riders plenty to think about in the grand prix with big square oxers, the Highland’s famous rider-scarer – the Aberdeen Angus cow planks – and a penultimate treble combination.
Nine clears went through and pathfinder Robert Murphy set the standard with an inside turn from the first to the second fence for 42.02sec on the clock. It seemed no one would catch him with many taking a longer route, but Holly Smith threw down the gauntlet with Fruselli, shaving nearly five seconds off his time. Annabel Shields and Wet Wet Wet accepted the challenge and did better yet, finishing on 37.35sec to take the £4,000 pot.
This was an emotional Annabel Shields’ second grand prix win in two weeks with her 18-year-old gelding Wet Wet Wet.
“When people say they have a real-life unicorn, I really do,” she said. “The track was humongous but it was great. When I saw Holly’s time, I thought I can’t catch that, but he’s always very quick and there were long runs where I could make up some ground.
“He’s been jumping smaller for the last few years, but he won the Keysoe grand prix last weekend which was his first big class, so to win back-to-back shows his class. He’s a machine.”
SMITH MAKES A CLEAN SWEEP
MAKING her Royal Highland debut, Holly was “delighted” with 11-year-old Fruselli’s efforts – fresh on the back of her La Baule Derby win.
“I was always going to be in danger with Annabel’s horse – Fruselli is fast, and Wet Wet Wet is super-fast,” said Holly, who explained she likes to keep up on the speed front and that she did so with the stallion in Thursday’s A&B stakes, which saw a notoriously fast field come forward.
“Fruselli has a good length of stride, but there were a couple of places where I thought I’d be a stride less – and I wasn’t, so I was a bit concerned as I was going round that I maybe had less room for people to catch me,” added Holly.
“There were a lot of fast riders to come and have a crack, and people got close but they couldn’t catch us. I’ve had him a few years now – he’s had plenty of experience and he’s getting quicker all the time.”
In Thursday’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) grade C qualifier, Holly produced a one-two on gelding Avalon Sunset B and mare Billy Sarafina, picking up a ticket on the gelding. Third-placed Adam Botham took the second qualification on Harvey III and the other ticket went to Claire Leitch and Incredibola in fourth.
“Avalon Sunset B was previously a BE100 event horse so he’s a bit behind with his showjumping, but he’s a horse with a massive stride and he’s easy to manoeuvre. He ate up the ground in there and I’ve come back from two weeks competing at five-star, so I’m well practised at the moment,” said Holly.
The B&C championship’s first round produced 20 clears, but it was Chris Smith and grade B Filandria who took the honours.
“There were more clears than I thought but it was tough enough,” said Chris. “She’s a quick mare so the jump-off suited us, as the jumps we had to turn back to were verticals and I knew I could gallop at them.”
DOUBLE FOR MURPHY
THE young masters attracted the cream of the group, but it was 20-year-old Robert Murphy who produced the goods on Elan V. Robert, who enjoyed his first young riders Nations Cup team appearance last month, also took the 1.40m open championship on the gelding and the 1.40m open on High Quality.
“Elan V is a really good speed horse. He’s consistent and knows his job,” said Robert. “I’ve enjoyed the show, I’d love to come back when it’s in full swing – everyone says how amazing it is.”
Consistent Jonathan Dixon of QC Sporthorses took home the show’s leading rider title for his accumulation of placings including top spots in the 1.30m opens with Fireball, while Emma Crawford and Claire Leitch shared the leading Scottish rider title.
Eleanor Archibald produced the only double clear for the 128cm championship on My Little Sweetheart.
“The pony means so much to her,” said the 12-year-old’s mother. “It’s her last year in 128cm so getting a win at the Highland was really quite special.”
Millie Lawson remained in good form as she stormed to victory on Noah’s Lady in the 138cm championship. The Aberdeen-based rider has been making her mark on the pony circuit, having picked up qualifications for HOYS and Hickstead on the mare.
“Before I went in, my dad said I needed to stay steady until after the double as it was an upright, then gallop to the last three,” said Millie. “It’s my last year on Nora so I just want to have fun with her.”
Nations Cup pony rider Poppy Deakin took the 148cm championship on Armene Du Costilg. The partnership of only five months produced the sole double clear.
“She tried not to go too fast and get the double clear,” explained Poppy’s mother, Felicity. “Next we’ll be aiming for the Europeans.”
DOES THE STAIRWAY SERIES NEED A REVAMP?
THE international stairway series is a focal point of the summer show circuit, but Simon Buckley ponders whether it’s time for a shake-up.
“The international stairway has been a great series but it possibly needs a revamp now. It’s still a good prize fund but when you compare it to an international show, it’s worlds apart. That class was hard to win on Friday – it was bigger than a two-star ranking class and you’re jumping for less money, so that’s something we need to address,” he said.
“We need to move the sport on and Brexit and the Covid situation has really been a chance to do that. You can see by the calibre of riders here such as Holly Smith and Angelie Von Essen that there’s a need for these shows, and for our national sport to improve and push on”.
“She’s very talented”
SHOWJUMPING legend Robert Smith provided a masterclass on eight-year-old Nonante in the 1.30 novice championship, in which a water tray provided issues for many.
“It was a tough track but at the end of the day, there were seven clears – it was a good track and you had the better horses coming through,” said Robert. “I played it a little safe at a couple; it was a beatable time but you still have to jump the jumps and not be caught out. It was up to height and you wanted a very good novice to jump it.
“Nonante lost a bit of time last year, so she hadn’t done a lot of shows but she’s very talented. The year’s just opening up so I’d like to get her qualified for the Foxhunter final. Already she’s a better horse than two months ago.”
This report can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale date 24 June 2021
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