‘He comes alive at shows like this’: Will Fletcher on top form at South of England *H&H Plus*

  • The gallant Persimmon gives Will Fletcher two thrilling rides for a big class double, while Mark Edwards lands the grand prix spoils at South of England Showground, Ardingly, West Sussex

    THE glorious sound of a round of applause has never been so welcome or, in the case of Will Fletcher, so richly deserved, as it was after his victories at South of England.

    When commentator Gareth Jenkins ushered the winning 22-year-old to canter round on a second circuit of the ring after his brilliant International Stairway success, he said, “Enjoy it, Will, you haven’t heard that noise for 18 months,” and the cheers intensified, adding to a buzzing atmosphere we all enjoyed immensely over three full days.

    “It was lovely to lead the lap of honour not once but twice, with a crowd. It makes such a difference,” said Will, who had partnered the great 16-year-old Persimmon to victory in both Friday’s area trial and Sunday’s feature class, the 1.55m International Stairway, with two sizzling performances to match the soaring temperatures. Will also landed a 1.20m on Sunday with Stella Bunn’s lovely seven-year-old Baloutero.

    A quality field of nine jumped clear over what looked to be a decent test set by Ben Townley in Friday’s area trial and Will fielded two through to the jump-off in Persimmon and the exciting 10-year-old Valento.

    With the advantage of final draw, courtesy of his lightning-quick opening round, Will and Persimmon powered around, taking a flyer to the final oxer to stop the clock in 39.05sec. They rocketed to the top of the leaderboard above second-placed Joe Fernyhough, riding his father’s Calcourt Quicktime and Mennell Watson was a nostril behind in third with his great partner Whisper In The Wind.

    Persimmon loves this kind of challenge, said his beaming rider.

    “He’s some man,” he enthused. “He comes alive at shows with a big grass ring. And it’s lovely for me to be back jumping at a super county show like this – my first since Newbury in 2019.

    “It helped that I had two horses in it, even though they’re so different. With Valento, I took strides out everywhere and he was three seconds slower. ‘Percy’ is shorter-striding, but he can turn up so fast. He’s quick across the floor, so even if I’m taking an extra stride, he’s still making the time. But I watched Joe [in penultimate draw], who rode a fantastic round and he just went a bit wider from fence one to two, so I thought I’d just be able to nip in there to win.”

    Also singing the praises of his sixth-placed Van Helsing gelding Valento, who was jumping in his first area trial, Will added: “We got him at the end of last year and we’ve taken it a bit slowly. He was clear in the two-star grand prix at Wellington, but this suited him down to the ground. He has everything. He’s so careful, so scopey, I don’t think it’ll be long before he’s going bigger and better and just getting a bit quicker. I’m excited for the future with him.”

    Will and the pint-sized superstar Persimmon returned for his second victory on Sunday over a mighty 1.55m track, claiming the honours after a brave challenge from the Breen Equestrian-based Jack Ryan on KBS Major Player, with Mark Edwards third on the ever-consistent Montreuxs Tale.

    “He’s done so much for me and I can’t put into words what this means to me,” said Will. “I think we’ll do five of the Stairways, so if we ended up top of the leaderboard that would be excellent – and to qualify for the international at Horse of the Year Show [HOYS] would be a bonus.”

    “He’s a joy to have about”

    MARK EDWARDS is always a force to be reckoned with at these shows and he provided fierce opposition all weekend, finding the winning formula in Saturday’s grand prix with Tinkers Tale, also taking fourth with Montreuxs Tale.

    “Tinkers Tale wins most of his classes on grass, so we took it easy year last year when there wasn’t much happening, so it was really nice to get a win like that on him,” said Mark, who pipped Angie Thompson (Fremont VDL) into second with Joe Fernyhough third, this time on Calcourt Particle.

    “I knew Angie had gone quick so I didn’t have too much to spare, but it was lucky I went after her otherwise I think she would have been a bit quicker again. It definitely helps having two horses in those classes and Montreuxs Tale had a great show, too. He’s a joy to have about.

    “It definitely makes it feel more important when there’s a crowd watching; it was a good feeling.”

    Many riders were hotfooting it between the busy jumping rings over the three days and Joe Fernyhough found success in the 1.35m and 1.40m classes in the Balcombe ring riding Gurtera Cara Dubh.

    “He could be a very good one”

    BILLY McDERMIT showed all the credentials of a future top-class horse when landing Friday’s HOYS grade C qualifier, held for the first time in the show’s main arena, providing a superb showcase for future equine stars. Rider William Funnell has long held his home-bred eight-year-old – who is out of the same dam as Billy McCain and by Tangelo VD Zuuthoeve – in high regard.

    “He was a bit difficult cantering in the beginning, but he looks like he’s going to be a good horse,” said William. “Because it’s only me who rides him and I’ve been away so much, he hasn’t been to a show for a long time. He just did that one class and jumped even better in the jump-off than in the first round. He’s careful and scopey and his canter is improving, so I think he’s a nice one.”

    Praise for course-designer Ben Townley and the show team

    RIDERS heaped praise on course-designer Ben Townley, whose tracks over all three days proved “spot on”.

    “I think he’s a huge asset to the UK. He has a brain and you can see that in his course building,” reflected William Funnell.

    “He thinks so much about the colours he uses, he uses the whole ring and he thinks about the crowd as well as the riders, which sometimes we forget about until we go to county shows like this. His jump-offs were spot on. I think he’s going to be one of the best.”

    Mark Edwards added: “He built up the tracks over the three days and Sunday’s Stairway was a really stiff test, but he had six clears, which is exactly what he wanted. He got it right all week.”

    Will Fletcher also credited the groundsmen for providing “perfect” turf footing.

    “They’ve done a fantastic job; it looked gorgeous, it felt brilliant and what looked a tough track for the area trial produced 10 clears, which proved the horses were jumping well off it,” he said.

    William Funnell also said: “It was fantastic that they went ahead and ran the show. Somebody took a big chance as it would have been easier to cancel than to take a chance with it. It was great to see thousands of people, who were clapping even for the grade C. Well done to the team for taking the initiative.”


    This report can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 17 June

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