Graham Fletcher: ‘Olympic selection will be very difficult’


  • Graham Fletcher assesses British showjumping team hopes for Paris, and shares details of an embarrassing royal faux pas

    Royal Windsor has always been a great show, and spectators watching the Rolex grand prix from packed stands were treated to some of the best showjumping ever seen.

    Steve Guerdat is total class; every young rider should study the way he rides flat out in a jump-off, yet keeps such a beautiful rhythm. This time, Steve was eclipsed by his winning team-mate Martin Fuchs on Leone Jei. In his commentary, Nick Brooks-Ward described these two as “magicians” – and I totally agree.

    In fact, at what promises to be the most hotly contested Olympics in Paris – so high is the standard in our sport currently – this Swiss pair will be the major contenders for a gold medal.

    Windsor’s grand prix was so competitive that small margins proved very costly. Max Kühner had the fastest time in the decider – but hitting the penultimate fence cost him €110,000 (£94,590).

    Talking to Di Lampard before the grand prix, she was clear that making a final selection for Paris will be very difficult, especially with Olympic teams now down to three. However, Di was pleased to be able to study most of those in the running here, before naming her teams for St Gallen and Rotterdam.

    In my view, Ben Maher is riding better than ever. So often a top rider can have a vacuum when they lose their top horse or it retires. But Ben has moved on seamlessly from his gold medal-winning partnership with Explosion to a top string of horses. And with his experience from his early days – when he’d win on horses with little more talent than a Blackpool donkey – Ben has every chance of another medal.

    Harry Charles, already an Olympian and with some tremendous form lately, looks odds-on to be included. Scott Brash has two contenders with his up-and-coming Hello Valentino and grand prix campaigner Hello Jefferson.

    Joe Stockdale, something of a rookie when on the World Championships squad in Herning, is riding really well and is now a fully fledged pro. His best horse, Equine America Cacharel, has returned from injury and he’s getting back up to speed, jumping a very good four-fault round in the grand prix at Windsor.

    Equally, Tim Gredley’s Imperial HBF jumped two impressive rounds and was never in danger. So did Robert Whitaker’s Vermento, as last year’s King’s Cup winner at Hickstead. No matter how spooky the jumps in Paris, they won’t faze this fella.

    And then there’s John Whitaker on Arqana De Riverland. Although he had a couple of little hiccups early doors, and one down in the grand prix at Windsor, this now looks like a really solid partnership that will only improve. In a stellar career of 22 championship medals, Olympic gold is the one thing that has eluded John. He’s still riding tremendously well despite his age – and will make every effort to be on the team.

    A case of mistaken royal identify

    What a transformation Windsor has had from a greenfield site to the all-weather arena of today. Back in the dim and distant, when we jumped on the grass, you never knew what the going would be like.

    The year I won the grand prix, they were towing lorries in on the Thursday, and by Sunday it was on the firm side.

    This year, my son Olli was among the riders invited to a reception at Windsor Castle where Prince Edward was meeting everyone. When he came to Olli’s group, the Prince started telling them about how the ground had been resurfaced. And indeed, it was much better this year than last.

    One of the foreign contingent, who will remain anonymous, asked Prince Edward: “So you work for the company that did it?” to which the Prince politely and with good humour told him who he was.

    Next day, the despondent chap told Olli he’d spent all night working out who’s who in the royal family. “I think it’s a bit late for that, don’t you?” Olli observed.

    ● What do you make of Great Britain’s Olympic chances? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 23 May

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