Nick Skelton and Arko III were the stars of the second day at the Belfast International Horse Show when they produced a breath-taking performance to win the £15,000 Charles Hurst Chrysler & Jeep Classic.
An 18-horse jump-off ensured it was going to be fast and furious with Anglo-Irish rivalry at its best with seven through for the home side and five riders flying the Union Jack. The hosts had to settle for runner-up spot however as Skelton was simply in a class of his own.
Marie Burke and her stallion Chippison, by Cavalier and out of her hugely successful jumping mare Chipmount, set the target when fifth to go, stopping the clock in 26.74. Tipperary rider Shane Breen followed her into the ring and was more than a second quicker with World Cruise.
Thursday night’s big-class winner Franke Sloothaak and Sundance K from Germany replied with another clean performance but their time of 26.89sec did not threaten the leader. William Funnell and Cortaflex Carnavelly were one of many combinations to fall foul of the last fence, the double, for four faults.
The crowd roared as Billy Twomey and Anastasia took their turn but a time of 26.73sec was only good enough for second spot at this stage, before Cian O’Connor really turned on the heat.
Riding the seven-year-old chestnut mare Echo Beach, who the Irishman hopes will be his next Olympic ride, O’Connor steered a tight line to gallop through the finish and re-set the target in 25.61 seconds, putting serious pressure on the remaining five.
Skelton was well up to the challenge and Arko put the result beyond doubt as he made little of Peter Gillespie’s winding six-fence track to register a time of 24.94sec, which was much too good for the rest of the field.
“Arko was fifth in the Grand Prix in Calgary, won three classes at the Horse of the Year Show, was third in the World Cup in Syracuse in New York, third in the Pre-Qualifier World Cup class in Toronto and third in the Grand Prix in Paris since coming back from Athens” the British rider said afterwards.
Clearly Arko is enjoying his jumping as much as ever and while Skelton admitted he was disappointed for a few weeks after Athens “you just have to get on with things”, he said.
Earlier in the day he was well in contention for the prize money in the Rudolph’s Top Flight speed event when eliminated for taking the wrong track with Russel. It was Robert Smith who topped the line-up here with Kalusha, whose time of 55.97sec was more than 4sec faster than second-placed Clear Rounds Than Party ridden by Norway’s Geir Gulliksen.
Ellen Whitaker teamed up with jockey Robert Power to win the Northern Ireland Events Company Jockeys/Eventers/Show Jumpers Pairs Relay in which Pippa Funnell and Richard Davenport claimed third spot.
Britain completely dominated in the Downtown Radio Ride and Drive with Andrew Davies and Medeo R at the head of the line-up, Tim Stockdale in runner-up spot with Fresh Direct Glenwood Springs, Robert Smith in the money again when third with Riverside Glen and William Funnell in fourth with Cortaflex Machiavelli.
As the third day of the Belfast International Horse Show gets underway, Robert Smith, who took the Leading Rider award at the inaugural event last year, jointly heads the Leading Rider table along with Franke Sloothaak carrying 26 points, while Cian O’Connor and Nick Skelton are just two points behind sharing third place.