The Longines Global Champions Tour grand prix may have been the highlight of last weekend’s five-star show at Chantilly — and congratulations to USA rider Beezie Madden for lifting the glittering trophy — but the fiercest competition of all played out on the racecourse.
Showjumpers including Olympic medallists Ben Maher, Cian O’Connor, Steve Guerdat and Frenchman Julien Epaillard donned coloured silks, hitched their stirrup leathers up several holes — well, some of them at least — and quickly acquainted themselves with their thoroughbred partners for a race round Chantilly’s famous track.
The riders were taking part in the show’s annual “race n jump” in which showjumpers team up with some of France’s leading jockeys. The jockeys complete a round of showjumps before the showjumpers head to the starting gates for a seven-furlong sprint.
This year’s delighted victors were French showjumper Eugenie Angot, who’d been paired with French Flat jockey Dominique Boeuf.
“I followed Dominique’s advice — he told me what to do and it was perfect,” said Eugenie. “And he was the jockey who looked most like a showjumper [over the coloured poles].”
“She rode the perfect race,” added Dominique.
Olympic champion Steve Guerdat proved he’s not just a speed demon in the ring, finishing a short distance behind.
“They [the jockeys] had a lot of fun jumping, while we had a lot of fun riding,” he said.
Racecourse debutants Ben Maher and Cian O’Connor won’t be giving AP McCoy or Frankie Dettori any cause for concern just yet, however.
“I’d never ridden a racehorse before and it felt unbelievably fast so I tried to keep him on the bridle a bit,” said Cian.
Chantilly is not just world-famous as a racing epicentre — polo is also hugely popular here and showjumping’s world number one Christian Ahlmann, Richard Spooner and Simon Delestre all tried their hand at a few chukkas under the instruction of Argentinean player Pancho Bensadon. Christian first had to overcome the handicap of being left-handed but nevertheless described the afternoon as “an amazing experience”.