There was a whitewash by the British riders at the Belfast International Horse Show yesterday where John Whitaker and Tim Stockdale shared the honours in the late-night BMI Puissance, Robert Smith won the Europa Classic and Robert Whitaker topped the Newsletter Equestrian Life Speed Stakes.
The Puissance went to a full five rounds and was a real thriller, keeping spectators right on the edges of their seats. Just three of the 12 starters made it through to round five when the wall stood at a massive 2.20m (7ft 3ins). John Whitaker led the way in the final phase with Exploit du Roulade who only grazed the coping on the way up to clear it and put huge pressure on the remaining two riders.
Tim Stockdale and Lavaletto however had made it look very easy indeed over the previous four rounds and, once again, the 11-year-old gelding soared over effortlessly to ensure a draw.
The home supporters were right behind Captain Shane Carey and the lovely grey mare Cruise Hill but the Irish partnership were just a bit too flat and when the bricks began to fall it was left to the British duo to share the bulk of the £18,000 prize-fund.
In the Europa Hotel Classic 10 jumped clear first time out to go against the clock. British-based Irishman Dave Quigley was pathfinder in the second-round jump-off with Ashdale Futuro and lowered two fences, but William Funnell and Cortaflex Machiavelli went clear in a time of 31.95sec to set the early standard.
Belgium’s Jean Claude Vangeenberghe bettered that when steering Osta Rugs Tresor across the line in 31.53sec but French-based British lady rider Alex Rident then set another new target with Hermes de Bruyeres, who crossed the line clear in 30.55sec.
Ireland’s Captain Shane Carey (Lismakin) and Trevor Coyle (Over Time GMS) and Britain’s Tim Stockdale (Fresh Direct Cloudy Night) each made a single error and although Richard Davenport’s Laguina was foot-perfect, his time was over a second slower than that recorded by Rident.
This left only Robert Smith in a position to better Rident’s performance. He did just that with a superb round from Kalusha who took a real flyer at the final oxer to stop the clock in an incredible time of 28.53sec.
“I watched the first three horses go and I thought Alex would be fairly fast but I knew I could win it,” he said afterwards. “Kalusha is very quick and very careful even though he can be a bit of a gangster — he would drop me if he got the chance.”
The horse seems to have real liking for the Belfast arena where he recorded a big win and two second placings last year and Smith pointed out that Kalusha is “always better indoors”.
Robert Whitaker’s Karina also seems to approve of the facilities in the Odyssey ring as Elizabeth Hunt’s 12-year-old marewas also a winner here last December. Her 21-year-old rider was surprised that nobody could match or better the target he set early in the Newsletter Equestrian Life Speed Stakes.
Fifth into the ring he stopped the clock on 44.64sec after cruising round the winding track, which demanded honesty, accuracy and forward riding all the way. The turn from the penultimate upright to the final oxer proved the undoing of much of the rest of the field.
Robert Smith looked set to make it a double when galloping to the last with Riverside Glen, who broke the beam in 44.29sec, but the pole hit the floor to add four more seconds to his time. Billy Twomey met exactly the same fate with Tropicana, who was even faster still in 43.34sec but tipped the front rail of the bogey final oxer.
Tim Stockdale’s time of 43.92 with Fresh Direct Glenwood Springs would have done the trick, as would Michael Whitaker’s time of 44.16sec with Renzerin VD Rampaarden, but that final turn caught out even these veteran campaigners. This left Robert Whitaker at the top of the prize-giving line-up, while Andrew Davies was rewarded for a less-risky clear with Celine when taking second place. Twomey was third with Stockdale slotting into fourth.