The first feature jumping competition of this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show initially proved a little slow to get off the ground. The first clear round came when local rider James Fisher, seventh to go, gambled a little with the pace to avoid accuracy on Ocolado.
Even the first of Britain’s big guns, Nick Skelton, who is in tremendous form at the moment and won the British Open at Sheffield last month, could not keep all the poles up on his bold-jumping grey Russel.
Jane Annett, riding from eighth draw, was the only female rider to go clear, and she gambled to an even greater extent with the time, crossing the finish line less than a second within the time.
By the end of the first round there were only 10 clear rounds out of 27 starters. John was the only representative of the Whitaker clan who made the jump-off with Lactic. Robert Whitaker pushed Qualite just a little too hard over the final oxer, while Michael Whitaker had a time penalty as well as four jumping penalties.
Damian Charles on Mrs J Lee’s Hugo du Heup, Robert Smith on Mr Springfield, and Peter Charles on Rockstar were among the glut of clear rounds that came at the end.
William Funnell, who was forced to drop out of the Olympics because his Athens prospect Cortaflex Mondriaan was sidelined through injury also produced an accurate round on Buddy Bunn, as did Ireland’s Billy Twomey on Anastasia.
David McPherson jumped James Fisher’s Socks into the second round, and the final clear round was produced by Guy Williams and Loro Piana Hamlet.
The jump-off started at a sedate pace, and it quickly became obvious that those who tried to up the pace too much paid the penalty. James Fisher set the standard with an accurate steady round on a jump-off course which combined plenty of turns with galloping stretches. Jane Annett followed suit, but was one second off the time.
Third to go, Guy Williams set the standard and the speed to remained unbeaten. David McPherson was less than a second slower, and John Whitaker showed his true colours as murmurs of disbelief spread through the crowd at each corner that he cut. He paid the price for a quick time, though and had one pole down, finishing eventually in sixth place.
Damian Charles hit a large triple bar, and the second part of the subsequent combination; William Funnell hit the final fence as he reached for the line, and Robert Smith ended on four faults in a much slower time.
Billy Twomey (pictured above right) was penultimate to jump on Anastasia and in an extraordinary twist, he matched Guy Williams time to the hundredth of a second. When Peter Charles failed to produce a clear round, it meant that for the first time in the history of Royal Windsor, there was a tie for first place in a major feature jumping competition.
Billy, who used to be stable jockey to Michael Whitaker, but now has his own yard in Cheshire, was delighted by the win. He said: “It’s about time that the mare [Anastasia] hit form. She had a cracking year last year, but she didn’t do so well in Spain earlier this month.”
He is aiming for Athens, where he would be a major element of the Irish team:
“My stallion [Luidam] had a hobday operation about six months ago, but he is expected to be back well in time for Athens. The plan is to take him to Rotterdam.”
Guy Williams bought Loro Piana Hamlet from Peter Charles, and has high hopes for the horse. “The horse won the grand prix at HOYS last year, and he’s great jumping indoors. His downfall is that he’s just a bit funny about water. Sometimes he jumps it, and sometimes he doesn’t!”
1=, Loro Piana Hamlet (Guy Williams) 44.45, 0 faults;
1=, Anastasia (Billy Twomey ) 44.45, 0 faults;
3, Socks (David McPherson) 45.37, 0 faults;
4, Ocolado (James Fisher) 48.46, 0 faults;
5, Cullawn Diamond (Jane Annett) 49.86, 0 faults;
6, Lactic 2 (John Whitaker) 42.84, 4 faults.