International stars sparkle at Olympia

  • Olympia’s international show jumping classes — for which a galaxy of stars have descended on the Christmas show — kicked off yesterday with a sparkling victory in the Speed Stakes for Swiss Olympic rider Beat Mandli on Principal.

    Britain’s Scott Smith set a target of 52.3sec on his 2002 team horse Cabri d’Elle, which was predictably overhauled four from the end by speed specialist Robert Smith on Kalusha (51.17). But next to go, Mandli shaved off 0.13sec with his new youngster Principal in the class sponsored by Shelley Ashman, BEIB & Equine Risk.

    Mandli has brought three eight-year-old horses to Olympia. “I’m not sure which one I shall ride in the [Sunday’s] World Cup qualifier – I shall wait and see how they all go. I’ve only had Principal for four months and this is the first time I’ve put him under pressure at speed. Olympia is a good place to practise. But he has lots of scope and is a grand prix horse of the future.”

    Britain’s Guy Williams, 31, put his self-confessed speed-driving skills to good use in the first heat of the Mitsubishi Motors Ride & Drive and goes through to the final on Monday night to win a Mitsubishi car worth £17,000.

    Williams, who was winning his sixth consecutive competition on Onyx since the horse came back from a minor injury recently, was, however, perhaps lucky that the youngest competitor 18-year-old Ellen Whitaker only recently passed her driving test and is currently fairly tentative behind the wheel because she was faster on horseback.

    “I think her hat slipped over her eyes,” he said generously. Williams was equally kind about his ride Onyx, whom he describes as “the most incredibly versatile horse. I only got him last year and we won nine classes at the Sunshine Tour in February.”

    The Whitaker clan made history — again — at Olympia by being the first family to have five members competing in the same show. The latest family member to ride here is 12-year-old George, a member of the Rockwood branch of the Pony Club.

    He is a nephew of John and Michael and, partnering Uncle Michael finished second behind Paul Barker and Paul Allen in the Mitsubishi Motors Pony Club Mini Major Relay.

    Marcus Ehning, widely considered one of the best horsemen in the game, has taken an early lead in the Leading Rider of the Show Trophy after a brilliant jump-off performance in the Clarion Stakes on Gitana 8, a horse he only began riding four months ago.

    Ehning and his team mate in the gold medal team at the Sydney Olympics, Lars Neiberg riding Loreana, were the only two in the 10-strong jump-off to jump double clears.

    Ehning has tipped the 12-year-old grey mare Gitana as a worthy successor to his fabulous old horse For Pleasure, now 18 but still going strong. “Gitana is lovely; for sure she is different to For Pleasure, but already we have won two grand prix in two weeks.”

    Belgium’s Philippe Lejeune was third on Tymoon, ahead of two British riders, Robert Smith (Marius Claudius) and John Whitaker on his dual puissance winner Exploit du Roulard. Nick Skelton jumped a beautiful clear on Arko but to the disappointment of a full house, a single time penalty precluded his participation in the jump-off.

    Britain’s Olympic riders paraded last night, and gold medallist Leslie Law received yet another accolade when the British Equestrian Writers Association presented him with the Personality of the Year.

    For the full results and timetable visit: www.olympiahorseshow.com

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