Irish eyes were smiling after the major class on day two of the Unex Masters at Towerlands. In an entertaining 17-horse jump-off, Billy Twomey took the lead at the halfway stage on Anastasia III, only to be demoted by another rider from the Emerald Isle.
This was Cian O’Connor, who was at his brilliant best on Irish Independent Echo Beach, who flew round the course to take the £1,000 prize by almost 2sec.
“She loved that,” said Cian, who has played a great part in Ireland’s return to the Super League on this versatile mare, who is as good in Nations Cups as speed classes.
A capacity audience cheered Cian all the way, but, for once, jumping did not take centre stage. The now traditional Children in Need fund-raising evening included entertainment as diverse as international show jumpers showing their prowess at mounted games to champion jockey Jamie Spencer displaying a great eye for a stride when clearing a big fence.
Despite the late hour, those who chose to stay to the end were treated to a top-class accumulator. Mark Armstrong’s early round on Rex looked unbeatable and they held the lead until the last to go. This was local rider Ben Maher, who managed to sneak into pole position, despite his ride, the seven-year-old Quainton Quirifino Z, giving every fence a foot.
“I thought I’d try him a bit against the clock, but I didn’t really expect that,” said a slightly surprised Ben afterwards.
The day had started with another local victory. Laura Renwick and her dual Horse of the Year Show champion, Sandra Keaveney’s Beluga, jumped a magnificent round to head the five- and six-year-old jump-off class by a mile, demoting Ben on another of Quainton Stud’s super stallions, Chateau De Brion Quanton, in the process.
Riders from Essex hit top form today, with three wins. The other local victor was Lauley Squibb. She took a day off work — she spends five days a week at the family business — to gain a well-deserved amateur jump-off win on Rusty.
The remaining class — a hotly contested two-phase — went to Lancashire, courtesy of 19-year-old Amanda Derbyshire. Amanda may be tiny in stature, but she is certainly tough and she took every chance en route to victory on her boss Robert Maguire’s exciting Retreats Oakie Doakie.