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Kevin Babington continued Ireland’s magical run when he and Carling King produced a fantastic round to land the Virtual Village British Grand Prix on the second day of this year’s Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead.
In a six-horse jump-off in which the holders, John Whitaker and Virtual Village Calvaro FCS, were Britain’s only representatives, the bookies favourites, German star Rene Tebbel and Radiator held the lead, but Kevin’s last-draw round on the beautifully schooled chesnut son of Clover Hill was a pleasure to watch, and they broke the beam 0.42sec ahead.
Kevin, who is based in America, is spending the summer in Europe, and was a member of the recent Irish European Championship team. This was the 32-year-old’s aim, together with a place on Ireland’s team for Dublin, which has also been confirmed.
In a good class for Ireland, Hampshire-based Peter Charles also finished third with an immaculate double clear on the British-bred former Foxhunter finalist, Carnavelly.
The Heap family’s Virtual Village also sponsored the earlier speed class, which gave a popular home victory to Michael Whitaker and Virtual Village First Samuel, the horse on whom he won at Hamburg andAachen earlier in the year.
Young riders were in the spotlight earlier in the day and the Accenture title went to another Irish visitor, Hazel O’Callaghan, on Noel C Duggan’s wonderful 16-year-old mare, Millstreet Ruby.
Hazel, who is his her final young rider year and is trained by Cian O’Connor and Gerry Mullins, was given the ride on Ruby when she finished a career competing for the Irish army during which she won all over the world.
The pair produced a terrific round to win the class by an incredible 9sec from former pony European gold-medallist Rebecca Walker on the impressive Filibustier Du Val.
“She’s the most marvellous horse and I never want her to retire. I love her to bits,” said Hazel, who is paying her first visit to Hickstead.