Nick Skelton and Arko were effortless winners of the Dubai Classic, first serious class of the new Al Maktoum Memorial Challenge which opened on Wednesday night.
Course designer Olaf Petersen found 10 clear rounds from an Olympic standard field and, going early in the jump-off, Nick was not expecting to win.
“I just tried to keep turning but not gallop – there’s plenty of money on the last night so the idea was to keep something in reserve,” he explained.
Yet one by one the others found both his time and his faultlessness impossible to beat, yielding Arko’s owner John Hales an unexpected $25,000.
Only Gerco Schroder (Netherlands) came close second with Eurocommerce Milano over a second adrift.
The show, founded by Princess Haya, wife of the newly elevated Ruler of Dubai, offers $1,000,000, the biggest purse ever in the world, and the floodlight showground by Nad al Sheba racecourse has facilities equally lavish.
Riders were still walking round in a trance several days after arrival. “We need a few more shows like this,” said Michael Whitaker, tucking into a gourmet meal in the owners’ tent, though Nick added: “We would have come without the money – it’s important to support new events in regions where the sport is fast evolving, and Princess Haya [herself an Olympic show jumper] really knows the job.”
Ludo Phillipaerts of Belguim pocketed a Land Rover in the opening Ride and Drive, having also won the qualifier with Tauber VH Kapelhof.
John Whitaker (7th) and Lactic 2 were up on the clock after the jumping section but lost some 17 seconds when confusing the brake pedal for the accelerator and was unable to get the car off the blocks. Michael Whitaker, riding for new sponsor Team InsulTech, was sixth on Up to Date 8 and Nick eighth on Russel.
The Dubai Classic was the first major competition of the inaugural Al Maktoum Memorial Challenge. In Dubai the tension is mounting as the world’s top 19 riders prepare for Friday afternoon when they will contest show jumping’s richest ever purse – a staggering $1,250,000 (US).
pictures by Al Maktoum Memorial Challenge/Kit Houghton