Michael Whitaker at last achieved an ambition by winning this year’s Eventing Grand Prix at Hickstead’s Royal International Horse Show.
The Yorkshireman produced a fantastic round on Chris Ward’s eight-year-old Sir Dino to comprehensively defeat a strong field that included treble winnners Pippa Funnell (The Tourmaline Rose) and last year’s champion, Andrew Nicholson (Astronave).
Irishman Mark Kyle set the pace from first draw on his partner Tanya Liddle’s good eventer, Drunken Disorderly, and for a long time it looked as though he haddone enough. Locally-based Francis Whittington moved into second place on his sister Briony’s neat chestnut, Berlington Bertie, but the partisan crowd was waiting for the last three to go.
Michael set off in overdrive on Sir Dino, who has now upgraded to advanced for his usual rider Chris Ward, and, although he lowered the second show jumping fence, the little grey, who is also a grade B jumper, got into a marvellous rhythm. They were foot-perfect round the cross-country phase and, despite hitting a couple of late fences, their time was the fastest ever seen in this unique competition.
And when things went wrong for Pippa and Andrew on the cross-country, Michael had finally scored a first for the show jumpers.
“After finishing second twice and third once I thought I was never meant to win this,” said Michael. “I was told that I missed out last year by being too careful in the show jumping phase. I went much faster this year and then I knocked fences down! Sir Dino was very brave.
“I don’t know who was most tired at the end — him or me — but he still managed the jump the Devil’s Dyke. When I came out, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get off, then couldn’t stand. I don’t know how eventers keep doing this — it’s much tougher than jumping the Derby!”