Billy and Diaghilev race to grand prix glory

It was a tough call, but ice-cool Billy Twomey shrugged off any pressure to claim the top-billed Liverpool grand prix for the second consecutive year on Diaghilev.

“I’m delighted, he went well over both rounds. He brought some decent form to this event, he won at La Coruna a few weeks ago and here, I gave him a day off on Sunday and he repaid with a really good performance,” said Billy.

A total of ten riders found all the answers around Kelvin Bywater’s track in the initial round to access the jump-off, and it was who dares wins as ultra-tight turn options were combined with a long gallop down the length of the arena to the final oxer.

First off Robert Smith and Bavi posted a clear but the time looked vulnerable, and young Irishman Michael Duffy immediately wiped almost two sec from the time on Alan Burnell’s Belcanto Z.

Several riders faulted chasing the clock, but William Whitaker, establishing a great partnerhip with Ludo Criel’s Utamaro D Ecaussines, made ultra-smooth, deceptively quick turns at all the options to return home with 1.76 sec in hand. It would have marked William’s biggest win since joining the Criel’s stable in Belgium, but Billy had other ideas with Terry Payne’s home-bred Vangelis S 14-year-old Diaghilev.

Tighter on the first turn option and with a great shot to the vertical at three, Billy sailed over the double and then executed a risky, angled turn to the skinny ‘’ plank and also tackled the penultimate oxer from one stride out. It gave him the edge, and he flowed down to the final fence to land the £17,500 top prize by 1.47 sec.

“He can be fast in the jump-off and he’s very competitive, when you are turning he’s always looking to find the fence. He was pretty sharp to the third fence and I think we gained some time there,” said Billy.

William – thrilled with the Diamant De Semilly stallion Utamaro’s performance – had to settle for second.

“I’m delighted, he’s jumped five rounds and hasn’t had a fence down.I’ve only been riding him for three or four months and this is my first big show with him. I could definitely feel his experience in the jump-off, he knew what he was doing,” said William.

Ireland’s Michael Duffy also took a podium place in third on Belcanto Z. Robert Smith’s opener provided the only other double clear for fourth on Bavi with Tobias Meyer fifth on four faults with Cathleen 28 and Julie Andrew slotted Ayrton IV into sixth place.

There was no stopping Felix Hassmann. The German rider had already notched up two wins at this three-day meeting, and he proved unbeatable on the final day’s Pullman Hotel 1.45m speed.

Riding his New Year’s Day winner SI Brazonado, Felix held off British challenges from William Funnell and Guy Williams to claim a world-ranking hat-trick.

And the feat earned the leading rider award with the use of a Wilcox at Edgemere and Cookes Horseboxes’ 3.5 two-horse for a year.

“My horse is super for these 1.45m speed classes. He is so careful has a good mind and wants to go forward, all I have to say is ‘Not too fast!’” said Felix, on the 12-year-old grey gelding Brazonado.

“I don’t want to do too big classes with him at this stage of his career, I'm giving him time.”

William was 1.45 sec in arrears on Julie Slade’s 14-year-old Billy Angelo with Guy claiming third place on Titus.

In a thrilling showdown with Guy Williams, Chloe Aston claimed the exciting knockout on Amigo T.

“To be fair, I didn’t think I was going to beat Guy. For me, the first round is always the hardest because my horse has his own mind. After the first round he knows where he’s going and I just have to follow,” said Chloe, who has ridden the 11-year-old for the past six years.

“I try to take strides out because he’s not the best at turning but he has an incredibly big stride for a small horse and I know him inside out.”

Photos © Trevor Meeks/Liverpool International Horse Show