Crowds took to their feet to give the legendary Nick Skelton and his Olympic gold medal winning partner Big Star the emotional goodbye they truly deserved in a tear-jerking retirement ceremony. The pair were joined by family, friends, owners, fellow Team GB riders and loyal groom Mark Beever.
Unable to attend because of prior racing commitments, Nick’s youngest son, jockey Harry, left a message which was read out to the packed stands.
“Dad, I’m so sorry I’m not there, but when I asked you if I should go racing today or come down to Windsor, you said, go and do your job and try and ride some winners. I thought; that is what has got you to where you are, your hard work, dedication and determination. My first great memory of you in the ring was when Dollar Girl won the World Cup Final in 95. You went through so much from then to Rio 2016, and when you finally reached your childhood dream to take individual gold, was the best day of my life. I am the proudest son alive and so glad you’ve stopped at the top. I hope I will make you as proud as I am of you one day. See you later, love you, Harry.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Nick dismounted Big Star and took the saddle off his back – a long standing tradition when a horse is retired – and walked a final lap of honour in-hand to a standing ovation, with the crowd cheering to mark their respect and admiration for Skelton, whose career spanned five decades. With a final wave to the adoring crowd, the Olympic gold medal winning duo exited the arena to start their well-deserved retirement.
World-class riders lined up to win the pinnacle of Windsor’s five-day specatacular, this year upgraded to 5*, to win the £63,000 first prize in the Rolex grand prix over a tough, 1.60m track designed by Britain’s Bob Ellis. But the USA’s Kent Farrington again proved his world number one title is no fluke and took the title for the second consecutive year. Te defending champion executed the tightest of turns to the tricky Tower Bridge water tray and pushed on throughout to take victory on Sherkan D’Amaury with 0.88 sec to spare.
“I was thrilled, he’s only just stepping up to this level and he was unbelievable, I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Kent. “This show is one of my favourites – an amazing setting, unbelievable crowd, top course-designing and great footing – the best of the best.”
Scott Brash was best Brit on the Ahorn 16-year-old Ursula XII, finishing in third behind Italy’s second-placed Lorenzo de Luca on Halifax Van Het Kluizebos. British-based American Laura Kraut claimed fourth on Deauville S with fellow American Jessica Springsteen in fifth on Cynar VA. Guy Williams’ early round aboard Rouge De Ravel claimed sixth in the edge-of-your-seats 12-strong jump-off.
British-based Irishman Billy Twomey claimed the Palm speed stakes with the 15-year-old Tin Tin over a tricky, 12-fence track which was won or lost over a double of verticals in the final line. Using his late draw to gallop ahead, Billy relegated long-time leader Pius Schwizer for Switzerland on Leonard Del La Ferme by 0.65 sec.
“You needed a careful horse out there bu the course worked in our favour andI was able to take out a stride here and there,” said Billy.
Scott Brash took fifth on Hello Annie ahead of fellow Brits John Whitaker with Crumley and William Funnell aboard Billy Buckingham to take sixth and seventh.
A delighted Tess Carmichael topped the amateur 1.40m grand prix on the Air Jordan Z 12-year-old Atlantis PP Z with 1.02 sec in hand in the eight-horse decider. Ireland’s Aisling Byrne picked up second with Brits bunched in the lower places – Nina Barbour third on Calle, Claire Beecroft in fourth with the steadiest of the double clears aboard Vanda Cartier and Jane Davies, on three time faults, in fifth with Egalini. British-based South African Charles Luyckx claimed sixth on Cicero II and Tony Pearson rode Billy Grand into seventh.
Photos © Jumping Around & courtesy Royal Windsor Horse Show