Less than half a second kept Scott Brash out of the winner’s spot in an exciting world cup qualifier at Olympia.
Only four managed round one clears over a testing track, the world-class riders and horses barely able to draw breath between fences and with some running out of steam towards the end of the track.
Scott – who considered the course “challenging but well thought out and jumpable” – was Britain’s hope in the quartet and he didn’t disappoint, setting the target with the experienced 16-year-old Ursula XII and it seemed a back-to-back double of wins was on the cards for the 2016 winner. But he underestimated the threat from last-togo speedy Frenchman Julien Epaillard.
“I kinda thought he’d be faster, but I was hoping he’d have a fence down,” said Scott after Julien stole the show with Toupie De La Roque, claiming a 0.43 sec victory.
“Ursula was fantastic and, although I would love to breed a foal from her, while she’s jumping like this, she certainly isn’t ready to retire.”
Julien only had winning in his mind.
"I saw Scott go - he started quickly but I thought he was a bit careful over the last two fences so I had nothing to lose and I took a lot of risk at the last two jumps and it worked!" aid Julien.
Julien has been riding the bold 10-year-old mare Toupie since March.
“She comes from the Hecart family who are my neighbours and have been very good to me. I’m really pleased that we are doing our best together!” he said.
Third place for Edwina Tops-Alexander and her La Caruna winner, the nine-year-old Inca Boy Van T Vianahof puts them top of the Western European league alongside France’s Kevin Staut. Sweden’s Peder Fredricson – also double clear – took fourth on H&M Christian K. Four faults in round one put William Whitaker and Fandango into eighth spot and Laura Renwick’s Top Dollar also returned four for 15th.
John Whitaker landed his second win of the week with a breath-taking, audacious turn which earned the crowd’s roaring approval to claim the Ivy Stakes on the 15-year-old Arko stallion Argento.
“I studied the course carefully because I knew Kevin [Staut, eventual fourth on S&L Through the Looking Glas] was last to go and I had to do something,” explained John, who has been competing here for four decades.
“It shows what a good horse he is because when we did the sharp turn the crowd gave a big cheer and that could have put him off. This show is special, with the crowds and Christmas and everything. It’s a great feeling and I feel lucky to still be in the sport.”
It was a British top three, with Ben Maher finishing 0.97 sec behind for second on Madame X and the on-form Laura Renwick filled third spot aboard MHS Washington – the only other double clears in the six-strong decider. William Funnell picked up one time fault – one of four – in round one to take seventh on Billy Angelo and Guy Williams finished 11th on Dalton D’Hoyo on three time faults.
Laura was a winner earlier in the day on Shiraz II, partnering Poppy Deakin and Munsboro Plunkett in the Pony Club mini major relay. It was a match made in heaven and the pair raced to win by 1.76 sec.
Poppy Deakin, 11, secured the win in that had previous escaped both of her sisters, Daisy and Kirsten.
“I wanted to come here and do better than them,” said Olympia first-timer Poppy.
Riding 16-year-old Munsboro Plunkett, and partnering Britain’s leading lady rider Laura Renwick (Shiraz II), the Tynedale Pony Club branch member perfectly executed a tight turn back to the penultimate fence to take the class by more than one second.
“Poppy knew what she was doing,” said Laura. “I gave her hardly any advice. She was telling me how she was going to ride the course and she did what she said she would.”
Robert Russell on Newtown Black Guy partnered Bertram Allen with Christy Junior to take second ahead of third-placed Thomas Bradburne on Runaway Dolly and partner Francois Mathy Jr and Falco Van DE Clehoeve.
Rachel Proudley made one of her last rides on Painted Lady count with victory in the Mistletoe Mini Stakes at her fourth attempt at this title.
Only four reached the jump-off with Rachel convincingly securing the top spot by more than two sec.
“It’s my favourite show and it’s my last year riding her,” said Rachel, 12. “She’ll be staying in the family though, as she’ll now be ridden by my sister, Sarah.”
Paige Wright rode Black Shade of Gold into second with Ollie Fry on Colliyers Pal Joey in third and Noora von Bulow aboard Peppino Il Grande in fourth – all posting double clears.
Photos © Revolution Sport/Kit Houghton/Olympia