Joker shows quality side
Last year’s puissance winner turns his hoof to the speed title, John Whitaker takes the leading rider bonus and Irishman clears 7ft to land the big wall honours
HOLLY SMITH has always made the most of her opportunities at every level and her Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) international debut was no exception. She glided to a Zinc Management speed horse of the year triumph with the hugely versatile Quality Old Joker.
The big-jumping 18hh gelding was the winner of the puissance here last year and his stamp might not have pinpointed him as a favourite for this competitive table A class.
It was his huge stride, however, that provided a winning advantage as he threw down an easy five where everyone else delivered six on the final line to carve a lead of 0.08 of a second. Only Belgium’s Karel
Cox (Jaguar) beat the time but at the expense of two poles, while his countryman François Mathy Jr collected the runner-up spot in 61.32 seconds against Holly’s 61.24 seconds, riding Casanova De L’Herse.
“If you looked at him, you wouldn’t think he was as versatile as he is. But he’s so light on his feet, he’s like a ballet dancer,” said Holly, who also came second in this year’s puissance and third in the Hickstead Derby with the Irish nine-year-old, whom she coowns with James Mossman.
“I thought he had a good chance of winning as he is very comfortable at 1.45m and can take strides out, which can make up a couple of seconds.
“I decided I could take a risk at the fence before the last and I came round the turn forward and loose, which made the five strides easy,” she said.
Holly — who directly qualified for HOYS at Keysoe — had already collected a win on the opening international day when she was one of three combinations whoe shared the spoils in the Grandstand Media five-fence challenge.
Partnering new ride Hearts Destiny [see box], she joined Shane Breen riding Team Z7’s
Can Ya Makan and Helen
Tredwell with Sebastian VII in jumping clear in the fourth round. The daunting track featured a final vertical at 1.85m and the preceding triple bar at 1.70m with a 1.90m spread.
“I have been a joint-winner and finished equal third in this competition, so it’s a favourite class of ours,” Helen said. “You have to get into a good rhythm, and you need a horse that can jump a big fence. No one was keen to go again in a fifth round, so it was better we had an equal first.”
Shane’s effortlessly scopey 11-year-old stallion was initially produced by Marion Hughes and is one of several he has recently taken over for the Dubai stable.
“I got him in June and this is my third show with him — he went to Dublin [Horse Show] in August and then spent three weeks at stud,” said Shane, who will compete the horse in the UAE early next year before returning to Europe.
WHITAKER EXPERIENCE TAKES THE LEAD
JOHN WHITAKER never likes to disappoint a home crowd and his strong form throughout the week earned him the show’s leading rider bonus.
The first of his wins came in the NAEC Stoneleigh Stakes, a take-your-own-line class where he used his decades of experience to calculate a faster route.
From penultimate draw, he opted for a final fence jumped away from the finish, ending his round with a gallop for the beam on his 15-year-old stallion Argento.
“The route involved a bit of a
jog from the last but I thought it was better to go full gallop to the finish than at a vertical. We used to have a lot of take-your-own lines in the old days and if you do a lot of them, you get good at them,” the 62-year-old said.
Argento last jumped in Rome two weeks ago, where he was fourth in a grand prix, and was in fresh form for HOYS.
“He had an injury at Olympia and had four months off. It takes a bit of a while to get them back after that, but he’s been jumping back at the top for the past two months,” John said. “He was pulling my arms out this morning when I rode him outside with all the ponies and cobs flying around.”
Team Harmony’s Crumley, a new ride this spring, collected the Yorkshireman his second win of the week in the Horse & Country TV challenge cup two-phase.
The class hinged on an influential gate at the last, where John was one of the only competitors to successfully execute the inside line, gaining 0.02 of a second on Helen Tredwell’s early lead with Larksong.
“I watched Helen on the screen and I knew she was quick,” said John. “I originally intended not to turn inside to the gate as I thought it was a bit risky, but when she did such a fast round I thought I’d have to. It was a difficult turn and not many people pulled it off.”
Nine-year-old Crumley was previously ridden by François Mathy Jr and was fifth in the Valencia grand prix earlier this year.
“He’s actually a really big horse for me — he’s 17.1hh and a bit more François’ size as he has a lot longer legs than me,” said John. “Although he’s big, he’s quite nervous and gets a little bit tense. It really showed yesterday when we had the joker down [in the accumulator] but today he was more relaxed. We put plugs in his ears which probably helped a bit.”
A TIE IN THE ACCUMULATOR
THERE was a highly unusual result in the accumulator with the Netherlands’ man of the moment Harrie Smolders (Cas 2) — winner of the 2017 Global Champions Tour — tying on a precise 40.12-second clear with Britain’s gold league leader Mennell Watson (Whisper In The Wind).
Harrie led the 31-strong field from the start with the 10-yearold gelding, setting a standard that forced the others to take risks.
“It’s difficult to go first but I thought I set quite a good pace,” he said. “I didn’t do the inside turn before the last [to the Rio fence] — you needed an experienced horse and one who can jump from all angles,” he said.
Harrie has been riding Cas 2 for a few months and it was their third show as a partnership.
“Emerald is having time off, so this filled in a gap in the schedule. We decided to bring the younger horses to see how far we are with them — all three of them are 10-year-olds,” said Harrie.
“It’s our first indoor show and a good opportunity to show them a crowd, lots of people and an atmosphere. Not that many places offer that.”
IRELAND OPENS PROCEEDINGS
ANTHONY CONDON opened the account for Ireland with the first international win of the show, netting the table A Grandstand welcome stakes with the bold grey, Zira Van
Het Kapelhof Z.
The eight-year-old mare showed some dramatic scope to clear the final oxer after not quite hitting the distance on
the last line. “I asked her a bit of a question on the turn into the second last and she had to stretch,” Anthony said.
“She has such a big heart and is so careful, and she has a lot of self-belief, which helped me out there,” he added.
Anthony had to take some risks to beat the standard that was set by 23-year-old French rider Titouan Schumacher (Oceane De Nantuel), who finished second but went on to claim a win in the 1.45m Thistledown Stakes.
“The French federation said there was a place to come here and I thought it was a good opportunity,” said Titouan, who was making his UK debut.
Irish rider Padraic Judge also made a success of his first trip to the NEC, taking an outright win in the Naylors Equestrian puissance with Donnacha Anhold’s 15-yearold Citi Business (JJ).
Four riders initially remained into the fourth round — although
Robert Whitaker chose not to present Catwalk IV — and Padraic was the only one to leave the 2.14m (7ft) wall standing. Holly Smith (Quality Old Joker) and Louise Saywell (Dassler) shared the runner-up spot.
“I knew there was a buzz here
but I never thought that it would be anything like this,” Padraic said. “I went off by myself for half an hour [to calm my nerves] but once I was in the saddle, I was fine.”
The Co. Mayo rider originally bought JJ from Mennell Watson and Helen Van Heyningen as a four-year-old but sold him two years ago.
“My plan was originally to jump grands prix but he’s a very sharp and nervous horse and there was too much going on in his head,” Padraic explained. “I always thought from day one that if he wasn’t a grand prix horse, he’d be a puissance horse.
“We might do Olympia now
— I wouldn’t want to do more than one or two of these a year with him at his age. There’s a good heart on the horse and he’d break his neck for you.”
John Whitaker steers Argento to victory in a take-your-own-line class
‘He’s so light on his feet, he’s like a ballet dancer’: Holly Smith motors to a win in the speed horse of the year with Quality Old Joker — whose size belies his versatility
Ireland’s Anthony Condon pilots the scopey Zira Van Het Kapelhof Z to net the welcome stakes
Padraic Judge and Citi Business clear 7ft to triumph in the puissance