Showjumping Aintree, Keysoe and more
Both returning riders and first-time visitors to Aintree EC make their marks at this popular show
LUCINDA STEWART is always a force to be reckoned with at Aintree, and the Scottish rider claimed two titles with her very much on-form Cancun II, who headed the Hazelden 1.15m and Dodson & Horrell (D&H) national 1.10m championships.
Having jumped the first and last initial clears with her two rides Glow DK and Cancun, Lucinda held a strong hand in the 10-strong jump-off in the amateur 1.10m championship and she set her remaining rivals a real uphill task when Glow DK opened with a sharp clear in 37.91sec.
After Laura Whittington took the lead with Hayestown Diamond Lady, Lucinda returned with last-drawn Cancun, who jumped, turned and galloped to win in 36.11sec.
“Glow is a big-jumping horse who tends to waste a little time in the air and although Cancun is younger, he’s more experienced and naturally quick and I was able to turn more tightly.
“After finishing second in this class for the past two years, I was determined to win this time,” said Lucinda, who was also third with Glow.
After winning the Scottish Branch 1.20m championship the previous week at SNEC, Cancun came to Aintree on good form and the Caretino nine-year-old successfully defended his 2017 title in the Hazelden 1.15m Challenge final.
Again, Lucinda brought her two rides through to the 12-strong jump-off and plotted her course well with the Obourg 12-year-old Glow DK, who opened on four faults in a good time.
“I’ve had Glow for six years from just-broken and he’s taken time to grow and come on.
“When he takes a notion, he can be a handful, but he’s scopey and careful,” said Lucinda, who returned with a vengeance riding penultimate-drawn Cancun.
“I thought Glow’s time was good enough to start with and I wouldn’t have to do too much more with Cancun, but I did manage one extra turn,” concluded Lucinda, who works full time in the family construction business in Ayr.
Another rider to leave Aintree with two titles to her credit was Holly Gair, who claimed victory in the De Niro Boots 1m challenge final and the closing D&H national 95cm championship riding Usita Champ and Bowes Milky Way respectively.
The 1m challenge developed into an intriguing climax as seven of the first 11 combinations coming through to the final round lowered the first oxer.
Double clears among the 20 finalists were consequently slow in coming until Holly and Usita Champ (Rosa) produced the first in 36.31sec.
Although several combinations mounted serious challenges, the quickest being Lucy Gilsenan and Qui Qui in 41.47sec, Holly held on to gain her first win at these championships.
Holly is three years into her partnership with Rosa, who competed here last year.
“You need a good dose of accuracy to gain her confidence and she wasn’t quite ready last year, but we’ve built her up slowly to qualify again this season.
“This was a technical course with some very square oxers, tight turns and long runs.
“Rosa has a big stride and she can gallop and turn. I think a major spin-back three from home clinched it for us,” said Holly.
Rosa again led the way in the 95cm amateur championship. Holly never took a pull and produced a real racing finish on the long run to the last oxer.
Several pairs tried but failed to topple the leader in the 20-strong jump-off, and it was only Holly's second ride, Bowes Milky Way, who surpassed Rosa’s time.
Holly rode the agile grey mare in her pony days and took her up into the senior ranks when Holly passed the age of 16.
“She might have the odd pole, but she never says no.
“At her age of 21 we just keep her to local shows, but after finishing second in the 95cm final and third in the 85cm championship last year, she was due a win this time.
“It was a tough course with plenty of switchbacks and distances to make, but I never took a pull and she answered every call,” said Holly.
‘IT WAS HER TURN TODAY’
AFTER a second-place podium finish to Carol Gee in the minor veteran riders final (see box, above right), Rachael Evison left nothing to chance in the D&H 1.05m amateur championship.
Riding her French-bred grey mare Scylla D’Ouilly (Ruby), Rachael produced the first double clear from third draw in the 20-strong jump-off and held on to the lead to earn her first national title.
‘After finishing second for the past two years I was determined
The Yorkshire rider has enjoyed a successful six-yearpartnership with Ruby, enjoying two recent wins at
Bishop Burton College.
“We tend to keep to Ruby’s comfort zone of 1.10m classes, but she is a really easy horse to ride.
“There were lots of quick riders to follow us, so we had to get all
the early turns and we had a good shot to every fence from all the inside routes.
“Ruby can turn well and she’s very quick. It was her turn today,” added Rachael, who finished ahead of Madieson Blakesley and Daniek.
It proved to be a good week for Rachael, as Ebolensky, a horse she owns jointly with rider Matt
Sampson, clinched a grand prix win in CSI2* Oliva, Valencia.
As winning rounds go, Katie Benbow and Ruby St Loise (Lulu) produced one of the fastest to secure victory in the D&H 85cm national championship.
First-drawn of 19 hopefuls in the final round, Katie took every short cut at speed and slipped the reins on the flat to make the best
use of Lulu’s natural speed.
The pair were competing at their fifth national amateur finals and they were 1m champions two years ago.
Mark McGowan’s jump-off course posed plenty of questions with lots of twists, turns and gallops along the way.
“The main priority was to jump clear again, but Lulu loves to go forward and she was just as fast in the first round.
“The biggest test was the run to the second-last vertical and spinback to the final fence, but she was spot on,” said Katie, a business studies student at York University.
Having won the D&H national major veteran riders title five years ago, Nina Emery and Galaxy III again showed their rivals a clean pair of heels from the outset to reclaim the title in brilliant style in 29.72sec.
With four very capable pairs following her, Nina risked all with two very sharp turns at the beginning and end of the track
“Galaxy isn’t very fast and tends to be one-paced on the long runs, but she is versatile and careful.
“Being drawn first, we had to try everything to make up time somewhere, and as she will have a go at turning tight, I thought it was worth taking chances,” said Nina.
No-one mirrored the winner’s route and their nearest rivals were the newly crowned minor veteran rider champions Carol Gee and Fernhill Splash.
Although Anita Leadbetter had been placed in the amateur finals here in the past, she made her first entry into the veteran ranks a winning one, when
Taxing Times (Hector) posted the fastest clear in the mini veteran championship.
It proved a hard-fought finale, with nine producing double clears, but Hector’s ability to land running saw him come home ahead.
“We all took the same route, but Hector is really versatile as he can gallop and turn and he’s quickly into his stride; I only have to think about turning and he’s gone,” said Anita, who has owned 14-year-old Hector for nine years.
“He was very quirky at first and still has his moments, but he knows his job,” added Anita.
A POIGNANT TRIBUTE
COURSE-BUILDING here for the past five years, Mark McGowan was pleased to note the standard was the best yet.
“Riders are improving and interpreting distances and course plans better,” said Mark.
With entries at an alltime high, these popular championships remain well established at Aintree International Equestrian Centre.
With a masterclass by former ladies’ champion and British team member Julie Andrews, and a full social programme including quiz, spins on the Aintree racecourse gallops, guided tours of the Grand National course and a gala dinner dance, riders and officials were kept occupied over the six days.
On a more sombre note, the news of the death of Tim Stockdale hit hard.
During a course walk, a poignant tribute was paid to Tim, followed by a minute’s silence and spontaneous applause.
During the gala evening, an auction raised £1,600 for Cancer Research.
‘I only have to think about turning and
he’s gone’ ANITA LEADBETTER ON HER
‘QUIRKY’ TAXING TIMES
Lucinda Stewart steers the ‘naturally quick’ Cancun II to top two class leaderboards
‘We had to get all the early turns and we had a good shot to every fence’: Rachael Evison andScylla D’Ouilly follow up second in the minor veteran riders final with triumph in the 1.05m championship
Holly Gair and 21-year-old Bowes Milky Way are 95cm champions
Five years after first doing so, Nina Emery and the versatile Galaxy III reclaim the major veteran rider title
‘She loves to go forwards’ — Katie Benbow and Ruby St Loise speed into the lead from the start to claim the 85cm championship