Speed was the aim of the game on Friday at Olympia, the London International Horse Show. Swapping the racecourse for the show jumping arena, the jockeys in the Markel Champions Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund had their feet flat to the boards in the battle of the flat versus National Hunt jockeys, with Frankie Dettori’s flat team taking the spoils.
Earlier in the day, The FEI World Cup™ Driving presented by Dodson & Horrell thrilled the crowd with their break-neck turns and the show jumpers also kept up the pace in each of the three international classes.
It was an action packed day, which also saw the Equestrian Team GBR Olympic medal winners parade in front of a delighted audience. The parade included both BBC Sports Personality of the Year contenders Nick Skelton OBE and Sophie Christiansen OBE, ahead of their big night on Sunday.
A typically flamboyant display of riding from Frankie Dettori clinched victory for his team of flat jockeys in the Markel Champions Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund at Olympia, The London International Horse Show.
The quintet of flat jockeys (Frankie, Bridget Andrews, Adam Kirby, Jim Crowley and Jamie Spencer) had a point to prove as, two years ago, they were trounced by the National Hunt jockeys at Olympia.
This time though, under stern instruction from 2012 Olympic gold medallist Scott Brash, they flew around the track, performing neat handovers of the baton, and managed to set an unbeatable target.
The jump jockeys, under reigning Olympic champion Nick Skelton’s guidance, suffered a few shaky moments and even a last-ditch headlong gallop from Nick’s son Harry Skelton failed to save the day.
“My lads were fantastic,” said winning trainer Scott Brash afterwards. “They were really tight in their turns. Frankie in particular did a great round.”
“There’s a lot of camaraderie between both codes of racing but this is the icing on the cake,” confirmed Frankie, “and we’ll be dining out on it for a long time! Scott told us to keep it tight, keep it smooth and not cut any corners, and it worked. And it’s all for a good cause. The Injured Jockeys Fund is really important for our sport.”
Champion National Hunt jockey Richard Johnson, Tom Scudamore and Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, with Sam and Harry, put up a spirited challenge.
For Victoria Pendleton, who was first to go for the jump jockeys, this was the latest sporting challenge in a memorable year that saw her finish a brilliant fifth in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham in March only 12 months after she first sat on a horse.
“That was pretty good!” she said breathlessly afterwards. “I can only go as fast as I can – I’ve never show jumped before. It was fantastic to have the chance to compete at Olympia, but when I was asked, I did say that I couldn’t guarantee I would help the team.”
Last to go in a five-horse jump-off, the 2012 Olympic champion, a perennial visitor to Olympia, shaved 1.37 seconds off the time achieved by Ireland’s Anthony Condon and Balzac, who took second place.
It was an international line-up with Spain’s Manuel Fernandez Saro third on U Watch, Malin Baryard-Johnsson fourth for Sweden on H&M Cue Channa, and Bertram Allen fifth for Ireland on the eight-year-old Izzy by Picobello
Steve was aboard his dual FEI World Cup™ finalist Corbinian. “I was quite lucky to be last in the class and therefore last in the jump-off, and so I knew what I had to do,” he said. “I was confident that if I rode well, he would be on my side.”
The Swiss rider will compete Corbinian, a 10-year-old by Cornet Obolensky, in Monday’s Grand Prix class; he rides Bianca in Sunday’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Leg presented by H&M.
Earlier in the day, Olympia regular Laura Kraut got the better of Italy’s Lorenzo De Luca in the Snowman Stakes, snatching the lead with an extraordinarily fast start to the jump-off. “I can’t believe I finally beat him,” said the delighted American rider. “He’s just so fast.”
Lorenzo had romped into the lead on Halifax van het Kluizebos, his winning partner from the previous day’s Longines World Rankings class, the Christmas Pudding Stakes, with just two left to go. But the last rider in the ring, Laura set out to win with the nine-year-old Cavalia and gained time back straight away between the first two fences.
Continuing to claim back time around the track, she came home cleanly with over a second in hand. “I only watched the others go on the screen in the collecting ring,” said Laura. “When I saw Lorenzo go, I decided then it had to be all-or-nothing to win.”
From final draw in the opening class of the day, The Snowflake Stakes, Ireland’s Darragh Kenny denied long-time leader Malin Baryard-Johnsson a win. Riding Fixdesign Funke van’t Heike, the Olympia first-timer pinched half a second back from the Swedish rider’s posted time on H&M Second Chance.
“Malin has a very nice horse, but my horse is a little bit more experienced, which enabled me to push and beat the time,” said Darragh, who splits his time between the USA and Europe. “I have usually already left to go to America for the winter,” said Darragh. “But my owners, sponsors and National Federation very kindly agreed to let me to come here.
“It’s a show I have always wanted to complete at and it is just amazing. It certainly is the best indoor show.”
The warm-up round of the FEI World Cup™ Driving Leg presented by Dodson & Horrell produced a tight and tense competition that had its share of drama. In the final result, it was last to go, Koos de Ronde, from the Netherlands who went over the line first to claim victory by less than 0.3 seconds.
First to go, GB’s representative and the least experienced driver in this event, Daniel Naprous, head of the riding and driving stunt team, The Devil’s Horsemen, posted a competitive round with just one five-penalty knockdown. Next to go, driving on a wild card, was Australia’s Boyd Exell – six-time FEI World Cup™ Driving Champion – who drove with his usual skill and dash. However, taking a short line through the second obstacle to get to the finish, he clipped a couple of elements to pick up ten penalties. So fast was his round that he remained in contention.
Hungarian driver, Jozsef Dobrovitz Snr, who was second to Exell in last night’s Extreme Driving competition, drove surely and fast again to take the lead. His son, Jozsef Dobrovitz Jnr, followed by Theo Timmerman from The Netherlands and Germany’s Georg von Stein, all collected knockdown penalties that dropped them down the order.
Knowing that if he drove clear he would win, de Ronde still put up a fast pace through both obstacles and the elements between them. It proved a good policy – a late five-point penalty still allowed him to cross the line by just 0.22 penalties ahead of Dobrovitz Snr. Exell was third.
“It was a tense moment going into the arena,” acknowledged de Ronde, World Cup Champion in 2013. “I took a slightly longer route through the obstacles to try to go clear but I kept up the pace. It paid off – just!”
The placings determine the order of competition for the Final. All drivers will start from a zero score, however, making for a competition that will again thrill the packed crowd at Olympia.
Other highlights included Charlotte Harding claiming the Kennel Club Small Dog Agility Final title, with his four-legged partner AG CH Daimonic Expelliarmus. The Olympia Senior Showing Series Championships, sponsored by Anthony D Evans Insurance Brokers, was a highlight for Kerrilee Wilson Smith and her family whose delightful grey cob Silver Maddigan won the ridden section; the former ridden pony Hampton Scandal, handled by Liam Keetley, won the in-hand classification.