The third day of action at Olympia, The London International Horse Show, welcomed the world’s best show jumpers to Olympia Grand. Seven of the top ten riders attended, with Britain’s Holly Smith getting the Show off to a flying start by taking the opening class, The Welcome Stakes, by the narrowest of margins from compatriot Laura Renwick.
The Cayenne Puissance had the sell-out crowd on their feet, with William Whitaker and Michael Pender taking joint honours, both clearing a remarkable 2.18 metres (7ft 2in) in the fifth round.
Earlier in the day Darragh Kenny scored an impressive victory in The Santa Stakes supported by Olympia, while reigning European Champion Martin Fuchs sped to victory in the The Musto Inside Edge Stakes.
An elite line-up of top show jumpers also took centre stage alongside their junior counterparts in The Aztec Diamond Pony Club Mini-Major.
The pairs relay was a fiercely fought contest, with Norway’s Karina Hovland, partnered with Essex Hunt North Pony Club’s Laila Ramaci, coming out eventual winners.
Nine-year-old Laila was very modest about her round with Dinky, but Karina was quick to offer praise to her young partner, saying: “Actually you were really rather quick to the last.”
Two of the most stylish young riders on the circuit topped the results list in equal first place after a quality Cayenne Puissance competition which, for the second year running, went to a thrilling fifth and final round.
The familiar face of Britain’s William Whitaker and Michael Pender, an Irishman making his Olympia debut, both cleared the famously imposing wall at 7ft 2in.
Last year’s joint winner, Guy Williams on the big grey Mr Blue Sky UK, also made it to the final round but knocked a brick out of the wall on his last attempt.
An elated Whitaker’s result was all the more credible as it was a first Puissance for Rushy Marsh Farm LLC’s 10-year-old RMF Charly.
“I was a bit apprehensive, but the crowd lifts you and it feels as if you have another person on your back,” he said.
“I’m over the moon with the horse. He’s got a nice active canter and he just got better and better. He’s quite a character at home – a right Charlie, in fact.”
At 10 years younger than Whitaker, 20-year-old Pender clearly has a bright future.
Having ridden since a child at his parents’ riding school in Co Kilkenny, he sprang into the limelight when he won the Hickstead Derby on Paul van den Bosch’s magnificent 12-year-old stallion Hearton du Bois Halleux.
“It’s a pleasure to ride a horse like that,” said Pender.
“It makes your job a lot easier. Everything you ask him he’ll do. He was a bit tense at first, but then he improved with each round.”
The opening CSI5* class, The Welcome Stakes (1.40m), saw a British one-two with Holly Smith and Flipper Darco UK Z taking the victory by just 0.03 seconds from Laura Renwick aboard Bintang II.
Germany’s Olympic Eventing Champion Michael Jung, competing at Olympia this week with his show jumping hat on, finished close behind in third place, riding the eight-year-old Dante RZ.
The feature class of the day, The Santa Stakes supported by Olympia (1.55m) provided top-class sport with the world’s best show jumping combinations competing for the €27,000 prize fund.
The first of the 10 riders through to the jump-off was Britain’s Holly Smith with her European Team Bronze Medal winning horse Heart’s Destiny who set the pace with a clear round in a time of 35.29 seconds.
William Whitaker followed with a smooth and speedy clear in a time of 34.45, putting the pressure on those to follow, but an exceptionally tight turn to the penultimate fence gave Darragh Kenny the advantage at the half-way stage.
Those that followed valiantly tried to catch the Irishman but picked up faults on the way, with Kenny’s time proving impossible to catch, giving him the victory for the second successive year, this time aboard the 11-year-old Important de Muze.
Speaking after the class Kenny said: “It’s such a great show here, I really like coming here every year, the crowd are always amazing and to start off with a win is really nice. I didn’t get to see William’s round but I know my horse is quite careful and just went as fast as I could, which proved good enough today.”
The Musto Inside Edge Stakes, a 1.50m speed class, saw world number one Steve Guerdat take an early lead riding Victorio des Frotards, jumping clear in a time of 55.42 seconds to set the pace.
The notoriously fast Guy Williams pulled out all the stops aboard his 12-year-old gelding Cupido to take over the lead, crossing the line in 54.83 seconds, a time which proved good enough for second place.
Britain’s leading lady Holly Smith looked to place Williams’ lead in jeopardy, making an extremely tight turn back to the Houses of Parliament wall at fence four, however her final time of 55.29 put her in eventual third position.
It was the reigning European Champion Martin Fuchs, fresh from Grand Prix victory in Geneva last weekend, who verified his world number two credentials with an exceptionally smooth round, cutting all the corners to take the victory by over one second, posting a time of 53.47 with the talented 10-year-old grey mare Chica B Z.
A delighted Fuchs said: “It’s really nice to be here, it doesn’t feel like hard work and it’s a great Christmas feeling. Chica is quite experienced and is used to making tight turns so I didn’t have to do too much today.”
It was also a great night for young rider Emily Moffitt, who was presented with the Raymond Brooks-Ward Memorial Trophy, an award for the British under-25 rider who has shown the greatest potential for future success in that calendar year.