American star Beezie Madden confirmed her place among the legends of Hickstead as the Longines Royal International Horse Show reached a thrilling climax on Sunday.
For the second successive year, 51-year-old Madden was crowned Longines King George V Gold Cup winner, claiming British showjumping’s most prestigious prize aboard the brilliant bay gelding Cortes C.
Having become the first female rider in more than 100 years to lift the King George 12 months ago, she is now the first woman to claim it two years on the bounce, a feat that was last claimed by anyone in 1961 and 1962, when Italian Piero d’Inzeo triumphed with The Rock.
Madden’s jump-off time of 43.06 seconds — only six combinations from 42 starters made it through to round two — proved just enough to keep French runner-up Penelope Leprevost and Flora de Mariposa at bay, while Holland’s Jur Vrieling and Vdl Zirocco Blue finished third.
Jessica Mendoza, the gifted 19-year-old from Wiltshire, was leading British rider in fourth place on Spirit T, and, had it not been for a final fence knock down in the jump-off, she would have prevailed in a time of 42.76 and taken the £46,500 winner’s purse instead of Madden.
However, she still did enough to keep herself firmly in the selection spotlight for the FEI European Championships in Aachen later this month, when Britain will chase one of three remaining Olympic qualifying places ahead of Rio 2016, alongside rivals like Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain.
The top six places were completed by Britain’s William Whitaker and Fandango in fifth, and American Todd Minikus, riding Babalou 41, but it proved to be a disappointing day for many other leading British riders, including Holly Gillott, Joe Clee, Spencer Roe and Guy Williams. Ben Maher had an unlucky four faults on Diva II.
Reflecting on a fine performance with Spirit T, a horse owned by her mother Sarah, Mendoza said: “My horse is naturally quick, so I thought I would use it to my advantage. She has been jumping amazingly — I wish I could have another one like her.
“I wasn’t really that nervous, but my dad was more nervous. He kept going on about how this was the most prestigious class and how he would love us to win it. Yes, I have no fear, but I think my horse also has no fear!”
The day, though, belonged to Madden, who said: “It’s quite an honour to win it back to back.
“Friday’s (Nations Cup) jump-off was not my finest moment (Madden had two fences down on Cortes C) but I learnt a little from that, as he likes to jump left and I took too sharp of an angle and didn’t compensate. I knew the approach to fence three would be difficult, so I took a little more time than I would have done before.
“I know he’s amazingly naturally fast, so I knew I could leave strides out, like the right turn to the vertical and at the second last fence, so I really tested him there and I was able to coast home a little. I knew there were a few fast ones behind me, so I had to respect that, but I didn’t want to run the wheels off and have what happened on Friday.”
Many combinations came to grief at a double of gates immediately after the water jump, and Madden added: “Those gates are always difficult, and when you make them a double combination, then it’s even harder.
“I think their attention got on the second gate, compounded by the fact it’s after the water. Robert Ridland (United States chef d’equipe) had planned eight strides, but then he said that eight wasn’t jumping that good, so I thought I would ride it off my eye, but I actually did go on eight in the end. I think you had to improvise.
“Cortes C really prefers grass over sand. He really loves it here — he can gallop and jump.”
Images: top, Beezie Madden powers to victory in the Longines King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead on Cortes C; bottom,Madden receives a Longines watch as part of her prize for winning the Longines King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead, both by George Gunn, courtesy of Hickstead