Chloe Winchester claimed the biggest win of her career after turning the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup into a procession at the Longines Royal International Horse Show on Saturday.
The 21-year-old Suffolk rider has been on the radar for a while as one of British showjumping’s brightest young talents, which she had underlined by winning the 2014 Young Rider Championship of Great Britain title at the Horse of the Year Show, but she has now gone up another gear with outstanding 12-year-old mare Avoca Valkyrie.
Winchester eased home in a six horse jump-off by almost three seconds from former Hickstead Derby champion Phillip Miller, riding Caritiar Z, while three-time Queen-Elizabeth-Cup winner Tina Fletcher finished third on Hello Sailor, with Kerry Brennan (Wellington M) fourth, Trevor Breen (Old Town KC) fifth and Tim Davies (Valentijn O) sixth.
“I am very surprised – it is a dream come true,” said Winchester, whose Hickstead winner is owned by her mother, Gilly.
“The plan was to just keep going forward because I knew Phillip was coming after me. We’re off to the Europeans (Young Riders) next week in Austria, so it has set us up really well for that.
“I got [Avoca Valkyrie] from an eventing yard. She evented previously, and had been jumping 1m 30cms, but she’s done everything for me and has taken me up to 1m 50cms. She has just gone amazingly, better than we ever could have hoped for.
“We jumped here at the All England Championships last year, but nothing like this. It’s such a prestigious class. It was a very strong track, and I thought it would suit her. There is lots of space out there, and I think I found time on the turns.”
Saturday’s feature class of the Longines Royal International Horse Show attracted a 26-strong entry, and Winchester became the first female winner since Anna Edwards in 2010. The competition used to be for women only, but it became an open event seven years ago and was subsequently won by male riders like Shane Breen, Daniel Moseley and Keith Doyle.
Winchester, though, slammed the door firmly shut in pursuit of a £4,000 top prize, and she will now head to the European Young Riders Championship in confident mood on Avoca Valkyrie, alongside her British team-mates Chloe Aston, Alfie Bradstock, Emma O’Dwyer and Jake Saywell.
Elsewhere on Saturday, it was a story of double success for Italian riders, which came as a timely boost following Italy’s eighth and last-placed finish in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup 24 hours earlier.
Piergiorgio Bucci set the tone, winning the Bunn Leisure Salver with Casallo Z. The combination clocked a jump-off time of 44.93 seconds, edging German star Christian Ahlmann into second on Caruso 472. Robert Bevis was the highest-placed British rider in fourth with Courtney Z.
And there was further Italian joy in the one-round British Speed Classic when Lorenzo de Luca claimed a £5,700 top prize on Homer de Reve, clocking 62.00 seconds. Their performance denied Britain’s Guy Williams, who had set a scorching pace aboard Casper de Muze, while the top five was completed by Romain Duguet (Cacharel) in third, fourth-placed Shane Breen (Reconnaissance) and Nicole Pavitt, in fifth, on Victor Blue.
Attention now turns to Sunday’s Longines King George V Gold Cup, when Great Britain team boss Di Lampard will be an interested spectator as she continues putting the final touches to her five-strong squad that will head to Aachen in Germany next month for the FEI European Championships.
Britain, despite winning showjumping team gold at London 2012, have yet to qualify for the Rio Games. The Europeans provide a final chance, but other countries also contesting three qualification places include Hickstead Nations Cup winners Belgium, plus Switzerland, Ireland and Spain.
Image: Chloe Winchester celebrates her victory in the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup at the Longines Royal International Horse Show, top by George Gunn