Italian star Emanuele Gaudiano continued to display the good form he showed in December at Olympia by making a flying start to the Equestrian.com Liverpool International Horse Show.
Gaudiano thrilled a sizeable crowd for the opening session of the three-day, four-star show at Liverpool Echo Arena.
Riding Cocoshynsky, Gaudiano won the 1.45 metre two-phase class in an excellent jump-off time of 29.25 seconds — just enough to edge out 60-year-old John Whitaker and claim a £6,000 first prize.
Whitaker, who is hoping to book a sixth Olympic Games appearance in Rio later this year, clocked 29.42 seconds aboard Lord of Arabia to finish in second place, with Britain’s Nicole Pavitt taking third place on Victor Blue.
Gaudiano has enjoyed an excellent few weeks on the European circuit, which culminated in his victory at the London Olympia Longines FEI World Cup qualifier just 12 days ago.
Master craftsman Whitaker then delivered a first British four-star victory of the Liverpool Horse Show by producing a brilliant performance on Echo of Light. The accumulator class — where riders score points for fences jumped — has a maximum 65 points available, including the invaluable joker fence, and Whitaker showed his rivals a clean pair of heels.
Drawn late in the 27-starter field, the Yorkshireman showcased all his experience to claim a maximum score in a blistering time of 43.82 seconds.
Assessing his performance, Whitaker said: “I was second-last to go, so I knew what I had to do. [Echo of Light] has been a tricky horse to produce, but he has got loads of scope and he is careful.
“If you go really fast in a class like that, you are going to knock the planks down. It’s a fine line between going quickly enough and keeping your control to jump the last plank. Once I jumped one or two, he felt quite relaxed and I knew I was away, so I went for it.”
Meanwhile, Dutch rider Johnny Pals enjoyed the perfect finale to a 16-hour day by claiming an outstanding victory in the 1.50 metre jump-off class.
Pals prevailed after a jump-off that saw six combinations make it through from round one, and he once again showcased the quality of 10-year-old bay gelding Fernando.
“It is a super horse. I have had him for just over a year, and I really think he is my best horse ever,” Pals said. “He is a bit difficult, still, but he can jump anything.”
Sadly, the opening day at Liverpool also saw the death of Irish rider Cameron Hanley’s horse, Antello Z.
The 13-year-old bay gelding hesitated before taking off at a fence in the 1.45m two-phase international class, and then stumbled on landing.
Writing on his Facebook page, Hanley said: “It is with unbelievable sadness I let you know that my partner Antello had to be put down today due to an injury sustained in the ring.
“He was such a fighter and he never quit. I had some of my best days in the ring with him. He brought me, and those of us who were lucky enough to work with him, so much happiness.”
Image: Emanuele Gaudiano and Cocoshynsky at the Liverpool Horse Show at Echo Arena, by Herve Bonnaud, courtesy of the Liverpool Horse Show