Joe Clayton added his name to a who’s who of showjumping when he won the Connolly’s RED MILLS Senior Newcomers Championship on the Horse of the Year Show’s opening night in Birmingham.
Clayton, who is based with British Olympian Michael Whitaker in Nottinghamshire, claimed a pulsating victory on Whitaker’s seven-year-old bay mare Lexi III.
And in taking the newcomers class, he joined an illustrious list of previous winners that includes riders like Laura Renwick, Billy Twomey and Michael Whitaker himself, who took top honours in 2002.
Clayton’s victory was forged in a brilliant turn from fences one to two in a nine horse jump-off, a manoeuvre that brought a collective gasp from the audience, and left him admitting: “I think I gasped as well!”
Rachael Connor, riding Zaha, was seven hundredths of a second quicker than Clayton’s time of 31.64 seconds, but a final fence knockdown cost them dear, with Holly Smith and PLS Halo Diamond finishing second and Laura Pritchard, on Horse Victory’s Fayot, third.
“The turn didn’t look really on,” Clayton said. “Normally, when someone else has done it, you have a bit of confidence there, but I was the first one to do it and it came off.
“I had confidence in the horse’s ability. She wouldn’t have done any turns like that before, but I was always confident in the horse to jump the fence and get in the right place. That’s the risk you take, and it came off for me today.”
The 2016 Horse of the Year Show began in thrilling fashion with Buckinghamshire teenager Lottie Tutt headlining the early action. And there were also impressive victories for Rachel Walker and Emily Morris on a busy day of key national classes.
Tutt, 15, followed previous winners like current world eventing star Oliver Townend and showjumpers Matthew Sampson and Jessie Drea in winning the Blue Chip Pony Newcomers class, which was first contested at the Horse of the Year Show 31 years ago.
Riding six-year-old bay mare Market Angel, Tutt went quickest in a nine horse jump-off, clocking 31.15 seconds to claim top spot from runner-up Ffion Roberts, on Kantjes Bozzy, with Allana Clutterbuck and Atomic du Bary finishing third, just one hundredth of a second behind Ffion.
Market Angel is owned by former British international showjumper Derek Ricketts, who was Great Britain’s team manager and is currently a GB senior-squad national selector.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Tutt said. “I wasn’t expecting it. She is only young, but I knew she had the scope to do that. Winning this class is definitely a box ticked. I have ridden here before, and that really helps when you go into the arena. It is easier when you have been here before.”
Rachel Walker, from Penrith in Cumbria, produced a blistering jump-off performance on her 10-year-old bay mare Bo Gi to win the British Showjumping Silver League Championship by 13 hundredths of a second from Jessica Baugh and Castlemitchell Princess, with Stephanie Gunn and Quastor du Buisson Z third.
Last to go in a six-horse battle against the clock, the winning combination showcased all their experience gained from a number of podium finishes, including winning last year’s Royal Highland Show amateur class.
And Shropshire rider Emily Morris reserved the best until last to win the Horseware Bronze League Championship.
Last year’s Silver League winner Katie Shaw had set a rapid jump-off pace with Cyloma Z, clocking 33.87 seconds, but last to go Emily and 11-year-old Ultimatum II went almost three seconds quicker to take spot, with Stephanie Gunn and Lady Larino finishing third.
Image: Joe Clayton, by E.S. Photography, courtesy of the Horse of the Year Show