Robert Whitaker ensured British success on day one of showjumping action at Olympia’s London International Horse Show.
Whitaker, riding USA Today, landed the Porsche Cayenne Challenge speed class after clocking a time of 50.25 seconds, which was enough to edge Will Funnell and Billy Angelo into second place, with Laura Renwick and Heliodor Hybis third.
“I watched a good few go and saw some mistakes and worked out what I had to do,” Whitaker said.
“USA is not the fastest, but he was fantastic in there. He’s 14 now, and he definitely likes the atmosphere. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid to watch my father, and to win here is always fantastic.”
The opening Santa Stakes went to rising Italian star Emanuele Gaudiano, whose jump-off pace aboard Casper proved too much for a chasing pack led by Britain’s John Whitaker.
Gaudiano clocked a time of 33.52 seconds, giving him a narrow victory over 60-year-old John Whitaker and Argento, with Olivier Robert and Quenelle du Ry third.
And Thursday’s action was completed with the Alltech Christmas Puissance, which reached a thrilling climax when Belgium’s Jos Verlooy, riding Sunshine, finished tied with Germany’s Hilmar Meyer, on Continuo.
It proved to be a top-class competition, with both riders maintaining immaculate performances through to the fourth jump-off, as they both cleared the wall at just above seven feet.
Meyer first came to Olympia a couple of years ago as a groom. Now, on his first visit as a competitor, he is celebrating winning one of one of the most prestigious classes. His horse, the 13-year-old Continuo by Contendro, is a puissance specialist and has taken many classes in Europe.
“I’m very proud of my horse,” said Meyer. “It’s an unbelievable feeling jumping that high, but only with the right horse. It’s been great to ride here at Olympia, it’s such a great atmosphere.”
Unusually, Verlooy, 20, was using the class as a warm-up for the Longines FEI World Cup qualifier on Sunshine, a nine-year-old chestnut gelding.
“I think that jumping a puissance can work well as a warm-up before a really big class,” he explained. “It was really exciting. I couldn’t believe how easily my horse jumped.”
Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer, riding Leonard de la Ferme CH, Victoria Gulliksen (Grand Balou), daughter of Norwegian Olympian and perennial Olympia visitor Geir Gulliksen, Ireland’s Trevor Breen on the dual Hickstead Derby winner Loughnatousa WB and last year’s runner-up, Karline De Branander from Belgium on her gallant mare Fantomas de Muze, all crashed out in the fourth round when the wall was 2.10m (6ft 11in).
Image: Robert Whitaker wins the Porsche Cayenne Challenge speed class at Olympia aboard USA Today, by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the London International Horse Show at Olympia