British showjumping’s impressive strength in depth came to the fore as this year’s London leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour provided pulsating entertainment.
Although British riders did not make it a hat-trick of London grand prix wins following victories for Ben Maher in 2013 and Scott Brash last year, they could hardly have gone any closer.
The remarkable John Whitaker gave himself an early 60th birthday present by finishing second in the grand prix behind Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, while Scott Brash and the brilliant Hello Sanctos were denied possibly a fourth GCT grand prix triumph this season by a final jump-off fence knockdown.
World number one Brash had to settle for sixth, but it was still good enough for him to replace Portugal’s Luciana Diniz as overall series leader and put him firmly on course for a GCT title hat-trick with four events — Valkenswaard, Rome, Vienna and Doha — remaining.
“I am pleased to be top at this stage,” Brash said. “I will do all the other venues apart from Rome, so I’ve got a couple of extra chances. We’ve got to keep going. We will keep trying.”
The London grand prix, centre-stage of an event held this year at Syon Park, in west London, saw 12 combinations contest the jump-off, and it was former European individual champion Bengtsson who came out on top with Casall ASK by just eight hundredths of a second from Whitaker to take the £93,000 winner’s purse. Whitaker collected £56,600, with France’s Simon Delestre finishing third and Holland’s Gerco Schroder fourth.
“Argento is on very good form, and I think I’m on quite good form!” Whitaker said. “It’s good — I am enjoying it.
“My horse jumped great today, I just couldn’t catch Rolf. He was too quick. I wasn’t far away, but I think in my second to last fence I was a bit untidy there – I could have done one less stride – but he was a little bit excited by that point, and even going through the finish, if I’d have turned right I would have saved those few hundredths.
“But I can’t complain. My horse jumped superbly, and it’s nice to win, but I am happy with where I’ve come.”
Whitaker, meanwhile, confirmed that Argento would not not be available for Great Britain at next month’s European Championships in Germany, as he feels the horse is better suited to smaller arenas and not the sizeable setting of Aachen.
Bengtsson, while thrilled with his London win, believes 29-year-old Brash has put himself in a strong position to possibly capture another GCT crown.
“It’s going to be hard to beat Scott,” Bengtsson said. “When there is a jump-off, you know that you have to be very quick, so I did my best, but I knew that Scott and Hello Sanctos were able to go very quickly.
“John was very very close, Scott was super-fast, but Casall ASK and I were very lucky. It was an arena with good footing and a very good course designer, so we could not have wished for more from a rider’s point of view.”
Former European individual champion Kevin Staut, Switzerland’s Jane Richard Phillips and Belgian Gregory Wathelet were among the supporting class winners across three days of London action, but the final word on Sunday went to another British rider in the form of Essex-based Laura Renwick.
Renwick, riding the highly-rated Bintang II, landed the London GCT finale – a 1.50metre against the clock class with jump-off – winning just over £21,000 after posting a time of 37.32 seconds. which edged out Italian Emanuele Bianchi and Irish challenger Denis Lynch.
A delighted Renwick said: “It means everything to me. We’ve had this horse since he was very young — he’s a real talent, and today he showed just how much talent he has. He’s not a speed horse, but he has a really big stride, which suited the run to the last fence.
“It’s lovely to be jumping at home, it’s lovely to be at a Longines Global Champions Tour event, and then to win is just the icing on the cake.”
Images: Stefano Grasso, courtesy of Longines Global Champions Tour