William Whitaker completed a strong fifth day for British riders at the London International Horse Show by winning the Christmas Tree Stakes.
After earlier successes for Ben Maher and 21-year-old Chloe Winchester, Whitaker showed his class to land the keenly fought jump-off class that saw 12 combinations progress from round one.
Whitaker, riding Balibu, clocked a time of 31.89 seconds, which proved enough for top spot, with less than a second separating the top four finishers.
Finland’s Anna-Julia Kontio was second aboard Fardon on 32.08, with John Whitaker and the highly-rated mare Ornellaia third, just ahead of Italian Emanuele Gaudiano, riding Caspar.
Meanwhile, London 2012 gold medallist Maher won the Christmas Masters and its £10,500 prize with his richly-promising newcomer Boomerang.
Olympia’s current seven leading riders are eligible for the class, with jumping taking place over a maximum of five rounds. Competitors nominate one fence to be raised in height each time they jump, and every clear round sees more money added to the prize fund, but a fence down means elimination.
German star Marcus Ehning went out early, and at one stage it looked asa though British riders would totally dominate, but round four claimed Laura Renwick, William Funnell and Robert Whitaker, leaving Maher, Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer and Dutch challenger Jur Vrieling in contention.
Maher again went clear in the fifth round jump-off, but Schwizer and Vrieling each had one fence down.
“There is an enormous amount of tactics, and I think that’s a way that the sport could develop, with pit-stop talks for strategy,” Maher said. “They were probably the biggest jumps we will see this week, and the crowd loves it.”
Image: William Whitaker riding Malibu in the Christmas Tree Stakes at Olympia, by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the London International Horse Show at Olympia