Stardust sprinkles her magic
Horse & Hound|December 23, 2021
“Olympia” is warmly welcomed into its new home, with the London show producing a dazzling showcase for young British talent – none more so than double grand prix victor Harry Charles
PIPPA ROOME, JENNIFER DONALD and ELEANOR JONES
LONGINES FEI WORLD CUP QUALIFIER

1ST HARRY CHARLES (GBR) on Stardust

2ND HARRIE SMOLDERS (NED) on Monaco

3RD JOHN WHITAKER (GBR) on Unick Du Francport

Winning owners: Princess Haya and Peter Charles Breeder: Gestūt Lewitz (Germany) Groom: Georgia Elwood

London International Horse Show, ExCeL London

HARRY CHARLES took the Longines FEI World Cup qualifier in a thrilling jump-off in which the age range of the riders was a whopping 46 years, with old and young alike giving it their all to try to win this prestigious class.

It was a fitting showcase for a superb week of sport in the new home for “Olympia” – and one that felt miraculous in happening at all as Britain teetered on the edge of the Omicron precipice in the build-up to Christmas.

“I can’t tell you the exact feeling but it’s amazing – I’ve been coming here for years and this is the one every rider in Britain, everyone everywhere, wants to win,” said Harry, 22, who was following in the footsteps of his father Peter, who landed this class 20 years ago.

John Whitaker, 66, set the standard from the sixth draw in the jump-off, which 11 riders reached after facing Guilherme Jorge’s first-round track. As the crowd cried, “Come on John!” he made sure of the turn into the influential double before picking up the pace to finish in 37.5sec on his London Global Champions Tour grand Prix runner-up Unick Du Francport.

“For one tiny second I thought I might win it – I think I just need more experience!” joked John, who has been riding at the London Christmas show since 1972.

The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders followed and had to recover from an extraordinary misjudgment at the first fence, which Monaco managed to clear awkwardly at an angle. Nonetheless, he powered ahead of John in a time of 36.77sec.

“I don’t know what happened. I think I had the right distance but the fence was in the wrong place!” quipped Harrie.

The next in, Ben Maher, opted for a slightly steadier clear with the inexperienced Faltic HB and finished fifth.

Then Harry and Stardust put down their challenge, scorching round in 35.91sec after taking out strides to both the penultimate upright and the final oxer.

“I didn’t watch anyone else. I know my horse and she’s short striding, so I didn’t want to get hung up on numbers. I stuck to my plan and it came off,” he said.

Martin Fuchs, already the winner of three classes here, set off at a pace, but the delicate upright into the double fell for Conner Jei and relegated the Swiss star to seventh.

A British win was guaranteed with Matthew Sampson last to go, but his turn into the upright at fence nine didn’t quite come off and Geneve R refused and crashed into the fence.

There were five Brits in the jump-off as Jack Whitaker, 20, also made the cut and finished eighth on Haya Loma N.

Winner Harry Charles started riding the 11-year-old mare Stardust, who belongs to his father and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, at the beginning of the year, and the pair also won the leading showjumper of the year in October.

“This is only her third five-star grand prix,” he said. “She has the biggest heart. She’s short striding, with loads of blood and is super careful. She jumped the Geneva grand prix last week and made it feel quite easy, so I knew if I did my job right today, we’d have a chance.”

A NEW HOME FOR “OLYMPIA”

THIS London Christmas show moved to ExCeL (pictured, left) for the first time this year as its usual home at Olympia is undergoing redevelopment. There was some scepticism as the old venue is much-loved – so much so the show has always been known simply as Olympia – but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, helped by the brilliant crowds.

“They’ve improved the facilities, but kept the atmosphere,” said Austrian rider Max Kühner.

The show organizers were able to take advantage of more space at ExCeL, particularly in the warm-up and backstage areas, but kept the feel of Olympia wherever possible.

Dressage winner Charlotte Dujardin said: “I’m not going to lie – it’s not the same because I think there’s nothing like that grand hall, the roof, and everything being so close. But they’ve done a fantastic job of setting it up and when you ride down the chute, you almost think you’re at Olympia. It’s actually lovely.”

John Whitaker added: “We were all a bit dubious because Olympia is so special but we love it here. It’s probably missing a bit of that Olympia magic, but it’s better for the horses – it’s much quieter so they can relax, there’s plenty of room… We had to park the trucks at Wembley for the past few years, so the parking is excellent and it’s all so easy.”

LONDON GRAND PRIX

1ST HARRY CHARLES (GBR) on Borsato

2ND BEN MAHER (GBR) on Ginger-Blue

3RD EDWARD LEVY (FRA) on Rebeca LS

Winning owners: Heathcroft Farm and

NET 5 Breeder: J Kleene (Netherlands) Groom: Georgia Elwood

Doubling down

Harry Charles joins an elite club of riders who have done the grand prix double in London as Ben Maher pushes him to the wire

“IT’S just been ridiculous – I’ll never have a show like this again,” said Harry Charles as he achieved the second five-star grand prix win of his life, 24 hours after the first.

We all hope he hasn’t peaked at 22, but he might be right. Only five riders have previously done the London World Cup and grand prix double and it is 16 years since the feat was last achieved, by Robert Smith in 2005.

But runner-up Ben Maher said we’ll see a lot more of Harry: “He’s an incredible rider. He says he’s had the best week of his life, but he’ll have many more. But certainly when you’re on a run like that, you start to ride like nothing can go wrong and that’s very hard to beat.”

The World Cup made course-designer Guilherme Jorge nervous because there was a glut of clears in the opening stages. The grand Prix went the other way when it took until the 13th rider in, Harry on Borsato, to get a fault-free round.

Fifteen of the 29 starters faulted at the red treble of upright to upright to oxer, which was approached away from the in gate, with skinny candle wings so the horses were ultra-close to the crowd.

“Sometimes it’s a domino effect from the jumps before. We had the wall, which backed the horses off, then we had to ride on for the wide oxer and then I think a lot of riders were coming too tight into the treble,” said Ben.

“That normally would help you with the two verticals going in. But with the wing of the Longines fence on the left as you came round the corner, it was almost like a blind spot. As the class went on, we all went a fraction wider so the horses had more time to see the jump.”

Nine made the jump-off-and Harry had to make the pace with Heathcroft Farm and NET 5’s Borsato, who had also won a big class in Geneva the previous week and here on Friday. He assessed that he won it on the turn back to the mid-course blue vertical.

“I maybe took too much risk, but I had to with the field of riders behind me,” Harry said. “This horse is 15 years old, but he’s in the best shape of his life and I think he’ll keep going until he’s 20.”

Ben came closest to toppling Harry, but he and Ginger-Blue fell short by 0.41sec.

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