New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson won the first Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge at Hickstead today (30 July), producing a polished clear to win on the nine-year-old gelding Cillnabradden Evo.
Eventing was back at the Longines Royal International Horse Show by popular demand, after the cancellation last summer of the former Eventing Grand Prix. The new format class was open only to event riders, instead of eventers and showjumpers, which meant the cross-country course could be more technical and demanding.
Richard Taylor’s course certainly asked a few questions, with only four of the 20 starters jumping clear. First to go, Tom McEwen set the pace with a good clear on Cuarento in 126.16sec. But things quickly took some twists and turns, with Charlotte Agnew missing out a fence to be eliminated, Tanya Kyle and Rose Carnegie both taking a tumble in the lake and Anna Hilton opting to retire. Tina Cook and Joseph Murphy both had dramatic falls on course, but fortunately both riders and their horses were unharmed.
Tom – who is on the British squad for this September’s FEI European Eventing Championships – held the lead until 13th-drawn Andrew rode in to the famous International Arena. The New Zealander has a good record at Hickstead, winning the Eventing Grand Prix in 2002 and finishing second in the class in 2012, and he’s been on a spectacular run of form of late with a host of three- and four-star wins under his belt.
His time of 124.94sec put the pressure on the remaining competitors and, while Helen Wilson (Glendun) and Pippa Funnell (Billy The Biz) both added to the tally of clear rounds, no one could come close to Andrew’s time.
Only last drawn Elizabeth Power and Doonaveragh O One could take the win and the horse obviously relishes the International Arena as he finished third in the Eventing Grand Prix in 2012 and won the Speed Derby when ridden by Elizabeth’s brother Robert. However, while the pair netted the quickest time of the day, one fence down cost them the title and kept them in the runner-up position.
“It made the class having Tom go first as he was very fast and slick and I knew I couldn’t waste any time or I wouldn’t catch him,” said Andrew. “It’s very intense out there, and a lot of pressure, but I love coming here.”
Elizabeth Power was a little disappointed not to emulate her Grand National-winning brother Robert’s winning record at Hickstead. “There’s been a build-up of pressure for weeks and everyone’s been telling me I had better win it!” she said. “He’s a quirky horse and only myself and Rob can get a bridle on him, but he’s great.”
David Ashby, Managing Director of the class sponsor Amlin Plus, said: “I would like to pass on our many congratulations to Andrew Nicholson and all of the winning connections of this year’s Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge. It was a great performance and a very exciting class overall.”
The international showjumping classes got underway today, with the first class of the day going to Ireland’s Trevor Breen and Georgie D’Auvray Ec. The reining Equestrian.com Derby champion has a fantastic record in the International Arena, having won many of Hickstead’s major titles.
The feature class was won by one of the sport’s greats – Britain’s Michael Whitaker. He won the Bunn Leisure Trophy on Quelbora Merze, heading a 55-strong class and beating Germany’s Christian Ahlmann by just a few hundredths of a second. Fellow Brit William Funnell took third with the homebred Billy Angelo.
“You could see he had something in him, he has been building up to it having been placed a few times – and it has all come right on the day,” said Michael, who is on the British squad for tomorrow’s Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ of Great Britain.
Britain has been drawn third to go in this prestigious team competition. “I’ve been looking forward to this class,” said the British chef d’equipe Di Lampard. “It looks great out there, the scene is set. We had an early draw in Rotterdam [an earlier leg of the FEI Nations Cup series, where Britain won], but it’s not the draw that wins the competition. There’s some great opposition, but we’ll certainly be trying to win.”
The class gets started at 2.15pm, with Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the USA, France and the Netherlands all aiming to claim the Prince of Wales Trophy.
In today’s showing classes, top producer Jayne Ross won the coveted Les & Nadia Edgar Supreme Hunter Championship. She got the tricolour with Time 2 Reflect, while Oathill Take The Biscuit stood reserve.