Whitaker family stamp their class on Millstreet

It was a father/daughter affair for Britain’s legendary Whitaker family in the €50,000 Grand Prix at Millstreet International Horse Show yesterday, with Ellen winning the class and Steven taking the top prize in the Great Britain and Ireland Tour.

Eight combinations produced clear opening rounds, but Ellen was among three carrying four faults that also went through when the top 25% were called back to take on the clock in a jump-off.

Following her first-round error and, considering she was second to go in the decider, she was not overly-confident: “I thought it was all over when I hit coming out of that double.”

But she knew she had to throw down the gauntlet and her jump-off clear with Zanzibar V proved unique, handing her the top prize. This was due to her ability to jump fence four, in particular, with the upright accounting for no less than nine of her 10 rivals. This included runner-up Capt Michael Kelly (Ringwood Glen) and third-placed Joseph Clayton (Ingliston Twister), who both had the advantage with clears from round one, but ultimately proved slower than Ellen.

Going early in the jump-off meant she had to take on the clock. “Because I was carrying a fault from the first round, I felt ‘the only way I’m going to do it is if I’m very fast and clear in the jump-off’. Then you need a lot of luck and it all depends on what the rest do.”

The win was considerably sweet, as she had little preparation with the mare, competing in only her first Grand Prix.

Capt Michael Kelly had earlier this week predicted good things with Ringwood Glen. “I’m extremely happy with my horse. He’s only nine and some would say this is the age he will have to go and do it, but he was only jumping 1.30m last year and now he’s second in a three-star grand prix.”

Millstreet hosts the final of the Connolly’s Red Mills Great Britain and Ireland Tour as part of its grand prix, following competitions at at Chepstow (Wales), Mullingar, The Royal Highland Show (Scotland) and the British Masters (Southview, England), with Steven picking up €10,000 as the leading rider.

He was positive, though, that he was “more proud” of his daughter’s achievement than vice-versa and he had plenty of reason to return to Cork. “I came to Millstreet as a young boy with my brothers... that must be 40 years ago. It’s a great place and I’ll definitely come back,” said Steven.

Earlier, no one was more shocked than local rider Jeremy Sweetnam at his victory in the prestigious Diageo Boomerang Grand Prix final with Cantor. “It is surprising,” declared the 17-year-old unequivocally, “considering all the good riders, such as Dermott Lennon and Francis Connors, that were behind me. I really thought I’d be caught... but the horse is really careful with a very big stride, so it didn’t look as fast as I was actually going.”

Sweetnam was one of 13 to make the jump-off, being among seven six-year-olds, versus six seven-year-olds. Second to go, he was as smooth as any conman, with a deceptive unhurried approach on the bay gelding who upheld the reputation of this competition for identifying the best in young stock.

“I took two or three chances, short to the double and back to the second last and kept the strides up in between,” said 17-year-old Sweetnam attempting to rationalise his win.

Nevertheless, literally nobody would have predicted that the time of 37.89 seconds would stand, considering the talent lining up to take the majority share of the 10,000 on offer.

However, while three riders beat the time, their attempts came at the price of fences on the ground and, of the four that produced clears, it was Galway’s Thomas O’Brien and the stallion Codarco that were closest to Sweetnam, crossing the finish line in 38.24 secs with Capt Geoff Curran and the impressive Shannondale Rahona third on 38.82secs. Winner Cantor is by Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve.

The Millstreet Ruby Grand Prix for five-year-old horses saw Liam O’Meara take the top two spots on Curraighgreyjack Takes Flight and Kennyflight.

Saturday’s speed derby produced just two clear rounds, the best coming from Joan Greene on Ciaran Cronin’s chestnut Abbey Colleen, denying Galway’s Jessica Burke with Woodfield Samenco. Fastest of the four-faulters was Britain’s Morgan Kent on Sonora.

Bertram Allen notched his second international victory on Saturday, this time on Romanov.

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