William Whitaker gave Britain its second feature win in as many days at Millstreet International Horse Show yesterday, but Alexander Butler also laid down a marker ahead of tomorrow’s €50,000 grand prix.
Whitaker and the nine-year-old Fandango were among nine combinations from a field of 58 to make the jump-off in the Irish Farmers Journal Grand Prix Qualifier and they stood apart from their rivals.
While the sun blazed, riders did the opposite, as most resisted the temptation to take on a course with plenty of opportunity to up the pace, but with speed traps throughout.
Nevertheless, Whitaker was the only one to leave them all standing, the nephew of legends John and Michael giving an exhibition on Fandango in what proved to be the third-fastest time.
Best of the four-faulters was his compatriot Anna Edwards on Diaghilev. The North Somerset-based rider — winner of the Queen’s Cup in Hickstead in 2010 — gave it a go and was unlucky to lower the penultimate fence coming home seconds ahead of the rest of the field. It showed she is a force, when this result is considered along with her fourth in the previous day’s qualifier.
Butler kept the Irish flag flying when third on Will Wimble after faulting two from home.
Anna Edwards’s father Steve was enjoying his first trip to Millstreet and also felt he could still be smiling after tomorrow’s GP.
“Anna’s more than capable and, while Diaghilev has stepped up a class this year and seen nothing like this, so far he’s shown he has the ability,” said Steve.
Premier Series leader Tholm Keane was unlucky to lower two in the combination nearing the end of an otherwise impressive round one with Warrenstown You Two, but felt that was not an indication of their potential to lift tomorrow’s top prize.
“The horse is jumping well and when he’s happy and healthy, he’s up there with anybody. You could put your money on a heap of riders, but Conor Swail’s horses are jumping well and Dermott Lennon has Hallmark Elite, who looked good yesterday, but it’s wide open.”
Capt David O’Brien produced a clear with Annestown on Thursday and said he was happy to save the horse for tomorrow and had no hesitation in saying he could be a contender.
“He’s some good form, but suffered a dip in Falsterbo, but that was only one show, and he had some good outings earlier this year, in Mannheim and Madrid.
“William Funnell, Shane Breen, Conor Swail are here, a lot of competitive riders, so it won’t be easy, but that’s how it has to be.”
Today’s highlights are the Millstreet Masters and Speed Derby and admission is free throughout the weekend.
Meanwhile, Horse Sport Ireland chairman Joe Walsh yesterday said Cian O’Connor had again demonstrated his ability to deliver on the world stage by winning an Olympic bronze medal.
“His performance was phenomenal and a fantastic boost for Irish show jumping and the Irish sport horse industry,” said the Corkman.
“A bronze in show jumping and team fifth in eventing along with individual seventh in eventing makes this Ireland’s must successful equestrian Olympics ever. And it’s not finished yet, as a full team will feature in Paralympics for the first time ever,” he said.
“With our pony eventers winning team and individual gold at the recent European Championships, along with success in the Hickstead Nations Cup and Hickstead Derby, it has been a dream few weeks for Irish equestrian sport,” said the former agriculture minister.
“Some equestrian people in Ireland are obsessed with what ‘other countries’ are doing, but we should be proud of what we have achieved.
“To cap it all, we had four Irish Sport Horses in the top 10 in eventing and two in the top 20 in show jumping. We promoted this very heavily at the Games and there was a huge awareness of the success of Irish sport horses at the Games,” he added.
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