British star Robert Whitaker served further notice of his European Championship selection credentials by delivering another high-class performance on day two of the Ashford Farm CSI**** Bolesworth International.
The 32-year-old Yorkshireman triumphed after a jump-off contested by 21 combinations from eight countries in the 1.55metre four-star class, sponsored by Cazenove Capital Management, collecting a £7,260 top prize.
Whitaker won the same Bolesworth class last year on another of his leading rides USA Today, but this time it was Catwalk’s turn in the spotlight, and the 12-year-old gelding did not disappoint.
They conquered a testing jump-off track in 42.09 seconds, edging out Italian challenger Lorenzo De Luca and Geisha van Orshof by just six hundredths of a second, while American Laura Kraut finished third on Nouvelle, with Belgium’s Jos Verlooy fourth aboard Sunshine.
Whitaker’s form with Catwalk would suggest they are on course to mount a strong challenge for Great Britain team selection at August’s Europeans in Aachen, Germany, where Britain will look to secure one of three qualifying places available for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“He has never jumped in Aachen before, and it is a big atmosphere there,” said Whitaker, who won last year’s Royal Windsor grand prix with Catwalk and was second behind Ireland’s Dermott Lennon in the same class a month ago.
“I don’t know who is going to be on the team for Hickstead and Dublin Nations Cups before the Europeans, but he has had good Nations Cup form this year and last year, so you never know.
“He will jump anything, really. There is never a course too big for him.
“I didn’t really see anyone else go in the jump-off today. It was a case of you knew you had to do all the turns inside, and that really suited him.”
Irish star Shane Breen, meanwhile, maintained his 100% winning record on exciting prospect Acoustik Solo du Baloubet as Bolesworth’s Friday four-star action began with an exciting 1.45m speed class, sponsored by Gaskells Waste Management.
Breen was the sole rider to clock under 70 seconds on a horse he only started competing four weeks ago, with Bolesworth success following a victory at Pyecombe, near Brighton.
The horse is regularly ridden by West Country showjumper Anna Edwards, and Breen has no doubt about its potential.
“He hadn’t jumped a 1.45m before, so I thought I would try to do the turns and see how quick he could be,” said West Sussex-based Breen.
“He is just naturally very quick – there is that natural quickness about him. He makes a good jump, and you don’t feel like you are going as quickly as you end up going.
“I have had a couple of quick horses in the past, and you could add strides everywhere and you know you are going quick, whereas with this guy he is just so naturally quick.”
Breen collected a winner’s purse of £2,310, with American Laura Kraut finishing second on Cavalia, while Mexico’s Alberto Michan Halbinger took third aboard Really LS La Silla and Britain’s Chloe Aston was fourth on Kolibri Classic.
There was overseas success in the four-star 1.35m two-phase competition, sponsored by Emmess Components, with Brazilian Marlon Modolo Zanotelli taking top spot on a different Cavalia in a time of 26.45 seconds, while James Smith finished second aboard Cumina.
“It is my first visit to Bolesworth, and it is a fantastic show. They are doing a great job with the whole thing,” said Zanotelli, who has been based at the Ashford Farm stables in Belgium since early 2011.
“Cavalia is an exciting horse. She is only eight, but she is quick at the jumps and also careful. She is a super fighter, and if you give her the chance to jump clear, then she will do exactly that.
“She is not a difficult horse to ride at all. When the horse is careful and wants to jump clear, it makes your life easier.”
There was also plenty of action on Friday in the two-star classes, with Geoff Luckett and Canant taking the 1.25m two-phase, sponsored by Conwy Land Rover and Rybrook Jaguar, while Matthew Sampson guided Rhett Closbonhomme home in the AC Jackson Limited 1.35m jump-off competition.
Elsewhere, Scottish rider Declan Irvine won the 1.20m jump-off, sponsored by Watts Commercial Finance, with Keeford Carousel, and the 1.45m speed class, sponsored by Andrews Bowen, went to Alice Watson with Billy Lemon.
Highlight of the evening’s jumping was the Equestrian.com puissance, which attracted a nine-strong field and ended in a thrilling tie between Ireland’s David Simpson, riding Gotti van Paemel, and Norwegian Victoria Gulliksen, aboard Grafit.
They both cleared the famous red wall in round five at 6ft 10in to each claim £1,680 in prize money, while third place went to Victoria’s brother Johan-Sebastian Gulliksen, riding Grand Balou 4.
And the Ride-away Express Eventing Challenge – a fast-moving version of eventing’s three disciplines dressage, cross-country and showjumping – was won in emphatic fashion by Chinese Olympian Alex Hua Tian, riding Don Geniro.
Described as the Twenty20 of equestrianism, Express Eventing enables spectators to watch all the action from one seat and to follow the progress of riders at each stage.
“I am absolutely thrilled to win, and the horse’s owners are over the moon,” Hua Tian said.
Source: Bolesworth International