Emotion ran high as Great Britain's Michael Whitaker celebrated his spectacular victory in today's seventh leg of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Olympia in London. The 50 year old Yorkshire-born rider was almost speechless with delight after seeing off a class field that included second-placed Irishman Billy Twomey and World No. 1 Kevin Staut from France who had to settle for third. Whitaker choked back the tears in a post-competition TV interview - "the draw had a lot to do with it" he said modestly, but this did little justice to the skill with which he steered his 10 year old gelding home to an explosion of applause from the ecstatic home crowd.
"The best man won here today" declared Twomey, whose former mentor, Whitaker, has watched the Irishman steadily climb up the rankings this season. "They say form is temporary, but class is permanent!" Twomey added, paying the ultimate compliment to the man who started him on his road to success.
Course designer Guilherme Jorge from Brazil admitted that he had under-estimated the quality of today's 37-strong field. "I don't build very often here in Europe and I know the level of the competition is very high - I should have built bigger. The jumping here has been really amazing" he said.
His 13-fence course had plenty of questions however and the last line which included a vertical followed by five strong or six shorter strides to the final triple combination was the undoing of of many. The planks at the first element of the double at fence four also proved testing, and two of the most impressive early rounds came from the Netherlands' Marc Houtzager and HBC Tamino who made it look very elementary indeed and Staut's gelding who, however, was fortunate to avoid hitting the timing mechanism when lashing out during one of his trademark bucking and kicking routines after landing over the last.
The two youngest horses in the class were the grey Valdato ridden by Austria's Julia Kayser and the chestnut Oz de Breve competed by Britain's Laura Renwick and Kayser's gelding belied his tender years with a great first-to-go effort against the clock to return clear in 40.87 seconds. That was never going to be the winning time but looked likely to hold a prominent position. However, few could have guessed just what a thriller would be in store before the result was finally decided.
Germany's Mario Stevens didn't challenge, although clear with D'Avignon in 44.13, and when Britain's Robert Smith and Talan had one down then it was Spain's Pascal Levy and Monark who took over the lead when crossing the line in 39.10 seconds. British legend, 55 year old John Whitaker, really stepped it up however when bringing the colossal Casino through the timers in 36.27 seconds and that remained the target when Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson's stallion, H&M Tornesch, lowered the front rail of the final oxer when six-tenths of a second faster.
The on-form Guy Williams was next in for the host nation, but two down with Torinto van de Middlestede put paid to his chances and when fellow-Briton, Ellen Whitaker, failed to find her rhythm with Equimax Ocolado to return another eight-fault score then her uncle, John, was still out in front at the half-way stage.
Dutchman Houtzager looked to be in the driving seat with a great run until HBC Tamino slipped on the turn to the vertical fifth fence and when Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson made it all the way to the very last, in the incredibly fast time of 34.32 seconds, only to leave that on the floor it seemed John Whitaker's target might just be too good for the rest of them. Dutchman Eric van der Vleuten's mare, Utascha, slipped on the turn after the third and subsequently didn't threaten despite a foot-perfect run in 39.84 seconds but, fifth-last to go, Staut raised the game again when racing through the finish in 36.26 despite having lost a hind shoe on his way around the track.
Twomey however is a man on an upward curve. He broke into the top-10 in the latest Rolex World Rankings following a great run of recent form and the World No. 9 scorched around with the mare Tinka's Serenade to alter the target once more when home 35.74 seconds. Michael Whitaker however immediately demoted him when, despite apparently showing caution on some of the turns, he raced GIG Amai through the beam two-hundredths of a second quicker in 35.72 seconds and when the last two, Holland's Rik Hemeryck (Quarco de Kerambars) and Albert Zoer (Sam) both faulted, Whitaker registered the thirteenth British victory in the history of the FEI World Cup at the British venue.
"I couldn't watch Kevin, Billy or John go,, but I knew I couldn't mess about" explained the winning rider who was joined at the post-competition press conference by his three children Jack, Molly and Katie and his partner Melissa Braybrook. "I eased round one corner that I knew was slippery and I knew I had to get a flyer to the last. I thought I was close or even a bit behind but I got a flyer and it was brilliant!" he said. He added that he has not had the best season of his career - "I kept having four faults in Grand Prix classes but I've got two or three very good horses now and I'm looking forward to next year."
Second-placed Twomey described today's competition as "a very hot class. The three of us (Michael Whitaker, Twomey and Staut) spared our horses during the week and we've reaped the benefits today" he pointed out.
Staut said that it is not possible to be quite so fast with a horse that is bucking all the time "but that's no excuse!" he insisted, "Billy and Michael were faster, it was a really wonderful jump-off and I'm happy to be third!".
Michael Whitaker was delighted with his horse today. "Amai is definitely as good a horse as I've ever had, if not better. He didn't do anything when he was nine and not a lot when he was an eight-year-old so he had a lot of catching up to do. You've got to be patient when producing horses, and this week I put all my eggs in one basket and it paid off! I planned for this one and it came off - that doesn't often happen - and this is a great place to win!" he said, quite overtaken with emotion.
Asked if they would compete at the next leg of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Mechelen in Belgium next week both Whitaker and Twomey replied that they would not, as they would be spending the time with their children. Whitaker pointed out however - "I nearly should be qualified (for the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Leipzig) - I have 35 points, another touch and I should be qualified!". However Staut, winner in Geneva last weekend, replied "I have no children, so I'm going to Mechelen for sure!"
For further information on the London fixture go website www.olympiahorseshow.com or contact Press Officer Kelly Smith, Email email@example.com, Tel + 44 1753 847 900. The next leg takes place in Mechelen, Belgium 26-30 December and for all details on the Belgian fixture go to website www.jumping-mechelen.com or contact Press Officer Edith de Reys at Email edith§.firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel +32 475 659 281.
Result: 1, GIG Amai (Michael Whitaker) GBR 0/035.72; 2, Tinka's Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 0/0 35.74; 3, Le Prestige St Lois (Kevin Staut) FRA 0/0 36.2; 4, Casino (John Whitaker) GBR 0/0 36.27; 5, Monark (Pascal Levy) ESP 0/0 39.10; 6, VDL Groep Utascha (Eric van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 39.84; 7, Valdato (Julia Kayser) AUT 0/0 40.87; 8, D'Avignon (Mario Stevens) GER 0/0 44.13; 9, Ninja La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 0/4 34.42; 10, Quarco de Kerambars (Rik Hemeryck) BEL 0/4 35.71; 11, H&M Tornesch (Malin Baryard-Johnsson) SWE 0/4 36.20; 12, Talan (Robert Smith) GBR 0/4 36.78; 13, Sam (Albert Zoer) NED 0/8 35.34; 14, HBC Tamino (Marc Houtzager) NED 0/8 35.67; 15, Torint van de Middlestede (G Williams) GBR 0/8 35.84; 16, Equimaz Ocolado (Ellen Whitaker) GBR 0/8 37.37.
Facts and Figures:
There were 37 starters in this seventh leg of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Olympia in London, Great Britain.
16 went through to the jump-off.
Five riders from the current top 10 in the Rolex rankings competed.
The course designer was Brazil's Guilherme Jorge
The youngest horses in the competition were both 8 year olds - Julia Kayser's (AUT) grey gelding Valdato and Laura Renwick's (GBR) chestnut Oz de Breve.
The two oldest horses were both 15 year olds - John Whitaker's (GBR) bay gelding Casino and Rolf Goran Bengtsson's (SWE) Ninja la Silla. Both of the 15 year olds qualified for the jump-off against the clock.
Three members of the world-famous Whitaker family from Great Britain qualified for the jump-off - the legendary brothers John and Michael and their niece Ellen.
Today's victory by Michael Whitaker was the 13th British win in the history of the FEI World Cup at Olympia.
Commentator Geoff Billington tipped Michael Whitaker as today's winner before the class began but Ireland's Billy Twomey, who finished second, was the bookie's favourite.
Riders from 8 nations competed.
Michael Whitaker last won the World Cup class at Olympia in 1993 riding Everest Two-Step.
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche - "I'd like to congratulate the riders on giving us fantastic sport today. And I'd like to thank Simon Brooks-Ward and his team and to congratulate them on organising a terrific event at Olympia. It is one of the best events in the world. I'd also like to thank H&M and Rolex for their support".
Kevin Staut - "I'm a really lucky guy, I have a super owner and a few good sponsors, so at the end I have three Grand Prix horses and a lot of 8 and 9 year old horses so I'm really lucky and I enjoy every show!".
Course designer Guilherme Jorge - "It's a very fine line between a fair course and and over-demanding course. I really try to ask just enough for each competition. When you have great qualify of horses and riders you sometimes get more clears than you expect".
Michael Whitaker - "at this show for some reason, like Aachen, horses tend to jump above their normal standard. Today's course was big enough and tricky but I never would have said there would be 16 clears in the first round. Horses were on form and there was a lot of very good riding".
Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2010/2011 Western European League - Standings After Round 7 at Olympia, London GBR:
1. Kevin Staut FRA - 78
2. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE - 57
3. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER - 50
4. Billy Twomey IRL - 44
5. Harrie Smolders NED - 41
6. Christian Ahlmann GER - 40
7. Rodrigo Pessoa BRA - 36
8. Michael Whitaker GBR - 35
9. Carsten-Otto Nagel GER - 33
10. Ludger Beerbaum GER - 31
11. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE - 29
12. Sergio Alvarez Moya ESP - 29
13. Gerco Schroder NED - 28
14. Robert Whitaker GBR - 28
15. Leon Thijssen NED - 27
16. Philipp Weishaupt GER - 24
17. Marco Kutscher GER - 23
18. Lars Nieberg GER - 22
ROLEX FEI WORLD CUP™ JUMPING 2010/2011 CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR WESTERN EUROPEAN LEAGUE: 1, Oslo (Norway) 14-17 October; 2, Helsinki (Finland) 21-24 October; 3, Lyon (FRA) 27 Oct-1 November; 4, Verona (Italy) 4-7 November; 5, Stuttgart (Germany) 17-21 November; 6, Geneva (Switzerland) 9-12 December; 7, London-Olympia (Great Britain) 14-20 December; 8, Mechelen (Belgium) 26-30 December; 9, Zurich (SUI) 28-30 January; 10, Bordeaux (France) 4-6 February; 11, Vigo (Spain) 10-13 February; 12, Gothenburg (Sweden) 24-27 February; 13, ‘s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands) 24-27 March; FINAL - Leipzig (Germany) 27 April-1 May.
Photo Caption: Great Britain's Michael Whitaker produced a sensational round against the clock with GIG Amai to win the seventh leg of the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Olympia in London today. Photo: Kit Houghton/FEI.