Favourite Matthew Wright (pictured) won the Express Eventing final at Horse of the Year Show today, taking home £12,500. Riding Sir John Peace's If You Want II — on whom he has won three of the four of the qualifiers this year — Matthew was poised in second after the dressage to music phase and he held that position with a fault-free cross-country round.
Matthew took a few flyers in the final showjumping phase and had the first part of the double at fence 9 down, but he cleared the eraser fence — an optional final set of white planks set higher than the other fences. If riders cleared this, they had four faults taken off their score, so Matthew effectively cancelled out his other fence down.
Sam Griffiths was the leader after both dressage and cross-country on Real Dancer — the Australian rider won the qualifier at Gatcombe, beating Matthew. But it was soon over here when he had the first two showjumps down, perhaps not a huge surprise as the 10-year-old Real Dancer has had some disappointing form over the coloured poles.
“It's a shame the one at Gatcombe got away — it would have been nice to have won all five,” said Matthew. “But that probably kept us on our toes and gave us a kick up the arse for this show. It's a great series and I hope it takes off for everyone concerned. It's well organised and I hope next year it gets bigger and bigger.”
Alex Hua Tian finished second on the stallion Grafenstolz, with Harry Meade rising through the order for third on Tinka's Time. Fiona Hobby was fourth on the diminutive grey mare Roma ML, Sam ended up fifth and Oliver Townend — winner of the first Express Eventing competition in 2008 — completed the top six on Brigadier.
Express Eventing — now on its third reincarnation after the ill-fated contest in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in 2008 and last year's young rider competition at the Royal Festival of the Horse — seems to have come of age. Tweaks will perfect the format, but this was an exciting contest which riders enjoyed and which gave a great spectator experience.