In a gruelling South African Showjumping Derby class that saw some of the country’s top showjumpers strike out, competitor Kelly O’Connor riding Hera Van De Bien emerged victoriously.
There were 21 horse-and-rider combinations who tackled the 1.50m derby course, comprising of 18 obstacles, at Kyalami Equestrian Park’s Bob Charter Arena on 30 September.
As always, the arena was bulging with equestrian enthusiasts who watched in anticipation to see who would clinch the title this year – and the course proved to be tough-going for the top riders.
Crowd-favourites and four-time SA Showjumping Derby winners, Nicole Horwood and Mark White Nissan’s Capital Don Cumarco, were uncharacteristically eliminated after Horwood fell off at jump number 5.
The fifth fence also proved to be bothersome for horse-and-rider combination, Jade Hooke and A New Era – who have clinched the SA Showjumping Derby title twice previously and placed third in the 2014 Hickstead Derby in England. After a refusal at fence number 5, Hooke opted to retire from the class.
A further retirement came from Bronwyn Meredith Dos Santos riding Fountain of Love and three more horse-and-rider combinations were eliminated. They were Oliver Bishop riding Belvedere for two disobediences at the St Andrew’s Cross, Ian van Schalkwyk riding Kuda Insurance Capital Don Costello for two disobediences at the bank and Ronnie Healy riding Blue Turtle Atmore for an unfortunate fall at the wall.
As the class neared the end of the running order, it was evident that the top qualifying horse-and-rider combinations would need to pull out the stops for a clear round – and they did.
Last year’s SA Showjumping Derby winners Nicola Sime-Riley and Sunny Park Stables Elpaso were the first to ride a steady clear round and the crowd roared as they cantered through the finish flags. Up next was O’Connor riding Hera Van De Bien who fuelled the crowd’s adrenaline by also riding through the finish flags with a clear round.
The final three competitors tried their best but did not manage to ride clear. They were Anthony Kay riding Ebb & Flow Assegai Sherman, who incurred eight penalties; the 2015 SA Showjumping Derby winners Anne-Marie Esslinger and Alzu Oregon, who incurred four faults; and Ronnie Lawrence riding Avis Gillian Van Orshof who incurred eight faults.
So, there was a jump-off. Sime-Riley and Elpaso cleared the jump-off course in 44,68 seconds but O’Connor and Hera Van De Bien pipped them, clearing it in 41,66 seconds giving them the title with Sime-Riley in second place.
In third place were the horse-and-rider combinations who incurred four faults in the first round. They were Liam Stevens riding Nissan Disa’s Wanda, Horwood riding Mark White Nissan’s Capital Hitoshi and Esslinger riding Alzu Oregon.
In tied sixth place were Sime-Riley on her other horse, Fulvic Connoisseur, Stevens and Back On Track Quentino 4, Kay and Ebb & Flow Assegai Sherman and Lawrence riding Avis Gillian Van Orshof, all of whom had incurred eight faults in the first round.
The 1,50m showjumping Victor Ludorum was awarded to Lawrence riding Avis Gillian Van Orshof.
Just before the prize-giving ceremony, Hooke entered the Bob Charter Arena riding A New Era for the final time as she announced her horse’s retirement. As is customary when retiring a horse from top-level competition, Hooke dismounted, took off his saddle and led him out of the arena on foot in what proved to be a touching moment.
Then the top-placed competitors entered the arena to collect their prizes and there was much merriment among the riders on the podium, with O’Connor taking a leaf out of the book of Formula 1 racing driver winners and spraying champagne over her fellow competitors before the place winners set off on their well-earned lap of honour.
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