Strictly Top Class Sport and Entertainment for Saturday at Olympia

John Whitaker was a popular winner of the opening CSI5* class of the day, The Shelley Ashman International Shipping Ltd, E M Rogers (Transport) Ltd Father Christmas Stakes. Later in the afternoon Harrie Smolders was the only rider to complete all five rounds of The Christmas Masters faultlessly, to take the victory from Britain’s Ben Maher.

The evening performance kicked off with the FEI World CupTM Driving Leg presented by Dodson & Horrell, with Ijsbrand Chardon continuing his fine form from yesterday to get maximum points. The Kennel Club Large Senior Dog Agility Finals followed, providing exhilerating entertainment, and it was Dave Munnings and Comebyanaway Reddy For Fame who negotiated the course in the fastest time to take the victory.

The final class of the day, The Martin Collins Enterprises Christmas Tree Stakes went down to the wire with Bertram Allen coming out on top to deny Harrie Smolders a double on the day.

Irish Eyes are Smiling Again

Bertram Allen, the talented young Irish rider, brought the evening to a thrilling close with a stunning turn of foot on new ride Gin Chin van het Lindenhof to win The Martin Collins Enterprises Christmas Tree Stakes.

The 11-year-old grey, previously ridden by Marcus Ehning, may be Bertram’s ride in Monday’s Turkish Airlines Olympia Grand Prix. Bertram only acquired the gelding a couple of months ago, but their partnership looks well cemented already and they had 0.38 seconds in hand over in-form Dutchman Harrie Smolders who looked to have the class in the bag on Cas.

“Harrie is very fast so I knew I had to nail it and I gave it my all,” said Bertram. “This is a relatively new horse for me but he’s been very well schooled.”

A Home Win for John Whitaker

Veteran Olympia crowd-pleaser John Whitaker, 61, set an unmatchable target in The Shelley Ashman International Ltd, E M Rogers (Transport) Ltd Father Christmas Stakes to win the accumulator class from William Funnell and regular Norwegian visitor Geir Gullikson.

John, who was drawn eleventh out of the 22 starters, borrowed his daughter Louise’s Leen O.L., a nine-year-old bay mare, and his clear round, including the double-points Joker fence, in 42.27 seconds proved unbeatable and earned a rapturous reception from the packed afternoon crowd.

“They always give me a great welcome,” he said afterwards. “The mare coped surprisingly well with the atmosphere as she can be hot. She’s sharp to ride but certainly not stupid and she’s a great jumper of verticals.”

Harrie Smolders is the Christmas Master

Dutchman Harrie Smolders, currently number 5 on the Longines FEI World Rankings, continued his fabulous season with a brilliant win in The Christmas Masters, jumping five clear rounds in succession on Corrada to take the €11,000 jackpot.

The winner-takes-all class is for the seven leading riders in the Show at this stage; the prize pot goes up with each clear round jumped and riders nominate a fence to go up with each round.

It came down to a head-to-head with Ben Maher on Winning Good, but the British rider was eliminated for a fence down. “He is 100% a championship horse – I’ve got my eye on him for Tokyo,” said Ben. “This was a good class for him. He’s got huge scope, but often tries to rush, but he began to settle here.”

Harrie, the 2017 European silver medallist, said the class had suited his horse as well. “This is a great Show that I always enjoy. You feel you are sharing your skills with the public and they appreciate it.”

Christie Pritchard Wins the Under 23 Title 

Christie Pritchard shed tears of delight as she trounced a strong field in The Under 23 British Championship Final to lift the coveted title.

Only two riders achieved double clears and Christie was the quickest, finishing 2.73 seconds faster than Chloe Winchester, who took this class in 2015.

Christie, 20, who is studying law at Bangor University, was one of the youngest in the field and has had some time away from the sport this year, so the win was doubly impressive.

‘There were so many good riders in the class, it was tough and the pressure definitely took its toll,’ said Christie. ‘But I knew my horse would look after me. I just can’t believe it. It’s amazing.’

Flying Dutchman Takes FEI World CupTM Driving Leg Presented by Dodson & Horrell 

The Netherland’s leading and most experienced driver, Ijsbrand Chardon, pulled out all the stops in the final round of the FEI World CupTM Driving Leg presented by Dodson & Horrell, winning his first qualifier of the season.

The win was all the sweeter as he knocked the favourite, Australian Boyd Exell, from his winning position. Expectations were high as Boyd came into the arena in the last round, and he set off with his usual intent. A ball down in the first obstacle meant he had to push harder; another ball down in the second obstacle and the round began to unravel, pushing him down to third behind Belgian driver Glenn Geerts.

“It got messy from there on,” remarked Boyd, who was competing on a wild card here and, with three wins under his belt this season, is first in the rankings. “Finally, I missed the finish and had to circle. It happens – and life goes on!”

Ijsbrand, who is a regular at Olympia, and has two FEI World CupTM Finals to his name, was overjoyed with his win and paid tribute to the Olympia audience who create such a compelling atmosphere.

“The public were amazing,” he said. “I am so pleased with the way my new horse in the lead has coped with competing here. She has improved with each competition, the feeling they gave me today was terrific. I knew I could push them to their limits.”

Picture of the Day

Behind the scenes in the stables of the Osborne Refrigerators Shetland Pony Grand National, where each of the jockeys decorate their stables for the annual stable decorating competition.