Equestrianism: Hopes high for Skelton's mount

Britain's equestrian success could depend on the latest showjumper to arrive at the Warwickshire yard.
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ONE UNFORTUNATE outcome of David Broome sending a horse to Nick Skelton is the cumbersome new name that comes with a two-word sponsors' prefix. A splendid Irish-bred gelding now jumps under the name of Virtual Village Hopes are High.

Broome does not care for the prefix either - "I try to avoid looking at that bit," he says - but he has accepted the inevitable desire of Skelton's sponsors at Virtual Village for their name to be attached to the horses that he rides in competition. At home in his Warwickshire yard, Skelton abbreviates the name to one easy syllable: Hopes.

The new partnership, which looks set to prove a huge success, will be on the Great Britain team at this week's Kerrygold Dublin Horse Show. Their fortunes in Ireland will, one imagines, be followed ruefully by the slightly built 23-year-old Andrew Davies, who lost the ride to Skelton having partnered the horse throughout last year and during the early part of this season.

"My heart goes out to Andrew. I know he's bitterly disappointed," Broome said at Hickstead last month, after Skelton and Hopes are High, then in their first week together, had finished second in the King George V Gold Cup.

Broome had decided on a change of jockey because he felt that his horse needed somebody a little heavier with stronger legs as he began tackling bigger courses. "Andrew's a lovely lad with a great future in the sport. I hope he'll forgive me eventually."

Broome bought the horse in Scotland four years ago. Having called a previous mount Last Resort, because it expressed his feelings at the time, he named the new purchase Hopes are High for similar reasons. He was ridden by Broome in his early contests when he proved to have the great asset of being naturally careful.

Hopes are High also has a wonderful temperament. "He's level-headed, a real peaceful guy, you couldn't ask for one that's more honest and genuine," Broome said. Skelton, who described him as "uncomplicated" and "a lovely horse to ride", would go along with that.

Given the rain that had drenched the Hickstead showground before the event, Broome had been in two minds as to whether his horse would run in the big contest. "But when I walked the course, I decided that the ground was unpleasant rather than dangerous, so he took his chance."

Although he confessed to being a nervous onlooker, Broome was delighted with the polished performance of Hopes are High, which left Skelton as runner-up to Robert Smith on Senator Mighty Blue. "It's lovely to see your faith justified - my horse made it look as though the ground was perfect," Broome said.

The Welshman may not, however, be a proud owner too much longer. Part of Broome's livelihood comes from producing young horses and selling them on and (given the ever-increasing demand for talented show jumpers) it will not be that long before he receives an offer for Hopes are High that seems too good to refuse. Ideally, he would like a wealthy entrepreneur to buy the horse for Skelton to continue riding.

The Great Britain selectors, looking so desperately for good young horses to replace those who have reached their declining years, would be happy with that outcome too. And so would Skelton, who already thinks that Broome's horse could be a contender for this year's World Equestrian Games. He will also be the ideal age by the time of the Sydney Olympics.

There is, of course, many a slip between great expectations and their fruition. Shortcomings could be exposed on the lovely green turf of the Dublin showground in the Samsung Nations Cup on Friday, but no one can doubt that the horse (now a nine-year-old) is ready for such an examination of his talents.

Hopes are High has already jumped in one Nations Cup with Davies, who would have achieved a double clear round with him in Lisbon this year if he had not had the last fence down in the second round. As it was, he still had by far the best score of the British team, which also included Skelton on Giselle.

Broome has always had a penchant for Irish-bred horses and he likes the idea of them going back to jump in their native land. He will be an anxious spectator again when he watches Skelton ride his horses this week, but his hopes are still high.