Robert Smith's fiercely competitive spirit, which has survived a "difficult" year, brought him a significant triumph yesterday when he rode Kalusha to win the World Cup Qualifier at The London International Horse Show here. He collected the £20,000 first prize, which was the plum reward of the meeting, as well as delighting the capacity crowd of 7,000 spectators who had booked their seats early to make sure of a place in the stands.
The British rider was fourth of eight into the timed jump-off and, knowing that some top horses were still to come, he made sure that his remaining opponents would have a tough target to chase. Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst of Germany came closest, finishing just 0.64sec behind Smith and a mere 0.01sec ahead of Marcus Ehning, also from Germany, on Sandro Boy.
Markus Beerbaum, last to go on Leena, was the only one to better Smith's time and the Briton was watching him "very closely" until the mare clobbered the second-last fence.
Smith's difficulties have revolved around the absence of his top two horses, Mr Springfield and Marius Claudius, who were both sidelined through injury for most of the year, leaving the less consistent Kalusha as his mount for all the major classes. A week earlier the 13-year-old had been on his way to winning the World Cup Qualifier in Geneva until he refused two fences from home in the jump-off. Yesterday's success (which was a repeat of Smith's 1996 and 2002 victories here) was made all the sweeter after that disappointment.
"He's a fun horse and a great character - he never sulks," Smith said of Kalusha, who prefers indoor surfaces to the grass surfaces so often encountered in outdoor arenas. The contest was also notable for the excellent rounds jumped by two young British riders, 22-year-old Ben Maher whose double clear on Niko IV left him fifth, and 19-year-old Tim Gredley, whose only mistake in the first round on Omelli occurred when he overran the time to incur one fault. Robert Smith was able to share in their success since he helps to train both of them together with his younger brother, Steven.
John Whitaker's success in Saturday's Christmas Masters contributed to a splendid weekend for British show jumping. He won this winner-takes-all prize of £9,500 by jumping three clear rounds on his joint Puissance winner, Exploit du Roulard.