Veronique Whitaker looked to have a fine new string to her bow when she rode seven-year-old Tropicana to win yesterday's Grade C Championship on the opening day of The Horse of the Year Show.
Not normally known for producing speedy jump-off rounds, she rode this young bay gelding with great élan to defeat a lively performance from Dave Quigley on Ashdale Futuro.
John Whitaker, Veronique's brother-in-law, was the only one to achieve a faster time – but he had two fences down on Jimmy Small's six-year-old bay stallion, Temple Croesus, who nevertheless looks a bright hope for the future.
Simon Buckley had appeared to have the worst of the draw when he was first of 15 to jump off for the Great Leighs Newcomers' Championship, but he then achieved a clear round in a time that nobody else could match.
Eighteen-year-old Buckley had taken the shortest possible route on Lakeland Gold Diamond, who was bought in Ireland just over a year ago by his mother, Judi. The young horse has a long stride – "he's also careful as a cat and scopey," Buckley said – so the time could have been deceptive for those who followed. Tina Fletcher, who took a dramatic gallop to the last fence on Spring Green, must have thought that she had done enough until looking at the clock to discover that she was 0.56sec in arrears.
This was the only contest of the show – and the first Wembley win – for Buckley, who won a team gold medal at the 1999 Pony European Show Jumping Championships.
Yet another member of the Whitaker family emerged as a potential star of the future when 12-year-old William (the son of John and Michael's brother, Ian) rode Mystic Starlite Express to win the Babes Horses 138cm Championship. Yesterday William was helped by his uncle John before completing the only clear round of the jump-off.