It’s been 20 years since James Cottle last rode in the main arena at the Horse of the Year Show. But the 39-year-old has made his comeback to show jumping in tremendous style, taking out a highly competitive GJ Gardner Pro Am Final today, riding Oracle WT.
“I was in it to win it,” says a delighted James, while his proud father John added that it’s been 13 years since a Cottle won a HOY title – when John himself last won the Olympic Cup on Telegraph.
“I backed myself to win, because I know this horse can jump, and he’s got plenty of gas so when I put the foot down, he really goes forward,” he says.
James was an accomplished Young Rider, but has spent two decades mostly away from the sport, working as a builder and travelling the world.
But horses have always been in his life, and certainly in his blood. “I’ve had young ones, done a little bit… horses have always been there,” he says.
Now, though, James has come back to riding full-time, based in Karaka and training with Vaughn Jefferis, who was ringside today. “He’s been super, helping me bring this horse along.”
But it was his father John who gave him last-minute words of encouragement as he rode in for the five-way jump-off. “He said, ‘Go for it – you’ve got nothing to lose’, so I put my foot down and it felt just like old times.”
Nine-year-old Oracle WT is by Lio Caylon out of a TB mare, Joan Jet, and was bred and produced by Tim Pearce, who sold him last year to Fiona and Sophia Hall. James has had the ride for only around six months, and today’s class was the first Pro-Am they have contended.
Thirty-one started in the Pro-Am final, and both the time and clear rounds proved difficult to get. The first clear was Tamara Silcock with the former eventing mare, Steel Magnolia, followed a few combinations later by James and Oracle WT.
The crowd cheered loudly when Hawke’s Bay local Sally Clark went clear on Victoria’s Secret, and then Shelley Ross had the agony of a clear round with a single time fault, riding Onward.
Anna Trent has recently returned to riding, and to New Zealand, and it was wonderful to see she’s lost none of her style and class in the saddle, with a super clear on Corodette Xtreme.
The final rider into the jump-off was Lucia Voss on Grand Coeur, no doubt hoping to match her partner Tom Tarver-Priebe’s success of yesterday, winning the Norwood Gold Cup.
Tamara was quick at 38.68 seconds, but paid for it with two rails, then James left nothing on the table, clear in 38.92.
Sally and Anna both left the rails up too, but were several seconds slower, to slot into second and third respectively, while Lucia had three down to finish fifth behind Tamara, and Shelley Ross was sixth with her one time fault from the first round.