The Olympic Cup is always a very special competition and 2016 was no different. Elite show jumpers from both Australia and New Zealand were all gunning to win but in the end it was the class and experience of Carnutelabryere and Helen McNaught that won through.
The first round saw the large crowd clapping at various places as riders cleared the large fences, then there were oohs and ahs when things didn’t go according to plan. The first round also saw the prediction of the course builder, Werner Deeg, come true with seven clear. “I think there will be five clear; I’d like to see seven clear and then we can really play in the second round,” he said before the competition started.
The seven clears in that first round belonged to Amanda Wilson on Showtym Cassanova, Clinton Beresford from Australia on Emmaville Jitterbug, Helen on Brian, Katie Laurie on Dunstan On the Point Eve, Maurice Beatson on Conyers, and two of the youngsters in the competition: Natasha Brooks on Kapattack and Olivia Robertson on Ngahiwi Cisco. There were a number of riders on four faults and Samantha Morrison on Biarritz, Joshua Barker and Eros K, and Lucy Akers on Tinapai dropped out of contention after the first round without any disgrace whatsoever after each having three fences down. It was nice to see a competition where the standard was so high across all competitors; none looked out of place and there were no falls, eliminations or cricket scores.
After walking the course for the second round, the trainers came back predicting there would be plenty of clears, but they’d better stick to their day jobs as this wasn’t to be! Katie Laurie added another eight to her first-round four faults on Dunstan Lucca. Oliver Edgecumbe will be well pleased with his youngster Ultra Blue NZPH as the eight-year-old grey finished on a total of eight.
Sixteen-year-old Emily Hayward-Morgan rode the round of her life so far when she jumped clear in the second, but those unlucky four faults in the first round cost her. The smile on her face as she left the arena was enormous. We’ll be seeing much more of that young woman.
Maurice Beatson came in on four faults on Schimmel Warrior and added another 12 to that total. Australian James Arkins never looked in doubt of a clear second round, so will be going home seriously rueing that one rail he had in the first.
Katie Laurie was the first into the ring sitting on a clear from round one. On the lovely mare Dunstan On the Point Eve, she unfortunately took out the first of the second double.
Then it was up to Helen McNaught on the beautiful grey gelding Carnutelabryere, and they put in a faultless effort, making it look easy. Young Tash Brooks had ridden a great round in the firs; she, too, took out the first of the second double, but finished on a two-round score of four faults, so was well pleased with her efforts in her first-ever Olympic Cup. Maurie Beatson was back for another go with Conyers who had been clear in the first round but it wasn’t to be, and they finished on 12 faults in the second.
Olivia Robertson, the winner of the Norwood Gold Cup earlier in the show, took out the first fence and added another rail to that, so finished on eight. The crowd went really quiet when Amanda Wilson came out for her second round, then yahoo-ed in unison when she jumped clear and the announcer excitedly said, “We’ll have a jump-off!”
Clinton Beresford from Australia looked as if he’d join the women in the jump-off but the second to last came down. Clinton knew he had tapped it but hadn’t realised it had come down until he looked back after the final fence. He said afterwards that he could have gone faster but wanted the clear, so having the rail at the end meant he had to slot behind his fellow Australian into fourth place as he was nearly a second slower. Natasha Brooks slotted into fifth place and Katie into sixth.
The course was set for the jump off, with Helen first up. She wasn’t racing around, but Brian is quite deceptive as he is a big strider. There was absolute silence as they jumped and cut the corners; the only thing you could hear was cameras clicking all around the arena. Brian tapped the last, and Helen said later her heart was in her mouth, but it was a clear round. The time became irrelevant as brave but nervous Amanda Wilson took out the bricks on the second fence, so the title was Helen’s. “Am I the first Brit to win it?” she asked when she realised she had won. Yes, Helen, you are.
Helen’s husband Duncan McFarlane is not one to jump around in excitement, but he was close to it today. “He tried his arse off” was about the only quote publishable from Duncan.
At the press conference later Helen wasn’t quite sure what Brian’s future would be. “Everything I ride is for sale. I’d like to syndicate him and keep the ride, I love riding him, I’ve had him since he was five. If I do keep the ride, we will just do what we are doing; I’d love to go to Australia for some competitions but also keep doing the events here. This is the show to come to in New Zealand.”
As to her strategy for the jump-off, Helen said that she thought she had gone fast. “Amanda is still quite green, and I thought I would give her enough to chase without killing my horse.”
Second last year, this year a winner, and what a lovely finish to have the only combination jump three clear rounds fittingly take out the 2016 Horse of the Year Title. Go Brian!