Lily Tootill notched up the biggest win of her career so far, taking out the Horse of the Year title on Ulysses NZPH, and deserved every sip of the champagne that flowed afterwards.
Proud mum, Cindy Mitchener, was delighted with her daughter, who recorded the only double clear in the competition. “She was super, she gave him such a good ride.”
Cindy already had a plan for celebrations: “We are going to drink champagne – quite a lot!” Lily had thought she would celebrate by heading home that night but, on hearing about the promised champagne, retracted that. “Oh dear, that may mean I am not actually leaving until the morning, then!” And going by all reports, it seems plenty of bubbles flowed in the Tootill camp.
Lily had earned a good celebration. The ground conditions were a real trial, and Ulysses NZPH (‘Ronald’) appeared to revel in the mud: he and Lily were the only pair who went clear in the first round . Defending champions Helen McNaught and Carnutelabryere (‘Brian’) had an unlucky rail, and Maurice Beatson proved that once again he can shine at these big events when he too had just one down on Mandalay Cove. William Willis and Dollar Roll MS continued their good form after their win in the Virbac Equine Norwood Gold Cup earlier in the show, with just four faults.
Those on eight faults and less came back for a second and final round, with the competition shortened because of the ground conditions. This meant that as well as leaving rails up, time was important, so the pressure was on everyone – especially Lily, who knew that “all” she had to do to win was jump clear. That pressure increased when Katie Laurie and Dunstan On the Point Eve (eight faults in the first round), Maurice on Mandalay Cove and Helen and Brian all posted clear second rounds. Lily therefore couldn’t afford a rail. And she didn’t have one, doing a lovely round.
Afterwards, she confirmed that she didn’t feel that pressure, as she gets more excited than nervous. “I was dancing around the practice ring. Everyone was looking at my saying, ‘What are you doing?'”
Lily only watched one other pair in the second round and that was Susie Hayward and Andretti, but knew what she had to do. “I knew I had to jump a clear round and if I didn’t I had to be faster than Helen. The time was quite tight, which helped me, I think. It made me keep flowing and take all the inside turns. Regardless of trying to just jump a clear round or not, I wanted to be inside the time.”
Lily may not have been one of the early favourites to take out the class, but she hadn’t totally discounted her chances, and knew that Ronald doesn’t mind a bit of mud. “I didn’t think it was impossible but at the end of the day it was anyone’s at the start of the class. He was pretty happy out there, he didn’t feel any different to when the ground was perfect. I was quite lucky in that respect.”
Twenty-year-old Lily obviously really loves her nine-year-old Ronald who she has had since he was seven. “This is a little bit sad but he is actually my best friend. I know what he is thinking just by the look on his face. He is more of a pet than a sport horse but he doubles quite well.”
Lily had a good show, finishing second in the Young Rider class and sixth in Lady Rider of the Year. She also had enough time for some shopping. “I took clients shopping, it was fun spending someone else’s money!” She had hoped to go to the “pudding party” where superstar Australian pastry chef Adriano Zumbo put on a dessert degustation, but that was vetoed by Cindy. One thing that Lily was glad she didn’t have to get into was the mud-sliding competition held on Saturday. “No, that’s definitely not me. Eww, no!”
On the other hand, in a reversal of stereotypical dressage and show jumping riders, Abbie Deken, winner of Dressage Horse of the Year, said she would have loved to have been involved. “It looked like great fun. I’m from Taranaki, I’m used to mud!”
Lily and Ronald now head to Australia as part of a New Zealand show jumping team. The horses leave on the 23rd of March. We hope there are more excuses for champagne in Australia too!