The British Showjumping Indoor Championships at Aintree Equestrian Centre came to a close this evening, after five superb days of jumping, with the 1.40m Grand Prix, sponsored by AW Jenkinson, offering a £6,000 prize fund.
With qualifiers for the Grand Prix having run through the show it was the forty-three combinations that came forward in the hope of picking up the £2,000 first prize. The course, designed by international course designer Mark McGowan, took in twelve obstacles requiring fifteen jumping efforts under the spotlights that lit up the prestigious arena with its full length glass wall at Aintree Equestrian Centre.
There wasn’t any particular fence that caught riders out, the faults came from a number of places in the first round which snaked its way up and down the arena taking in a combination midway on the course with a turn back towards a double in the latter part. A number of related distances saw the jumps coming up quite thick and fast with just thirteen of the initial field jumping clear and coming forward for the second round.
The jump-off saw the arena opened up to allow for those who were prepared to take the risk to open up their horses to a gallop to the final vertical as well as chance some tight turns. It was the penultimate line that caught most though where a turn to the London lamppost oxer saw many topple a pole and if they weren’t caught there they were invariably caught at the London postbox vertical set on a seven stride dog leg before the final turn back to vertical on the home straight.
It was a case of saving the best until last when Kerry Brennan from Chesterfield with Liane Smith’s 17 year-old Wellington M set off at a winning pace. With a final gallop to the last she stopped the clock clear in 38.05 seconds to clinch the win ahead of Tim Davies, who as the penultimate rider had managed to put himself temporarily into pole position on Lionel van de Markieslanden with their clear in a time of 38.52 seconds.
There were four double clears in total and it was Gemma Ellison with Cynthia Flint who took 3rd with their time of 42.69 seconds which, in the same style as Kerry and Tim, saw her push ahead of the rider who had just gone before her in the form of Keith Shore and Mystic Hurricane who had posted the first clear of the second round with a time of 44.45 seconds.
A delighted Kerry said of Wellington M, or Welly as he is known as at home “He did get a bit fat at one point during lockdown but fortunately he loves his time in the field and loves having fun which helped keep him fit and the weight down as we’ve got a fair few hills at home. He’s arrived here in his trailer every day and with a full haynet to keep him out of mischief!”
About the jump off course she said “Welly really likes Mark’s courses, he’s a great course designer and knows how to catch people out but Welly always jumps them well and they suit him. The first course asked quite a few questions which caught people out and I did think the jump off was going to be really fast but as it happens it actually came down to good jumping in the end with only four going clear. I watched some of the earlier rounds and I saw the line that was causing everyone problems so I decided to just give Welly a bit more room into the oxer which paid off as he jumped it perfectly before we turned back to the last as fast as we could.”
Talking about the special rapport she has with him, Kerry also shared the news of an impending new arrival at the yard when she said “We have actually just bought a foal that’s out of a full sister of Welly’s and we are really excited about being able to keep his blood lines going. He’s such a special horse to me and he’s been so amazing that when we were told about the colt being up for auction, just four hours before it closed, we quickly bought him and we are looking forward to him coming home to us. Welly’s my horse of a lifetime and for us to be able to continue his line is something we are really excited about.”
Tim Davies, who finished second was also extremely happy with his horse’s performance when he said “I’m delighted with the way my horse went today and I’m happy to come second to Kerry who was very fast! He’s nine years old but we haven’t done too much with him and he was fantastic today. I think it’s important to not get carried away in a jump off and to just keep it smooth and tight and he did exactly what I asked of him.”
Gemma Ellison, on her 3rd place finish, said “This has been such a step up for both myself and my mare as a combination. I was a bit worried about how she would be and I had also only changed her over to a new bit last night, after I felt she wasn’t quite comfortable, to a Happy Tongue Pelham. It perhaps wasn’t the most sensible thing to do before a grand prix but having said that I don’t think we’ll be switching back as she was brilliant and I could feel her growing in confidence as we progressed around the track. It was a gamble but it paid off! I’ve had her since she was a six year old and she’s ten now. She’s certainly made our future plans exciting so we’ll start thinking about it next week in terms of the shows that we will want to target.”
For International course designer Mark McGowan, who took responsibility for not only the Grand Prix but for the entire show, it was a championships that took even more forethought and planning than normal with the recent sporting restrictions having to be taken into consideration. He explained this by saying “The entire show has gone really well. We had a fair idea of what we wanted to achieve despite the difficulties that we have all been facing with the times we are in. It’s been a week where all the horses and ponies have stepped up to the level we have been building at and a lot of thought and deliberation has had to go into every course as we have been getting double the numbers you would normally have at a championships. You have the responsibility of ensuring you look after them and that they go home better for the experience of having competed here whilst also bringing the right winners forward which I think has happened in all instances.
“For the Grand Prix in particular I actually tweaked it slightly this morning having seen the quality of the horses that came through the qualifiers and how prepared they were, which is hard to believe when you think about what’s happened in recent months. We saw some really nice horses this evening, I had planned for eight to come through and the course was built strong enough for that, the tests were there all the way round yet we still had thirteen come through. The jump off caught many of them out and I think the mistake there was that too many rode to the time and not perhaps for the jumping. The oxer in the penultimate line was 1.50m wide and it needed approaching with that in mind and I think that’s what caught them. It’s been a fantastic week and everyone has been so appreciative of having the chance to jump and that’s what makes it all so worthwhile.”
Show organiser Carly Sage summed up the week by saying “It’s gone so well here. When we were awarded the show we had a fair idea of what we wanted to achieve and despite the difficulties we have been facing with the times that we’re in – we still had a championship feel and that is a true credit to everyone who has played their part in delivering the show. It’s also proven to us that once we are allowed to have an audience in here again that we will be able to raise the roof with a show like this and I’m excited about the future that brings.
“There’s a lot going on in the racing world and we haven’t been able to have a racehorse here since December last year so to run this at Aintree is fantastic. Our Chief Executive is delighted and I’m so proud of our small team here that have come back from furlough to put the show on. The work they have done has been brilliant and I can’t thank them enough. We have been working with the local authorities throughout who have been incredibly supportive, as has the environmental agency, even when the local lockdown was introduced. The environmental agency visited a couple of times whilst the show was on and were happy that the protocols that had been put in place were all being adhered to and I would like to express my thanks to all the competitors that played their part in this.”
The British Showjumping Indoor Championships at Aintree played host to many of the most prestigious British Showjumping National Finals and further information on the event and venue can be found at www.aintreeequestriancentre.co.uk.
1st Kerry Brennan & Wellington M – 0/0 – 38.05 seconds
2nd Tim Davies & Lionel ven de Markieslanden – 0/0 – 38.52 seconds
3rd Gemma Ellison & Cynthia Flint – 0/0 – 42.69 seconds
4th Keith Shore & Mystic Hurricane – 0/0 – 44.45 seconds
5th Mark Edwards & Montreuxs Tale – 0/4 – 38.34 seconds
6th Robert Murphy & High Quality III – 0/4 – 39.04 seconds