JUST days after being crowned the leading rider at the five-star Dublin Horse Show, Mikey Pender went and won the first five-star Grand Prix of his career at the Longines Global Championsions Tour in Valkenswaard, The Netherlands.
The 22-year-old is the youngest winner of a leg in the 2022 series, and third youngest ever, while HHS Calais is the first Irish Sport Horse winner this year. Owned by Marion Hughes, the Cavalier Royale-sired 11-year-old HHS Calais was bred by the late Ita Brennan at Mill House Stud out of MHS OBOS Cruise (OBOS Quality). The youngest ever winner of a leg still remains as Bertram Allen who won in Paris in 2015 at the age of 19.
In a thrilling afternoon of elite-level show jumping, Pender secured a “dream win” when topping the podium, besting a field of top international riders at the ‘home’ of the Global Champions Tour, Jan Tops’ own farm in Valkenswaard.
The local crowd were on their feet cheering during his lap of honour at Tops International Arena as he sealed a place in the GC Playoffs in Prague later in the year. It was to be one of the most entertaining jump-offs of the turbo-charged season with nine combinations into the second round at a pivotal stage in the championship series, the atmosphere was tense and the challenge was immense.
Pender explained: “It’s my first five-star Grand Prix win so I am absolutely over the moon. My horse has been so close, so many times, so he definitely deserves it – he loves these big grass arenas and the footing here at Tops International Arena is incredible.”
German favourite Philipp Weishaupt had to settle for second place, aboard his spectacular Coby, while the podium and the only other double clear of the class was rounded off by Bliss Heers of the United States of America and her Diamant de Semilly stallion, Antidote de Mars.
It was clear early on that the course was a major challenge with tricky, delicate verticals and substantial oxers in a double combination all requiring supreme power and precision. With the pristine grass arena bathed in early evening sunshine, the stakes were high for the 12th leg of the circuit.
Weishaupt was disappointed he couldn’t deliver the win on the day. “I have probably the fastest horse, but I wasn’t the fastest rider today. I am super happy for Michael Pender, he deserved it – unbelievable rider, he was fighting like a lion today with a slip and still clearing the second last jump.”
A speechless Bliss Heers said: “It’s pretty surreal actually, an unbelievable experience just be able to come to Valkenswaard and to be able to jump in the LGCT, and to be able to compete against the top in the world, and then to be on the podium is amazing – very unbelievable.”
Course designer Uliano Vezzani built a big, bold course, posing questions to horse and rider combinations resulting in nine qualified combinations for the second round and jump-off.
The second round proved challenging with just three clear rounds and, despite comments of the good footings at Jan Tops’ home arena, a number of riders suffering a slip in the turn to the second last fence, including Pender and Brazil’s Marlon Zanotelli aboard his VDL Edgar M who knocked the fence as a result of the slip. A gallop to the last kept them in the running with a time of 42.23 seconds resulting in the duo being the fastest of the four-fault combinations and locking in fourth place.
With the 12th starter for the Super Grand Prix in Prague, the Czech capital, now confirmed in Pender, all eyes will look forward to the remaining three opportunities to qualify for the much-anticipated face-off.
The tour race moves to Rome, Italy for the 13th leg next week. Germany’s Christian Ahlmann managed to extend his lead in championship with 236 points while Pieter Devos jumps up to second on 198 points. Ben Maher had dropped to third on 195 points and two-time LGCT champion Edwina Tops-Alexander slides into fourth with 183.5 points.
Bertram Allen scored six top-six placings at the venue, including being runner-up three times. The first runner-up position came in Saturday’s five-star 1.55m when he guided the 10-year-old mare Emmylou to a fast clear round in 67.39 seconds to earn €19,200. He was just slower than Philipp Weishaupt and Coby 8 (0/ 66.82). A day earlier, Allen and Emmylou were third in a 1.45m two-phase.
The Wexford rider’s other five-star placing came in Sunday’s 1.55m jump-off when he was second with Ballywalter Stables’ eight-year-old mare Empoli de Champloue. Their time of 35.88 was just slower than Brazilian winner Yuri Mansur with Vitiki (0/0 35.63), and Allen once again earned €19,200 for second.
Allen was third in the two-star Grand Prix at the venue, riding the eight-year-old Caprisco who only joined his team last month. The pair were one of five clears in the jump-off, which was won by Marlon Zanotelli with Grand Slam VDL.
Having been out of the saddle for a few weeks, Darragh Kenny was back in Valkenswaard and scored a third-place finish in Sunday’s five-star 1.45m aboard Heathman Farm’s nine-year-old Rockstar.
The pair posted a quick clear in 63.96 seconds; victory went to Britain’s Jack Whitaker with Scenletha. Kenny also won a six- and seven-year-old Table A aboard the seven-year-old mare Serendepety.