Last year, Kent Farrington won two headliner classes at the Royal Windsor Horse Show on a younger horse stepping up to the big-time. This year he successfully defended his title in the biggest class of the week, the much-anticipated Rolex Grand Prix, on another younger horse making a break-out performance, Sherkan d’Amaury.
With 30 world class riders lining up to win more than $325,000, the competition was hot, and Bob Ellis’ 1.60-meter course reflected the high standard. Four-time European gold medalist, Michael Whitaker was the first to jump clear aboard JB’s Hot Stuff, with whom he won the Longines Global Champions Tour of Antwerp Grand Prix (Belgium) last month. He was in good company as the likes of World No. 1 Kent Farrington, Jessica Springsteen and Olympic gold medalists Scott Brash, Laura Kraut and Eric Lamaze followed suit.
The jump-off had the packed crowds on the edge of their seats as 12 riders came forward to compete for the top prize. When Britain’s Guy Williams came in to the famous Castle Arena as second to go, jumping clear in a time of 43.45 seconds, it looked like his time would be hard to catch, however with the best riders in the world to come nothing was certain.
Springsteen rode a fantastic round, taking a flyer to the up-to-height Bahrain oxer in front of the Members Enclosure to make up valuable time and momentarily took the lead, however with Farrington next into the arena, her lead did not last long.
The defending champion made the tightest of turns to the tricky Tower Bridge water tray and pushed on throughout to knock more than 3 seconds off the previous leader’s time and lay down the gauntlet to his competitors.
Watch Farrington’s jump-off round:
World No. 4 Lamaze flew round, however he took one too many risks and paid the price finishing with 4 faults, albeit in the fastest time of the day. Home favorite Brash, riding his talented mare Ursula XII, put up a good challenge much to the crowd’s delight, to finish in third, and Lorenzo de Luca and Halifax van het Kluizebos secured second as last to go, but it was only Farrington who managed to break the elusive 40 second barrier, proving why he’s the best in the world.
Sherkan d’Amaury is an 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Kannan—Lily d’Amaury, Quick Star) that Farrington has had in the barn since September 2015 after Haity McNerny and Daniel Crown bought him in partnership with him. The horse had been competed to the 1.45-meter level by a few different riders, including Emanuele Camilli of Italy, Vivien Schockemöhle or Germany and Julia Dallamano of France.
Farrington jumped Sherkan in a few classes in the 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) and then the gelding colicked and required surgery, putting him out of the show ring for a whole year. He came back to showing in January.
“I was really thrilled with my horse, he is just stepping up to this level and he was unbelievable,” Farrington said. “I couldn’t have asked for more. This is one of my favorite shows and I’m not just saying that because I won here today. There’s a combination of an amazing setting, an unbelievable crowd, top course designing and great footing. That is the best of the best, and now with Rolex stepping up and making this a five-star event, it’s on par with the best in the world.”
Farrington went on to discuss the retirement of childhood hero Nick Skelton and his double Olympic gold medal winning partner Big Star, which took place just after the grand prix at Windsor. “I have always looked up to him my whole career and getting to ride with him at high level has been unbelievable. Our sport is about that great connection with a horse and Nick and that horse [Big Star] became a real team. They had a tremendous camaraderie, they know each other so well and that showed at the Olympics at the highest level of the sport, with them being able to deliver on the big day.”