Part two of the evening at The Royal Horse Show introduced the fun and crowd-friendly "Gambler's Choice" class, presented by MNP, where each jump is assigned a set value and the rider gets to pick their own course in hopes of amassing the top score. After their round each rider may opt to jump the "Joker" fence, in hopes of adding 200 points to their score. But if they are unsuccessful, they are 200 points the fewer.
Seventh in the ring was Ireland's Conor Swail, whose nimble mount Arista executed a right-angle turn twice to rack up the points. But in doing so, he ended up altering his plan of attack, which opened the door ever so slightly for Belgium's Francois Mathy.
"My course was a little ambitious and difficult," explained Swail, "and the first time I did the two tight angled jumps it took her a little by surprise. I was actually thinking 'Oh please leave the ground...' and then when she did - as she was gracious enough to do that - I was so startled that I lost my focus and went the wrong way! So when I regained my composure I continued with the course and she was fabulous."
Next in was Belgium's Francois Mathy, who built on the roll-back turn Swail executed over the 100 point MNP vertical at the north end of the ring (jumping it off the right lead on an angle, and then turning right around and jumping it again the other way) to amass an incredible 1140 points. He then successfully navigated the 200 point joker fence for a total of 1340 points.
"Even when you have a plan, sometimes it ends up in chaos," laughed Mathy. "If you have a fence down, the plan falls apart. You have to be lucky enough to not knock the poles down and good enough with your route to make enough points."
"I think the public really likes this kind of class, and it's nice because you can set your course toward what your horse can do, as opposed to a set course where you have to make your horse do what the course builder wants them to do," Mathy commented.
His mount Ornellaia, owned by HRH Princess Haya of Jordan, is just nine and earlier this year was still jumping in the 1.25m division. "She's a bit of a special kind," explained Mathy, "She is very pretty but doesn't have the best conformation, but that doesn't matter because she really tries and fights and is really careful. She has improved so quickly this year it's remarkable."
Mathy, competing for his second time at The Royal, finished by saying "I just love it here, I think you can put me on the start list for next year as well!"
While the international scores have been relatively spread out so far this week, this afternoon's $34,000 International Class for "The Brickenden Trophy" saw the top five horses post jump-off times all within two seconds of each other. American superstar Beezie Madden, who is hot off an individual bronze finish at this summer's World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, had the luck of the draw this afternoon going third to last in the jump-off.
"I watched Daniel Bluman's round on the TV in the schooling area," explained Madden, "and I thought 'I'm never going to beat that!' But as I was going, I thought I might be getting pretty close. It was a very fast class."
Source: Press release from The Royal Horse Show
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