As last to go in a four-horse jump-off, Kent Farrington won the Stephex Masters Grand Prix aboard Willow (Guidam x Little Rock). It was a determined Farrington that went to work, after being second on the same horse in Friday's big class – losing out on a brand new Land Rover. This time around it was clear that the American rider wanted to make it to the top – and so he did. A great performance from Lauren Hough secured double American on top at Stephex Stables in Wolvertem, Belgium.
For a long time it looked like Uliano Vezzani's thirteen fence track would get the better of the riders, not to forget the very tight time allowed that played a crucial part. The latter made many of the riders chase the clock, picking up faults on the way as the fences fell on the expense of making it to the finish line within the time. Faults spread out, but many got in trouble out of the triple – on the b-element (vertical) or the c-element (oxer). The final line with a huge oxer followed by five strides to a skinny bicycle gate also caused heartache for many.
For over half of the class, Harrie Smolders held on to the top after recording a single time penalty on Enjoy Louis (Coriano x Kannan). It was not until the very end that the clears came, and the first one was set by Simon Delestre on Stardust Quinhon (Calvaro x Cabdula du Tillard) who was celebrated as a king by the audience that had filled every single space there was around the ring to watch some of the world's best riders compete. Then followed a clear round from Michael Whitaker, who mastered every difficulty in the course aboard Elie van der Kolmen (Orlando x Cardento) to guarantee a jump-off – much to the appreciation of the home crowds. And when two of the three last riders went clear – Hough and Farrington – it was set for a very fast jump-off.
As first to go against such fast riders, Delestre had no choice but to go all in. The French rider raced around the shortened seven fence track, and went flat out on the final line where a huge oxer waited at the end – but missed completely so that the mare jumped through the fence. Michael also set off ambitiously, but a tight turn to the oxer at three made his white mare put on her brakes and the British rider slotted in behind Simon.
The tiny Ohlala (Orlando x Cardento) is always quick, and today was no exception. Lauren Hough set her little bay mare in top gear, and with tight turns and a high pace she set the time to beat at 33.03 seconds with a wonderful clear round. With Kent as next to go though, the question was of course if it would be good enough.
On the beautiful Willow, Farrington showed he was serious about winning. Leaving out a stride on both the first line, and on the penultimate line as well as getting a perfect turn to the third oxer – the time was incredible at 32.76 seconds. With his performance, Kent pushed Lauren down to second while Simon had to settle for third and Michael for fourth. Harrie Smolders ended fifth. The three top riders all received a STX two-horse truck; Kent got his in his own ownership, Lauren got one for two years and Simon one for a year.
The top three riders praised the show at the prize giving ceremony, following a fantastic weekend organized by Stephan Conter and his crew – who had left nothing to coincidence at a show that was more like a five star+ than a three star.
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