The winning horse-and-rider combination of the Longines Grand Prix and the Gucci Gold Cup at the Longines Masters of Hong Kong continued their hot streak at Longines Masters events with a win in the first 1.50-meter, CSI5* class of the show in LA on Friday. John Whitaker (GBR) piloted 13-year-old, dark bay stallion Argento (Arko III x Gasper) to the top of the field of 34 of the world’s best in the $85,000 Prix Airbus to the thrill of a large, Friday evening crowd.
Nine countries were represented in the jump-off round, with 21 of the 34 pairs qualifying for the final contention for the win and vying for first place over an expertly designed course from Luc Musette.
“Actually everybody’s a little surprised (that so many were in the jump off),” Whitaker said. “I think the judges got a little bit cold feet when the first one (Germany’s Christian Ahlmann) had a time fault. I think they probably should have left the time because it would have made it a bit more difficult. But anyway, I don’t think anybody still expected twenty-plus clears. But it was still a good competition.”
Whitaker was 19 in the order of go for the jump off, chasing a top time of 32.58 seconds recorded by Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and 12-year-old, Holsteiner mare Lintea Tequila (Campbell x Corrado II). Smooth and efficient riding turned in a clear round with a time of 31.99 seconds for Whitaker to claim the win.
“The only thing, really, that helped me was going at the end so I could see what I had to do,” Whitaker explained about his strategy for the jump off. “Eight strides to the last one, I was planning to have seven so that slowed me down a little bit, but I felt like I was quick enough, anyway. He’s naturally quick, really careful, and he can gallop to the jumps.”
With his win in the Longines Grand Prix at the prior Longines Masters of Hong Kong, Whitaker is in the running to claim a bonus of €500,000 if he wins the class on Sunday. He plans to ride Argento in the class, but he’ll leave all expectations off the table. “I’m just going to go in and do my thing,” he said.
While he hopes all goes the same as it did in Hong Kong, he won’t jump the Gucci Gold Cup in Los Angeles tomorrow. “With the way he jumped today, I should give him the day off,” Whitaker said. “He’s 13—I’ve ridden him since he was four, and I know him quite well. He’s a fighter, he’s tough, he probably doesn’t have the scope of some of the bigger horses with the bigger strides, but he wants to do the job and that’s 95 percent of the battle. You know he’s going to jump the jumps”
“When he bucks, he normally jumps good when he bucks,” he continued. “It means he’s enjoying himself. He’s always stuck his tongue out his entire life. Everybody knows about his tongue.”
A friend of the Whitakers bred Argento, and she sent the horse as a four-year-old for Whitaker to ride. “We eventually bought him when he was seven or eight, I think,” Whitaker said. “Pure chance, really. It just worked really well. He’s 13 now, and I think he’s still developing, finding it easier and easier.”
Argento’s banner year started at the Longines Masters of Hong Kong, according to Whitaker. Following the horse’s two big wins, he went on to place second, by really small margins, in two Longines Global Championship Tour events. He was also double clear with Whitaker at the Nations Cup in Rome, galloping around a big outdoor arena.
“The show has the same setup as Hong Kong, with the shops, same course designer, same jumps—so it suits me,” said Whitaker. “I went on the sightseeing bus today in Los Angeles. My wife forced me into it. I saw everything—Beverly Hills, Sunset Boulevard, it was two hours. It was very interesting. I enjoyed it. The last time I was here in Los Angeles was in 1984 (for the Olympics).”
So after a nice rest day on Saturday, the winning duo of Whitaker and Argento will try for a repeat win in Sunday’s class. If tonight’s any indication, both athletes look to be in top form and poised to deliver fast and clear rounds that can very well land them on the top of the podium.
Source: Press release from Longines Masters Los Angeles
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