After her fantastic victory in yesterday’s Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold, Paralympian Sophie Wells claimed the gala night double, scooping the Superflex Inter I Freestyle Gold Championship with her own 15-year-old son of Flemmingh, Valerius on a fabulous mark of 75.83%.
In front of the packed crowd, 26-year-old Gemma Maddocks kicked off proceedings with a great freestyle packed with sweeping half pass zig-zags and tempi changes on a half circle to a dramatic, dark and intense soundtrack. Aboard her own 12-year-old Belgian gelding, El Paso Van Overis, Gemma rode well to achieve 71.29% with Isobel Wessels commending her for keeping the Vancouver D’Auvray gelding soft and supple throughout.
Sarah Higgins and Bryony Goodwin followed with solid tests but with some tension creeping in from the electric atmosphere, they were unable to knock Gemma off the top spot with scores of 69.42% and 69.75% respectively. A last minute addition to the schedule, Daisy Coakley and Angela Coakley’s 13-year-old Irish-bred gelding Affinity Bay also struggled with the atmosphere and although there was some great work, including tempi changes on a curve, some miscommunication between the pair kept their score to 62.83%.
Another rider to feature in both Friday and Saturday’s gala evenings was Bath’s Elder Klatzko and her own 16-year-old Longchomp gelding, Woodlander Little Richard. With a technically challenging floor plan with boldly ridden extensions, the pair were rewarded with marks, however a slight miscommunication at the end prevented them from topping the leader board, settling for a provisional second place with 70.21%.
A nervous Samba Dancer, Christine Richards’ ten-year-old son of Samba Hit II, struggled to settle in the first halt but thanks to the effective riding of partner Kate Cowell he soon started to relax to earn a mark of 69.38%. Young Rider Becky Edwards’ period music caught the attention of the crowd and, aboard Dr Margaret Cox’s 16-year-old Portugese stallion Ufano I, she earned a mark of 67.75%. Lesley Peyton-Gilbert’s used her experience to her advantage as she nursed a nervous World Exclusive, Charlotte Wyche’s British-bred gelding, through a solid floor plan for 68.54%.
Last night’s winner, Sophie Wells burst into the arena after the break with Valerius – aka Reece – in his first competition since last year’s Paralympic Games. Launching into a fantastic extended trot down the centre line from halt, Sophie’s freestyle really packed a punch. Although tension crept in and showed during the extended walk, clean tempi changes and an exciting floor plan ensured great marks were given by the judges. Her orchestral music, put together by Tom Hunt, built to a crescendo before ending on a soft note as Sophie and Reece walked into their final halt. “Loved that they finished on a very soft note,” exclaimed Isobel. “It was like the music was hanging in the air. Most usually finish with a flourish, but this was like a bird landing on a leaf and I thought that was very unusual and well done.”
With clean tempi changes and tight pirouettes, Buckinghamshire-based Nathalie Kayal rewarded her ride, her own 11-year-old German-bred gelding DHI Homerun after the final halt, clearly pleased with their performance. “A very brave freestyle,” announced Isobel and the judges agreed, awarding the pair 72% to eventually place third. A high level of difficulty won Melissa Chapman and her own 14-year-old son of Sir Sinclair a strong mark of 70.88% for seventh.
Her first major competition as a married woman, Lara Butler (née Griffith) got the party started with the Bechtolscheimer’s 12-year-old Polarion-sired gelding, Kristjan as they danced down the centreline to music filled with carnival vibes. Proving popular with the gala night crowd, Isobel couldn’t find much to fault with the presentation; “Lara is the most elegant rider. The performance was very well polished, organised and balanced. She presented her Inter I Freestyle to a very, very high standard.” Their mark of 72.67% reflected their professional display but it wasn’t enough to topple Sophie and Reece from the top spot, settling for second.
Finishing the evening on a high; Georgia Stokes, Becky Edwards and Maya Goldberg partied to fun, quirky and interesting freestyles, gaining marks of 71.83%, 69.25% and 71.92% respectively.
When Sophie realised she’d won, she almost shed a tear…but such is her professionalism she held back but the delight in Valerius, ‘Reece’ in the stable, was clear and hours of training had brought just desserts.
After the prize giving she said; “I do my best to make my floorplans interesting and different but always keep my compulsories on straight lines to play safe – they’re too important to throw away marks! It’s the first time I’ve actually ridden the floor plan as a full Inter but as he’s not competed for six months I definitely felt out of my comfort zone; it was a case of being brave or stupid! We’re such a good partnership though after ten year together, we can produce the expression needed while keeping a lid on it!”
It’s been a full on couple of evenings for the young lady from Lincolnshire but what did she hope from her trip to Gloucestershire? “I didn’t expect either wins! I’ve competed in these classes a few times and have usually been pipped by Michael [Eilberg]. For me, it’s just great to put all the work we do at home and a para competitions in to practice somewhere like here and show that we can be competitive and that work pays off. “
Reece will have a quiet year and carry on his Grand Prix development at home with a debut on the horizon while C Fatal Attraction, her winning Magic PSG partner, will step up for the European Championships in August.
For full results including judges breakdown – click here