In 1987, Nigel Coupe took the leading pony showjumper of the year title – then called the Daily Mail Christy Beaufort final and worth £250 to the winner – on Rogerio. Thirty years later, he returned to land the 3* leading showjumper of the year grand prix with Golvers Hill to pick up £13,200 in a thrilling jump-off which had the crowd out of their seats and roaring and produced a British top three.
“He amazes me every time, he’s a top horse with a heart of gold, very careful and loves the limelight,” said Nigel.
Thirty-one riders tackled Kelvin Bywater’s 1.60m track with just seven elite gaining access to the jump-off, although 13 made just one mistake to return four faults.
“The last fence was wide and caught out a few at the end of the course but I expected 10 clears, it’s the sign of a course-builder, make it look and walk easy but it’s not,” said John Whitaker, one of the seven clears on Argento.
The Netherlands’s Johnny Pals provided the opening clear on Wesselina but Robert Smith made short work of the track on the scopey Ilton to wipe more than four sec from the time. Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jr was two and a half sec adrift on Uno De La Roque but John Whitaker gave a masterclass on riding a jump-off.
Winners earlier in the week, John and the 15-year-old Arko stallion Argento maintained their form and, much to the crowd’s approval, they cut every conceivable corner to reduce the time by 0.71 sec.
“I tried to beat Robert without taking too many risks and hoped Nigel wasn’t as quick – but he deserves this win, he’s a great guy and has had a great year,” said John. “Could I have gone faster? Yes, I could have kicked harder and gone faster to the last vertical.”
But Nigel had the final say as he guided Sue Simmons’ Golvers Hill into victory by 0.38 sec.
It was the third major win in a fantastic year for Nigel and the Ricardo Z 14-year-old Golvers Hill – current Hickstead Derby winner and Cock o’ the North champion at Great Yorkshire show.
“When you get, beat, you get beat,” said John philosophically.
Nonetheless, John had some consolation as with two wins – Crumley earned him a win earlier in the day – and second in the grand prix, he took the leading rider award.
Nigel had overtaken his hero.
“John has been my idol for 40 years, but all you do is try to beat the person in front of you,” he said.
Golvers Hill didn’t have the best preparation for this show.
“The last month hasn’t been the best prep, but that happens with horses. Mark Windsor came out and checked his back so I didn’t ride him Monday and Tuesday and he just had light work on Wednesday,” said Nigel.
It may have not been the conventional prep, but it worked pretty well.
The only other Brit in the jump-off, James Smith and Twix De La Roque, posted four faults to finish seventh behind Egypt’s Sameh El Dahan on Suma’s Zorro in sixth.