American Lauren Hough produced a brilliant performance when the pressure was on to take Friday’s headline class of the Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show.
A star-studded field thrilled a bumper crowd in the 1.50 metre Longines world ranking class, sponsored by Gaskells Waste, and it was Hough who came up trumps.
Nine combinations made it through to the jump-off – several riders only missed out after each collecting one time fault – and it could hardly have been a more exciting spectacle.
The jump-off contingent included two former Bolesworth grand prix winners – Britain’s Yazmin Pinchen and Dutch rider Michel Hendrix – Irish Olympian Greg Broderick and British star Jess Mendoza, who was travelling reserve for the Great Britain team at last summer’s Rio Olympics.
But it was experienced British campaigner Robert Smith who set a challenging standard from the number one position, setting a challenging time of 43.06 seconds on Ilton.
The next seven combinations tried to go inside that time – Pinchen and Van De Vivaldi went close on 43.55 – but just when it looked as though Smith might have done enough, last-to-go Hough worked her magic with Ohlala to clock 40.91 and land the £7,100 top prize.
It was a memorable performance, and one that set her up to challenge strongly for further success this weekend, which is highlighted by Sunday’s grand prix finale.
“Ohlala performed great today,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be two and a half seconds faster, but she is naturally so quick across the ground, and I was thrilled with the result.
“With that horse, I don’t really mind so much where I am in the jump-off order. I just stick with my plan, and she is just so quick across the ground and in the air. If I don’t screw up, she is more often or not the quickest.
“I was very surprised to be that much faster. I saw Robert go, and he took every risk, so I am delighted with the win.
“I was here at Bolesworth two years ago, and I am thrilled to be competing in this event once more.
“I hope to be a contender in the grand prix on the Sunday. Ohlala has a day off tomorrow, and hopefully she will be ready and fresh for Sunday.
“She has been my best horse for a few years now, and I am very lucky to have her.”