It was an emotional final day at Royal Windsor Horse Show as the crowds took to their feet to witness Show Jumping legend, Nick Skelton and his gold medal winning horse, Big Star, stand together in the arena for the last time. In front of Her Majesty The Queen and packed out grandstands, Skelton was joined by his family, owners, fellow Team GB riders and loyal groom, Mark Beaver, to say his final goodbye.
Skelton’s youngest son, professional jockey Harry Skelton, was unable to attend due to racing commitments but left a message for his father that was read out to the crowd;
“Dad, I’m so sorry I’m not there, but when I asked you if I should go racing today or come down to Windsor, you said, go and do your job and try and ride some winners. I thought; that is what has got you to where you are, your hard work, dedication and determination. My first great memory of you in the ring was when Dollar Girl won the World Cup Final in 95. You went through so much from then to Rio 2016, and when you finally reached your childhood dream to take individual gold, was the best day of my life. I am the proudest son alive and so glad you’ve stopped at the top. I hope I will make you as proud as I am of you one day. See you later, love you, Harry.”
There was not a dry eye in the house as Skelton dismounted Big Star, took the saddle off his back – a long standing tradition when a horse is retired – and walked a final lap of honour in-hand to a standing ovation, with the crowd cheering to mark their respect and admiration for Skelton, whose career spanned five decades. With a final wave to the adoring crowd, the Olympic gold medal winning duo exited the arena to start their well-deserved retirement.
SHOW JUMPING: FARRINGTON REIGNS SUPREME IN ROLEX GRAND PRIX
The pinnacle of Royal Windsor Horse Show, the much-anticipated Rolex Grand Prix, did not fail to disappoint. With 30 World class riders lining up to win over £254,000, the competition was hot, and Bob Ellis’ 1.60m course reflected the high standard. Four-time European gold medalist, Michael Whitaker was the first to jump clear aboard JB’s Hot Stuff, with whom he won the Antwerp Grand Prix last month. He was in good company as the likes of World No. 1 Kent Farrington, last night’s winner Jessica Springsteen and Olympic gold medalists Scott Brash, Laura Kraut and Eric Lamaze followed suit.
The jump-off had the packed crowds on the edge of their seats as 12 riders came forward to compete for the £63,000 first prize. When Britain’s Guy Williams came in to the famous Castle Arena as second to go, jumping clear in a time of 43.45, it looked like his time would be hard to catch, however with the best riders in the world to come nothing was certain.
Jessica Springsteen rode a fantastic round, taking a flyer to the up-to-height Bahrain oxer in front of the Members Enclosure to make up valuable time and momentarily took the lead, however with Kent Farrington next into the arena, her lead did not last long. The defending champion made the tightest of turns to the tricky Tower Bridge water tray and pushed on throughout to knock over three seconds off the previous leader’s time and lay down the gauntlet to his competitors.
World No. 4 Eric Lamaze flew round, however he took one too many risks and paid the price finishing with four faults, albeit in the fastest time of the day. Home favourite Scott Brash, riding his talented mare Ursula XII, put up a good challenge much to the crowd’s delight, to finish in third, and Lorenzo de Luca and Halifax van het Kluizebos secured second as last to go, but it was only Kent who managed to break the elusive 40 second barrier, proving why he’s the best in the world.
Speaking at the Rolex Grand Prix press conference, Kent said, “I was really thrilled with my horse, he is just stepping up to this level and he was unbelievable, I couldn’t have asked for more. This is one of my favourite shows and I’m not just saying that because I won here today. There’s a combination of an amazing setting, an unbelievable crowd, top course designing and great footing. That is the best of the best, and now with Rolex stepping up and making this a 5* event, it’s on par with the best in the world.”
Kent went on to discuss the impending retirement of childhood hero Nick Skelton and his double Olympic gold medal winning partner Big Star, “I have always looked up to him my whole career and getting to ride with him at high level has been unbelievable… Our sport is about that great connection with a horse and Nick and that horse [Big Star] became a real team, they had a tremendous comradery, they know each other so well and that showed at the Olympics at the highest level of the sport, with them being able to deliver on the big day.”
Photos: Revolution Sports + Entertainment