Veteran Olympia crowd-pleaser John Whitaker, 61, set an unmatchable target in The Shelley Ashman International Ltd, E M Rogers (Transport) Ltd Father Christmas Stakes to win the accumulator class from William Funnell and regular Norwegian visitor Geir Gullikson.
John, who was drawn eleventh out of the 22 starters, borrowed his daughter Louise’s Leen O.L., a nine-year-old bay mare, and his clear round, including the double-points Joker fence, in 42.27 seconds proved unbeatable and earned a rapturous reception from the packed afternoon crowd.
“They always give me a great welcome,” he said afterwards. “The mare coped surprisingly well with the atmosphere as she can be hot. She’s sharp to ride but certainly not stupid and she’s a great jumper of verticals.”
Bertram Allen, the talented young Irish rider, brought the evening to a thrilling close with a stunning turn of foot on new ride Gin Chin van het Lindenhof to win The Martin Collins Enterprises Christmas Tree Stakes.
The 11-year-old grey, previously ridden by Marcus Ehning, may be Bertram’s ride in Monday’s Turkish Airlines Olympia Grand Prix. Bertram only acquired the gelding a couple of months ago, but their partnership looks well cemented already and they had 0.38 seconds in hand over in-form Dutchman Harrie Smolders who looked to have the class in the bag on Cas.
“Harrie is very fast so I knew I had to nail it and I gave it my all,” said Bertram. “This is a relatively new horse for me but he’s been very well schooled.”
Dutchman Harrie Smolders, currently number 5 on the Longines FEI World Rankings, continued his fabulous season with a brilliant win in The Christmas Masters, jumping five clear rounds in succession on Corrada to take the €11,000 jackpot.
The winner-takes-all class is for the seven leading riders in the Show at this stage; the prize pot goes up with each clear round jumped and riders nominate a fence to go up with each round.
It came down to a head-to-head with Ben Maher on Winning Good, but the British rider was eliminated for a fence down. "He is 100% a championship horse – I’ve got my eye on him for Tokyo," said Ben. "This was a good class for him. He’s got huge scope, but often tries to rush, but he began to settle here."
Harrie, the 2017 European silver medallist, said the class had suited his horse as well. “This is a great Show that I always enjoy. You feel you are sharing your skills with the public and they appreciate it.”